Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Finding God’s Grace in Our Pain

A number of years ago, when I was young and foolish, I got into a discussion with my wife about the pain of childbirth. She was fairly convinced that if men had to endure the level of pain that accompanies giving birth, the world would have never been populated. I did a little research and discovered that the closest pain comparison that men endure is passing kidney stones. From a purely physical perspective, having kidney stones and giving birth are two events that are fairly close on the pain chart. Knowing that men pass kidney stones quite often, I thought it best to bring this evidence to my wife so that she could have the appropriate level of appreciation for the pain tolerance of the male half of the species.

She considered the evidence, pointed out that the study was done by a man who had never been in labor for ten-plus hours and had never given birth. But then she made a great point. “There is a big difference in choosing pain versus having no choice.” Meaning that women are tougher because they consciously choose to endure pain, whereas no man has ever chosen to pass a kidney stone. “I’m excited to pass a kidney stone,” said no man ever.

I didn’t admit it to my wife, but I thought she made a great point. Choosing to go through pain is a different level of toughness than being forced to go through pain. The question is: Why would a woman choose to go through pain? It’s because she knows that the pain has a purpose.

She is willing to endure the pain because she is more focused on what the pain will produce. In fact, after going through the excruciating pain of childbirth, a woman might say, “That was so rewarding. I hope God blesses me with another pregnancy.” But no man who has ever passed a kidney stone would say anything like that.

The difference in the pain of childbirth and the pain of kidney stones is that the pain of childbirth produces something good and precious. There is a purpose that comes from the pain. As long as we can have confidence that pain has a purpose, we can find the strength to endure.

Paul reminds us it is God’s grace that gives us this confidence. His grace in our pain is a promise that whatever pain we go through in this life does not get wasted. It will give birth to something good.

As a pastor, I have had hundreds of people come to me looking for answers when their pain seems too much. One of the comments I often hear goes something like this: “Everything happens for a reason. I know God has a reason for this.” When the pain of life is overwhelming, we are desperate to make sense of it. We think if there is a reason behind it, the pain won’t hurt as much. But I’m not sure there is always a reason, and even if there is one, I’m quite sure we won’t always understand it.

Here’s how I’ve tried to encourage people to reframe that question. Instead of asking “What is the reason?” we should ask “What is the purpose?” Because I don’t know if there is always a reason, but I know God in his grace always has a purpose.

What’s the difference between “reason” and “purpose”? Reason looks for a because, but purpose focuses on the for. Reason wants a logical explanation that will make sense out of something that has happened. Purpose offers us a hope that whatever has happened God can work for good.

Do you remember what Jesus said when he and his disciples came across a man who had been born blind (John 9), or when he got the news that a tower had fallen over in Siloam and killed eighteen innocent people (Luke 13)? People came and asked him, “Why has this happened? What’s the explanation?” The people wanted a reason. But Jesus told them they were asking the wrong question. He explained, in so many words, “These things happen, but watch for the work of God to be accomplished here.” Jesus didn’t give them a reason but he assured them there was a purpose.

God’s grace to us in our pain is that our pain is not without purpose. God can work through it to make us more like Jesus.

This excerpt is taken from Grace Is Greater by Kyle Idleman with permission from Baker Books, Copyright © 2017.

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