Don’t you just love it when God takes the blinders off and you get to see…. no, really see…. where you are at in your spiritual life? And, in many cases, if we are honest, where we have been for a l...o...n...g... time. I know I was.
The blinders that fell from my eyes had to do with the fact that I had gotten to a point where I was actively attempting to avoid pain or hurt.
"So.... what is wrong with that?" Yeah, that was my question!
For me, the pain had been linked to years of doing the work of ministry and all that it had entailed and the impact that it had on me personally, in my marriage, and in my family.
Life in general brings its fair share of pain for all of us. Ministry is not unique in that department, it just provides some extra opportunities.
I don’t have to convince any of you that living out your faith and/or doing the work of ministry brings struggle; sometimes very painful struggle. And perhaps you’ve figured out by now that we can get hurt along the way... Really hurt.
The source of that pain can come from within and/or from without.
From our own choices or the choices of others.
From those very close to us or from those we may not even know.
It can come when we least expect it or even when we are fully braced for it.
Sometimes we take it in stride and are able to work through it with grace and peace. We see the hand of God masterfully weaving the 'all things' in our lives for our good and His glory.
And at other times.....ummmm...not so much.
Pain, hurt, disappointment - like big ugly hairy wrestlers - body slam us to the ground and rub their stink in our face. We wonder, "Where are you God?" or "Where did I go wrong?"
There are times when the pain and hurt that can come from doing life takes your breath away. You are left reeling and wondering, longing for some homeostasis to return to your now upside down world. For others, it’s the small stuff that can build up over time; "death from a thousand cuts" as they say.
Whatever the source, whatever the degree, whatever the impact, one thing is certain - we cannot ignore it. We cannot wish it away or hope our spiritual platitudes will make it dissipate. It just doesn't work that way. Seriously, it doesn't... I've tried.
So, how do we escape the pain associated with doing life or ministry? The answer is you can’t.
No, it wasn’t the pain that was the issue, it was my lack of addressing it and working through it. It was me allowing it to smolder underneath the surface unchecked and, therefore, leaking out all over the place... that was the problem!
Pain comes, but misery is optional.
And misery looks different for each person.
How it looks on me will look different for you.
Pain - avoided, unacknowledged, unchecked and undealt with - doesn't just go away.
It festers and becomes rottenness in our souls. Pain finds a way to leak out all over our lives and the lives of others.
At that point, we will act out of the pain. We may not want to, we may not intend to, but we will.
Pain comes, but what we do with it is key.
Will we allow it to shut us down?
To close our hearts?
To hide or deny it?
Minimize it or rationalize it away?
To shift blame?
To grow angry and even bitter?
To stay overly busy and distracted?
To send us running for the hills?
Or to escape using whatever means possible?
As well, spending our energy figuring out who or what should be held accountable gets us nowhere, except more pain and a doubling-down on avoidance.
Perhaps you've heard bible teachers talk about how gold and silver are refined by putting them in fire so the dross rises to the surface and the impurity can then be scraped off.
Life can bring that fire. Ministry can bring that fire. Dross is something that is "worthless, rubbish, scum".
We want that garbage gone - we just don't want the process it entails to be rid of it!
To bring up another word picture, Jesus said in John 15:2 that every branch (aka us) that bears fruit goes through pruning (no negotiations on this). Pruning is "the removing of unwanted parts."
We can all think of attitudes, habits, or flaws we would loooove to be rid of and pray would be removed , we just don't want to go through what that process entails!
The goal of refinement isn't the pain... that is just the necessary process... the goal is the clarity, the purity,and the beauty that comes forth.
The goal of pruning isn't the pain... that is just the necessary means... the goal is the "much more" fruit that comes as a result.
The truth about pain is that is is part of the process and we cannot escape it.
But, when we are open to facing it and working through it then... and only then... will we reap the benefits of it.
We reap growth, perseverance, righteousness, and.... wait for it.... JOY.
Stop jumping out of the fire!
Stop smacking the pruning shears away!
Let the process happen.
"God never said that the journey would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worthwhile" Max Lucado