Pain gives us depth. Struggles mature us. Suffering produces character, refining us and smoothing out the rough edges. We have all heard these sentiments and probably agree with them on an intellectual level. However, if you are anything like me, you do not enjoy pain or delight in the suffering this life can bring across your path.
My heart was heavy a couple months ago, as a seemingly neutral message from a friend catapulted me right back to the raw, excruciating pain of the early days when my twins were born, when they were struggling, when Warren died and a huge hole was left in my heart. In keeping with how I have felt so often the past three years, I could not wrap my mind or heart around the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing, this side of heaven will ever be able to “fix” this or fill the gaping holes created by our trauma and my son’s untimely death at 19 days old.
In moments such as these, I can intellectually comprehend why we experience pain but my heart simply cannot get there. When the rubber hits the road, sometimes our neatly packaged theological understanding of pain and loss cannot carry us when the holes unexpectedly rip through our hearts. Our intellectualizations crumble under the weight of our reality – when we are left wondering how to carry on.
On this particularly hard day, I was talking to my mom and she remarked that the pain we endure does have a purpose if we do not let our hearts become bitter and hardened. She explained that the purpose is to make us more like Christ. Due to what my family has both lost and continued to undergo, I have a difficult time masking my thoughts and feelings anymore. So, I bluntly asked, “Why, Mom? Do you ever wonder why it is a good thing to be more like Christ? I know that is the ‘right answer’ and that is what we tell ourselves, but if I am honest, all I want much of the time is for my children to be healthy and happy.”
Even as the words rolled out of my mouth, the Lord whispered to my heart, “Mary Elizabeth, the things you love most about yourself – your fierce devotion to your children, your desire to put your family’s needs above your own, your willingness to come alongside your husband with unwavering loyalty – those are all my qualities. I am working through you in the parts of yourself you most dearly value.”
Through God’s sweet grace, it hit me. Although I am a sinful woman with deep flaws, I can see glimpses of Christ within me. Since the aspects about myself I actually cherish are more factually Christ at work within me, then yes – I do want to be more like Christ. And if it takes pain at times to become like Him, then I pray I will welcome it.