It’s ok to say it hurts


Recently a friend shared a painful incident that had occurred in her life, and when a couple of us who were listening tried to express sympathy, her tone changed to one of upbeat cheeriness while she tried to assure us everything was ok and she was rejoicing in the Lord.

It’s not the first time that kind of thing has happened.

As Christians, when we face some kind of trial, we remind ourselves of Biblical truth: God is in control, this has not taken Him by surprise, He has a purpose for it, something to teach us in it; He wants to grow our faith by it; He will give us the grace and strength to deal with it. Those are comforting and do help us as we work through the situation.

On top of that, we’re conscious that other people are watching, and we want to be a good testimony and to glorify God in our responses. So sometimes we translate that into putting on a happy face before others and dealing with our confusion and pain in private.

I’ve mentioned that I used to do this after contracting transverse myelitis and finding an online support group of TM patients and caregivers. Honestly, at first I didn’t join them with the idea of trying to be a good testimony. I was just looking for answers in an era when I couldn’t find information anywhere else (thankfully there is a great amount of information available now). But as I interacted with the group, I did realize that I couldn’t help but share God’s grace in dealing with me and helping me cope. I wanted to represent Him well, so I shared only the positive and kept to myself the hard days and frustrations. Later on another Christian joined the group, and she was refreshingly honest and real about her struggles, yet still expressed faith and reliance on God. That was one incident that helped me realize that having joy in the Lord is not the same thing as grinning and bearing it or keeping a stiff upper lip.

The Bible is full of God’s people speaking honestly about their pain and trouble. The Psalms especially are balm for a weary soul. Lamentations shares the full emotion resulting from God’s judgment even while acknowledging God’s justice in His actions. Paul says, “ We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). He admits to being troubled, perplexed, and cast down while still testifying to God’s keeping him from being distressed, in despair, forsaken, and destroyed. Even our Lord Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).

I admit it’s hard sometimes to find the balance. We do want to honor the Lord in our trials and not sound like we’re complaining. But I think it helps people more to see us apply Biblical truth to our painful situation rather than acting like we’re above it all and unaffected. Thus, I’d rather hear, “It hurts that so many special things were stolen in the break-in, but it’s a reminder to us that thieves do break through and steal in this world, and we’re to store up treasures in heaven” than an attempt to brush it off. Or, “God, this disease really hurts today. I so wish and pray you’d take it from me. In the meantime, please give me the grace to deal with it.” Or, “I don’t understand why God took my wife home so early, and it hurts like crazy, but I depend on His grace moment by moment.” In one of Elisabeth Elliot’s writings, she said that even with knowing so many wonderful things God did as a result of her husband’s death, that still didn’t satisfy. God can save people and draw them to a closer walk with Him or into service for Him without taking someone’s life to do so. Yet she accepted it and trusted Him in the midst of it. The “peace that passes understanding” that God gives when we take our requests to Him with prayer and thanksgiving doesn’t deny the pain or problems: in fact, it’s all the more marvelous because it occurs in the midst of the pain and problems.

It doesn’t dishonor God to say that something hurts or confuses us. It might dishonor Him to wallow in it without looking to Him. But when we look to Him, honor Him, rejoice in Him, and trust Him even while acknowledging painful or frustrating situations, people see His grace is sufficient for any need.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday.

Book Review: Crowded to Christ

Crowded to ChristThe first I remembering hearing of Crowded to Christ was in an online sermon from a former pastor that I think I listened to while home sick one Sunday. He must have mentioned it before, but this time he recommended finding a copy and reading it. It was first published in 1950 and is apparently out of print now, but I found an inexpensive used copy online.

Its author, L. E. Maxwell, was a co-founder, principal, and eventually president of Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta, Canada, which I don’t know much about except that Elisabeth Elliot attended there for a time and Don Richardson (author of Peace Child and other books) graduated from there.

Maxwell’s main theme is that God uses a variety of measures – the law of God as well as pain, pressure, and other means – to draw or to “crowd” people to Christ in the sense of realizing He is the only answer.

