Yesterday I was challenged with a “What if…?” question.
“What if” questions require imagination. They require us to ponder the possibilities, explore the potentials, and mentally fly to places unknown. What if questions are usually an invitation to hope and dream about positive, wonderful things. I encourage my kids to ask “what if?” all the time. I want them to learn to imagine and dream the biggest of hopes and possibilities. It’s a good exercise.
But I have to admit that when the question was first being posed to me, I wasn’t feeling particularly imaginative…or positive…or wonderful.
This particular “what if” scenario wasn’t about imagining the possibilities of great inventions or missions opportunities or travel destinations. It wasn’t about letting my mind take me away to possible twists and turns on my life journey or even hopes or dreams.
No. This “what if” question was about pain.
“What if,” my friend asked me, “this current pain that is so hard is actually meant to be life-giving rather than the death you think it is?” I knew where he was going, but I was not particularly jumping up and down about going down that imaginary road with him.
I was thinking, “But the pain is… well, I don’t mean to sound dense, but… it’s painful. And I want it to stop – yesterday. I don’t want to open myself up to the possibilities of it – I want to close myself off so it stops hurting so much.”
I knew that probably wasn’t the wisest thing to say out loud. Even as it was rolling around in my mind, I could hear the stories of Joseph and Job and Paul objecting to my objections.
Still, I wanted to say, “But…”
I listened. Wanting desperately to object to the idea that the pain had to continue, and wanting to object vehemently to the notion that it might be for my good.
“Why does pain have to be such a harsh task master?”
“Why, oh why can’t we learn the hard things through easier means?”
These were the questions I wanted to raise like a child wailing at the top of her lungs while the Physician was trying to administer a life-saving remedy.
I don’t want pain. I certainly don’t want pain that has to last and last.
But I know better.
I know that the painful lessons are the most thorough ones. I know that the tutelage of pain has the most lasting impact. And I know, more than anything, that the painful times bear the sweetest, truest, deepest, richest spiritual fruit in my life.
Do I want to embrace this pain as the faithful teacher I know it to be? Not really – do you like hugging porcupines? But I’ll hug him again and again if I have faith that there will be an even greater reward than I can ask for or imagine on the other side of pulling out the quills.
I’ve been asked to trust that the pain will achieve its purpose because it has come through the hands of my loving Heavenly Father. And I’m being asked to consider the possibility that hopeful anticipation for the blessed reward on the other side of it all will make me wonder what I was so afraid of. Big requests, really, but honest ones.
Opening one’s self, voluntarily – willingly – to the lessons of pain feels like giving one’s self over to the tyranny of a tormentor… Unless we know our Teacher well.
Trusting in human beings is risky business. But trusting in the One who loves me enough to lay down His life for me isn’t risky at all. Keeping my eyes – and heart and thoughts and hopes and dreams – stayed on Jesus will bring me safely to the other side of all of this. Even if it goes on and on He will sustain me and comfort me and be enough for me. I know this to be true.
So onward pain. Do your work. Have your way with me and mold me into a woman who radiates the tested beauty that only the heat of a refiner’s fire can produce. Keep me captive until I have learned the God-exalting lessons you have prepared for me. And do not leave until this work is accomplished.
And Lord, for what it’s worth… I do believe all of this. I know that you work all things together for my good, because I am yours. I know that you have plans for me for a future and a hope. I know that my help comes from you and you are my defender and ever-present helper in times of need. Lord, I do believe all that – but please, help my unbelief.