“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
The Man In Black – The Princess Bride
Life is pain. I think most people would agree with the sentiment. Just look around and you will see a broken world filled with pain and suffering. You might see smiling faces and hear laughter emanating from the food court at the mall, but the facade of happiness disappears the moment it is met with dissatisfaction, disapproval or displeasure. There are people freezing on the streets with no homes to warm up in or money to warm their bellies with. Those examples are from only a half mile radius. Look beyond your zip code and you will see problems that far outweigh any hardship that you have or will ever face.
Social happiness can be a coping mechanism for the deep pains that we feel we must handle alone. The images that we portray online and in real life keep protect our vulnerabilities and squelch the prying questions before they are asked. Holding a cardboard sign might bring enough change for a small meal, but it is only a temporary remedy for a surface-level symptom of a deeper pain. We all experience the pain of life, but no one ever wants to share it. We would rather bottle up what is real and hide in the cellar of our being under lock and key.
But life is not all pain. There is real joy in life as well. Over the Christmas weekend, I had the joy of sharing our home with family who traveled in from out-of-town. I have had the joy of seeing my three children born, and I consider it a joy to watch them as they grow into who they are becoming. Some say that joy is fleeting, but could we not say the same of pain. There may be fleeting joy as well as pain in life, but there is also lasting joy. Lasting pain has found its way into our world as well.
I’ve noticed a common thread throughout social media platforms over the past few days. 2016 has been a difficult year for so many people. From racial struggles to political angst, the great divide between many has grown exponentially in the past year. From celebrity deaths to personal health struggles and the loss of loved ones, the pain of loss has been a significant aspect of life in 2016. I was not beyond the reach of loss in the past year. Old friends died in tragic circumstances, and family members of new friends lost their battles against disease. A good friend of mine past away even after there was so much hope in his situation. There is pain in life.
A Moment Of Clarity
I had a moment of clarity regarding life and pain on Christmas Eve and received the gift of heightened empathy that day. As I was driving to church to prepare for our services, I was nearly hit head-on by a pickup truck less than a mile from our home. A deer hit my car in the early morning on the previous day. I was spared by the grace of God in both situations, but overwhelmed with a number of thoughts and emotions as I continued on my way Christmas Eve.
Thoughts of what my family would go through if I had lost my life were the first to fill my mind. I wondered how I would respond to the gentleman in the pickup had we both survived the accident, and the impact of my absence at our candlelight services crossed through my mind. And then my thoughts turned to others. What was that gentleman dealing with that day that had him drifting completely into my lane? Was he numbing his own pain with alcohol? Had exhaustion from the Christmas season set in?
My heart then began to recognize the kinds of people who would be joining us at church that night. Marriages were struggling to make it through the holidays. Addictions had taken hold of people who thought they had things under control. Children would be waking up the following day with only one parent and no gifts to unwrap. It would be the first Christmas that many would be without the love of their lives.
The First Line Of Battle
Five minutes before our first service on Christmas Eve, with tears in my eyes, I shared those things with my worship team. I shared my experiences from the past 36 hours. But more importantly, I shared what God had laid on my heart for the hurting. We were not just praying for ideas of what we thought people might be going through. We prayed with passion for the real people who were already there to sing carols with us. The people who were on the verge of walking out on their families were covered in prayer. Men who had falling back into old habits of addiction were being interceded for. We prayed for healing, deliverance, awakening, passion, nourishment, hope, power, love, and peace.
Since that weekend, I have heard stories from those who came with a heavy burden of pain in their lives. For the sake of privacy, I cannot share specifics, but they are the people who we were specifically praying for. The people whom God had given me a heightened level of empathy for were there that night, and they received the peace, faith, hope, love, confidence, patience, mercy, and grace that we prayed for.
Life Is Not Pain
Life is not pain. There is pain in life, but it is not pain itself. Life is not meant to be filled with pain. Life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These things battle the hate, bitterness, pain, suffering, anger, evil, deceit, anxiety, and loathing that we experience in life. There is hope that greater than the pain of life. There is a peace that can overcome the deepest pain. Love that has already conquered death can defeat the fiercest pain. This remedy is not for sale though. It is free to anyone who will receive it.
Jesus Christ said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” John 10:10b NIV. Life is not pain. Life is life, and Jesus came so that we may have it abundantly. A full life. Isn’t that something that everyone wants?
I can tell you that I have experienced loss. Pain is not a mystery to me. Guilt, shame, regret, fear, and disappointment have all made their way into my life. I may not fully understand exactly what you are going through in your circumstance, but I can listen to you and empathize with your pain. You don’t have to be alone. You can find me, and a number of others who will genuinely love you without condition at 1120 Boyce Road in Pittsburgh. Feel free to stop by on a weekend to visit. We are there during most of the week as well. I also have friends at four other locations around Pittsburgh and Weirton who would say the same thing. You are loved. Come as you are. Dare to bring your pain with you.