For instance, “In his determination to be humble, to love His enemies,… to be more than conqueror – in other words, to be like Christ –  the Christian may come sooner or later to a sense of crushing failure and defeat.” He realizes he can’t possibly do this on his own. Some go on half-heartedly, thinking full victory will just never be possible, while others, “not having made Paul’s deep discovery, ‘I know in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing,’ they redouble their efforts…They think that if they are only more watchful, more prayerful, more diligent, they will yet be able to attain. They strive and struggle; they fight and fast; they yearn and pray.” He quotes Hudson Taylor as saying, “I felt I was a child of God: His Spirit in my heart would cry: ‘Abba, Father’; but to rise to my privileges as a child I was utterly powerless.” Maxwell continues, “Not until they had come to an end of all self-righteousness and satisfaction in themselves, not until all their peace and joy and strength of will and resolution and purpose had been ‘slain by the law,’ could faith stretch forth her hands for victory. Only when they sensed the tragedy, the futility, the folly and failure of every human attempt to overcome the law of sin and death, were they shut up to Him who not only ‘justifies the ungodly’ but also ‘quickens the dead'” (pp 17-18).

He describes how God sometimes puts us in extenuating circumstances that result in a crisis of faith that drive us to Him as our only way through, like Jacob on his way home finding out Esau was coming to meet him, or Israel’s being caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, or Israel when called to enter into Canaan but looked at the obstacles instead of God and failed.

I have far too many quotes marked to share, but here are a few that stood out to me:

“Have you ever had God lay hold of you in the wee hours and reduce you until you had ‘Nothing left to do but fling/Care aside and simply cling?'” (p. 29).

“God must secure our confidence, and…He tries us in order to make us trust where we cannot trace. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. ‘Thy way is in the sea.’ While, therefore, He has no pleasure in our agony and perplexity, He knows that it is in the trackless and traceless sea of trouble that we come to trust” (p. 38).

“To be self-centered is to be self-destroyed…The preservation of self is the surest path to self-destruction” (p. 128).

“When the Lord Jesus dealt with souls, His method was adapted to the need of the individual. However, it is remarkable that almost invariably He brought souls face to face with some one thing which in their own strength they could not do, and there demanded an act of obedience…In order to create a sense of sin and a need of divine strength Jesus gave command just where men were inclined to wander or argue or excuse themselves” (p. 150).

“If only the Saviour had asked me to do something else! But that something else would not have reached your heart. You could have done that other thing without faith and without grace; yes, without even being right with God. So, in asking you to do the one impossible thing, Christ crosses your will through your withered limb” (p. 178).

“Grace is no mere favour conferred upon the ungodly, but it is to be experienced as a ruling force and sufficiency, reigning in our hearts as the new, living ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,’ and enabling us to prove the no-more dominion of sin. Grace abounding is to lead at once to grace reigning” (p. 219).

In ways simple and inscrutable and fiery God must drain away the dregs of self-confidence. He must let the flesh fail…when all those remaining are convinced that God alone is their rescue and remedy…” (p. 256).

The New Testament is enfolded in the Old, and the Old Testament is unfolded in the New” (p. 272).

“Love and righteousness are not contrary principles” (p. 299).

He spends a good deal of space in the book talking about the law of God. Though Christ has fulfilled the law and we never could, and in this day of grace are not required to, still, God has uses for the law, which the Bible describes as “good” and “spiritual.” “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” His appendices on “The Old and New Testaments Compared” and “The Purpose of the Law” are some of the best parts of the book, especially on this point.

Overall I enjoyed, benefited from, and saw myself in the pages of this book. I wasn’t quite so interested in arguments about dispensationalism and ultra-dispensationalism or Calvinism vs. Armenianism: those seemed to make the book drag a bit, but I understand their necessity, especially with Maxwell coming from an academic background where students have debated these things back and forth for ages.

I think the only places where I disagreed with him were some such as when he described a man who did not want to go into a grove and pray as the folks in that place and time did when they wanted to meet with God after a service. He acknowledged that there is nothing in the Bible about doing such a thing and that one can get right with God without that action, but this man had no peace until he finally did so. I guess perhaps I could see that if it was just a matter of pride or something, but I’d still have trouble saying he should have done that when it is not a Biblical issue.

