In the Triumph Song of Life: Turning Adversity to Strength
Sep 07, 2019
Fraternity of Pain
Pain is universal. When one reaches a certain age, it is easier to understand that we all participate in “a fraternity... a sorority of pain.” But people deal with pain in different ways. You may choose to forget it—shutting it away, dismissing it, not wanting to see it or hear about it, burying your head in the sand like an ostrich. The result is that some part of you stops growing.4
Another way is to somehow be trapped by your pain— never being able to escape it. The pain becomes your confinement to such an extent that some people take pleasure in it, seeing that pain as the biggest thing that has happened to justify your life. A third way is to make a joke out of your pain because you find it impossible to talk about it seriously. This is another sad escape. Lastly, some people make a competition of their pain: “Let me tell you how I’ve suffered.”5
A good way to face suffering is to be a good steward of your pain. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), the attitude in which the three people handled what they had been given was what made them different—not how much talent they were given. Being afraid of the master, afraid of his life, afraid of living, the one who was given one talent buried it. Playing it safe, he got a harsh reprimand from his master.
“To live a buried life is to say you have never really lived your life at all.”6 “There’s a part of all of our lives that we choose not to live out… If you bury your life—if you don’t face it, your life shrinks. It is in a way diminished.”7
Hence, to be a steward of your pain is to be brave and to take risks.
A Pearl of Great Price
For me personally, there’s no greater hero who has shown us how to be a steward of pain than Joni Eareckson Tada. Quadriplegic since age 17 from a diving accident, the stories of her struggles and doubts are an open book. In fact, she has written some 48 books so far, inspiring millions of people who are suffering to keep the faith and to keep singing.
In her devotional book, Pearls of Great Price, Joni related how she received a string of pearls from her Japanese father-in-law who explained how a pearl is produced. When a tiny bit of sand lodges in the flesh of an oyster, the oyster will cover the particle with layer after layer of a milky secretion until the irritant becomes smooth and round, inadvertently becoming a gem. “Pearls are produced by a life that has overcome affliction, that has overcome suffering.”8
Joni narrated how, in the 12 months of writing this devotional, she had been in great pain and hardship. Her bones were “getting old, tired, thin, and frail... but God continues to give layer and layer of life-transforming grace.”9
Every July 30 marks the anniversary of Joni’s diving accident. She related that when she reached her 38th year of living in a wheelchair, her sister Jay called to read with her a passage from the Bible about the man who was paralyzed and lay by the Pool of Bethesda. The man had been invalid for 38 years. The Bible says, “When Jesus… learned that he had been in this condition for a long time…” (John 5:6) and Joni writes, “It touches me that Jesus thinks thirty-eight years of paralysis is a long time. He understands.”10
Jesus understands our suffering. As the writer of the hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” says, “There’s no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven.”11
4 Ibid., 18-19.
5 Ibid., 20-21.
6 Ibid., 25.
7 Ibid. 8 Joni Eareckson Tada, Pearls of Great Price (Michigan: Zondervan, 2006), preface.
10 Eareckson, July 30 devotion.
11 Frederick W. Faber, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” in The Hymnbook (Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1955), no. 110, p. 104.