For about as long as I can remember, pain, affliction, and their cohorts have been vilified by most people I’ve heard speak publicly and privately. In most conversations, pain is our great Goliath. It must be conquered, dismantled, avoided, or eradicated. Persistent pain was an indication that the afflicted individual had sinned and God had given Satan the right to plague them.
There was rarely anything good to say about pain, it’s presence, and its affects on its victims. Victims. Absolutely anyone who experienced pain or affliction was only ever a victim. By the age of 12, a decade after the accident, I had a predisposed vendetta against pain because of
1) dealing with chronic pain for 80% of my lifetime and
2) ingesting this singular passionate perspective from so many voices.
Every once in a while I’d hear a senior believer say, “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” Then they would go into a high praise of thanksgiving. Those moments were incredibly inspiring but very confusing for me. The passion of the praise that followed the verse was always electric! Whoever said the verse would say it with so much conviction that they would be overtaken with emotion and their passion would spread like a brushfire in the wild. Those moments always stuck with my spirit and ignited a fire in me that I couldn’t control. Before I even thought to find the scripture in the Bible and learn its context, I found myself mentally reiterating, “it was good for me that I was afflicted.” The conflict arose in practice. How can it be that being harassed by my villain would lead me to my victory? How can I be happy that I’m losing a fight? Why should I smile in pain? How can I smile while I’m in terrible pain? Why thank, or even continue to serve, a God who allows this to happen so consistently?
That concept of thanking and praising the source of my pain baffled me for years until I surrendered my pain to God. After 18 years of dealing with chronic pain, seeing an array of doctors who all had no useful answers, being told my situation was unique, and countless procedures and hospitalizations I was exhausted of fighting pain. So I prayed a new prayer. Rather than Lord take this cup from me I began to pray, “Father, give me the strength, endurance, and the capacity to gracefully to handle what you give me to bear.” That prayer changed my perspective and approach of dealing with pain. Then, He instructed me to read the passage again.
Psalm 119 is a pilgrimage through an individual's relationship with God's awarded afflictions and God's law. Early in the verses the author is enthusiastic about God's Laws and judgements and being faithful to both. Then, the author makes a request for God to teach them understanding. Within a few verses, you begin to see the author have to deal with conflict and affliction. Verses 65-72 are the full context of the scripture (King James Version):
Thou hast dealt well with thy servant,
O LORD, according unto thy word.
Teach me good judgment and knowledge:
for I have believed thy commandments.
Before I was afflicted I went astray:
but now have I kept thy word.
Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes.
The proud have forged a lie against me:
but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart.
Their heart is as fat as grease;
but I delight in thy law.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted;
that I might learn thy statutes.
The law of thy mouth is better unto me
than thousands of gold and silver.
With the simple changing of one small word the entire scripture takes a majorly different meaning. It IS good that I WAS afflicted. What I once believed meant that every victory was past tense now means that everything that happened in my past IS still good for me right now! These victories aren't to be casted into the sea of forgetfulness but they're to be cherished and monitored. They're like stocks whose interest and value only increase over time! Glory to God.
Because of my situation, for a majority of my life I had a better relationship with pain and death than I did with peace because I faced them daily. In an effort to drastically shift my normal circumstance, I began to sit in my pain and learn it. Being attentive and patient with my affliction allowed me to grow with less friction. I stopped running from my darkness that consisted of my depression, anger, resentment, confusion, and frustration and began dwelling in my darkness.
In my darkness I found my freedom. Peace was easily attainable because I stopped avoiding my problems and the roots of my feelings. The chronic pain has only increased in intensity over time but so has my capacity through Christ. During that time I heavily referred to Psalm 27:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh,
they stumbled and fell.
Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear:
though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.
For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion:
in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me;
he shall set me up upon a rock.
And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me:
therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy;
I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice:
have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee,
Thy face, LORD, will I seek.
Hide not thy face far from me;
put not thy servant away in anger:
thou hast been my help; leave me not,
neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me,
then the LORD will take me up.
Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies:
for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
I had fainted, unless I had believed
to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait on the LORD:
be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.
This is where the context and the second clause of Ps 119 becomes imperative. “It IS good for me that I have been afflicted; that I may learn thy statutes” God awards us with tests and affliction to build us, not break us. If at any point my pain stops leading me to my purpose, if at any point my affliction is no longer aggravating me toward becoming more than I am currently, if at any point I begin giving my pain more praise than God, I’m failing the test. Being closer to God in proximity and practice is ultimate goal. Through much practice I’ve discovered that my pain isn’t the problem. There’s a lesson larger than my pain in every battle I’ve fought.