This book often brought to mind a quote from Hudson Taylor, though the quote itself is not in the book: “It doesn’t really matter how great the pressure is. What matters is where the pressure lies, whether it comes between me and God or whether it presses me nearer His heart.” As Maxwell says in the second quote listed above, God takes “no pleasure in our agony and perplexity.” He is not dreaming up ways to torture us, but He knows best what we most need in our inmost hearts to grow in our faith and relationship with Him.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Tense anticipation

When my mother-in-law first started losing muscle strength and tone, going from a walker to a wheelchair to not being able to feed herself to “total assist,” in the physical therapist’s parlance, it seemed as if her muscles were getting limper and weaker. Now some of them are getting strong in the wrong way. When muscles are disused, they can get contracted. She received physical therapy for a few weeks in the nursing home until she “plateaued,” got to a place where they felt they were not going to see any more improvement. The aides were supposed to continue range-of-motion exercises, but being overworked and understaffed, this was neglected, especially during time she developed a pressure sore and had to remain in bed for weeks. We didn’t realize the extent of the need nor the neglect until she already started contracting. We didn’t know to keep on top of it because we thought they were doing everything they were supposed to do. When she was released from the nursing home, her legs would no longer straighten out completely and both arms tended to be drawn up to her chest.

Grandma's hands

She received physical therapy at home for four weeks, which helped, but the PT told us it was unlikely that her limbs would get completely uncontracted. They did improve, but she still keeps her left arm pulled up tightly to her chest most of the time. That makes changing clothes and cleaning hard for both her and her caregiver.

A new problem developed in the last few weeks: two fingers on her right hand began contracting, called Dupuytren’s contracture. It is extremely painful to even have the fingers moved. We have a home health nurse who comes out once a week, and she arranged for an occupational therapist to work with her fingers and arm. Of course, he has to gently but persistently open her fingers, try to stretch them out, and massage the offending tendon in her palm, and of course this about sends her through the roof in pain. She was cooperative the first time he came and even laughed and joked a little, but each visit seems to get a little harder. When she sees him she knows it is going to hurt, so she tenses up in anticipation, which makes it worse. The OT and the aide spend most of the therapy session encouraging her to relax. She can relax her arm and fingers, and when she just relaxes and lets him work and works with him, the whole session goes much better and isn’t nearly as painful. But it is hard for her to understand that or to remember it in the midst of discomfort and pain. The last time the OT was here, her muscles were tensing before he even got started.

I have to admit it’s very hard to watch her in pain, especially when she looks at me like, “WHY don’t you do something?! Why are you letting him do this to me?” I’ve even wondered, “Is this worth it? Should we just let her be?” But without some intervention she would get more contracted and in more pain. Plus the crease in her elbow and her closed hands are more prone to skin breakdown and infection if they are not opened up. Even now the aide has to be careful to wash her hands often because she gets a sour smell in them from their being closed up.

A brace is supposed to be on order (sometimes it takes a while to get things through the doctor, insurance company, and Medicare) which will help keep her hand open naturally and hopefully help over the long haul.

I’d appreciate your prayers for her about this, especially for her OT sessions.

There were some lessons for me, though, in my mother-in-law’s latest therapy session. My mind often goes into, “What’s the worst that can happen?” scenarios. If I am catching a cold, it’s probably going to turn into strep throat and lay me out for a week: if someone is late coming home, maybe they were in an accident, etc. I’m much better about that kind of thing than I used to be, but my mind still runs in those tracks sometimes, scaring myself to death with “What ifs?” I wrote an earlier post titled “When Afraid to Surrender” about the fear we sometimes have that if we truly surrender everything to the Lord, He might ask us to undergo some great trial. He does do that to people sometimes. Just ask Job, or Joni Eareckson Tada, or any number of other people. Even knowing that God has many purposes for allowing suffering doesn’t make us look forward to the prospect.

But He doesn’t want us to live in rigid anticipation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Whatever He allows – and I am convinced every Christian undergoes trials of some kind, whether physical ailments, relationship or family issues, financial struggles, or something else – we know He has a purpose in allowing it and has promised to be with us and to give us His grace as we need it (not before it is needed).

Perhaps you’ve heard of someone who fell or was in an accident that was made worse because they threw their arms straight out ahead of them to brace themselves, and their arms or wrists were broken. I had a tumbling class in college P.E., and our teacher said if you are about to fall, the best thing you can do is roll with it. That tense rigidity only causes harm. It lessens the joy in life we should be experiencing now. It hinders whatever God is trying to do. Like the occupational therapist, He has to gently, patiently, and persistently work with the very areas that are the most painful in order to accomplish the needed good. Tension against His working only makes it harder and more painful: relaxing into His care allows Him to accomplish His purposes with much less pain and fear. He is not just a therapist: He is a loving Father who wants our good.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:3-4

(Sharing with Tell His Story)