One of my dearest friends has suffered chronic pain for more than seven years now. I have watched her grow stronger in spirit despite persisting weakness in her body. I have been amazed by how she is able to glorify God, even amidst her chronic suffering.
I imagine if you are interested in an article like this one, you might be wondering what the Bible says about your own pain. I hope what I write here inspires you to trust God and believe his Word even when you face pain, and so I would like to share with you a letter I wrote to my friend.
An Open Letter to My Friend in Pain
Dear friend, how it hurts me to see you in pain (1 Corinthians 12:26). I watch you fall exhausted and nothing I do can pick you up. I’ve heard your cries and moans and seen you shiver or sweat or shake late into the night just waiting on relief. I’ve seen Tylenol and Advil lose their power to the beast of Pain that goes untamed in your life, despite all the doctor visits, prayers, and therapies.
You have become acquainted with pain.
In God’s severe mercy, he has let you see the world as it really is, and not how you want it to be. It’s painful. It’s broken. He hasn’t let you live under the illusion that life is easy; he has cracked the veneer of false comfort for you. You bear the curse, as we all must, according to our various crosses, but he has made your burden such that you believe what he says about the world to be true—it’s just not as it should be.
And so, you, my friend, have—or rather are learning to have—a kind of courage that’s rare these days.
Modern society tells us that pain is our worst enemy, and so we live to fight it. Yet you have wisely surrendered to it.
We hate to hear the first words of the Bible that pain was promised to us because we bear the guilt of our first parents (Genesis 3). Pain is natural as thorns, but it still seems to surprise most of us. Not you.
No, you’re not sick because you sinned; you’re sick because someone sinned a long time ago, and God has punished the world by letting us bear the consequences. Your suffering is part of a web of sorrow that started in the garden a very long time ago.
In your sickness, you’ve surrendered quietly to the truth of a fallen world. Many people rage against all pain, blaming God for treating them unjustly. Not you. You accept trouble into your lap, quietly, and without rage.
I remember when your tears fell hot with anger, but I’ve watched you grow. I’ve seen seeds of belief that God is not the enemy, blossom. You know that this mess of sickness began because we were his enemy, not because he was ours. I’ve seen that seed of belief in God’s goodness blossom into patient, constant humility in your life. That humility is expressed when you cry and bear your cross without raging against the Lord.
Though you hurt so deeply and daily you don’t think yourself undeserving of it, and you know it’s not a mark of God’s disfavor.
“It’s just pain,” you say.
You’ve become acquainted with prayer.
I don’t want the pain to stay. With all my heart I want you healed. Yet I have watched a wonder at work—when pain comes, it has become your servant and not your master.
It has taught you how to pray. I don’t mean that pain has made you a religious person—religion in the formal sense is a nonsensical answer to suffering. I mean that it has taught you how to approach God, how to talk to him, and to receive from him the grace and goodness that can sustain you through suffering and pain.
You used to go to God demanding that he relieve you of pain. And when he was silent, you’d come away worse than when you went to see him—until you finally decided that he wouldn’t take it away, and so he must have his own reasons for that. Rather than asking him for his reasons, you made a courageous decision: You chose to seek him anyways.
You chose to go to him, for you found that he is the only comfort that can touch the part of you no physician could ever reach—your soul, or as the ancient poet calls it, “your inmost being” (Psalm 139:13 NIV).
And so your pain did not torment your soul in solitude, rather it sent you running to the Lord. And in your weakness somehow you learned to relate to him exactly as he asks us to—without big words, and sometimes without words at all, as a child relates to her father (Matthew 6:7-8; Romans 8:26; Romans 8:15).
You told me that you realized he (the Lord) is healing and helps deeper than the healing you seek. He’s able to undo in your soul all the ugly things that pain arouses in your heart. He’s able to hold the hand of your heart when your hurt is unbearable. He is your way through the pain. He is your heavenly husband to lean on.
You have discovered the secret to the whole Bible—that God is not there to give us stuff, even the best of stuff—healing included. He’s not there to lift the suffering. He’s there, ready to give us himself. But it’s often the stuff we want—healing included—that keeps us from wanting him.
And so when you begin to hurt you often say, “Can we pray?”
You’ve become acquainted with patience.
Your condition has weakened you physically. And yet you have spent countless effective hours in the heavenly gym. I see in your life the strength that is so hard to acquire, and so precious to have—it is the strength God desires for every one of his children. We call this strength, patience.
Proverbs says, “Better a patient person than a warrior” (Proverbs 16:32 NIV). In the school of Endurance, you’re a mighty little soldier. I’ll explain.
Sometimes people use the term “long-suffering” instead of patience. They’re defining patience for us. It’s the ability to suffer for a long time or to keep suffering. In the same way, great faith in the Bible is measured by duration—how long we have believed for.
No, healing hasn’t come. But you haven’t given up. Given up what?
Some may think in your situation you’re a victim, prey to pain. Not in your case. God’s Word instructs us in James, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains” (James 5:7 ESV). Farmers are some of the hardest working people! They don’t sit down in the field while they wait, they get to work.
Even in your weakened state, I see you working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). I know that may sound vague. But here’s what I mean.
First, you obeyed. You took God at his Word and had the elders of the church pray for you—and then in faith, you left the results to him (James 5:14-16).
Second, you believe. You believe that Jesus was serious when he welcomed you to ask him for anything (John 15:7). You continue to give him your heart, asking him for healing, believing that your Jesus is the same Jesus we read about in the Gospels. But you also humbly accept that Jesus is wise beyond all measure, and he may ask you to keep waiting on healing, help, and comfort.
Third, you pray, give thanks, and rejoice (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). You know that God has already healed you in the way you most needed. You know that your ultimate sickness was the sin in your heart. You love God because you know that he first loved you, by sending Jesus to die on a cross to save you from God’s wrath (1 John 4:19). You trust in Jesus and now hold his hand, knowing God as your Father from now into eternity. You know that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV).
You know God. You know God! And you love him. And you know he loves you. So, in all this pain, you patiently endure, all the while running to him, thanking him for the countless gifts of kindness he’s riddled your life with, and you possess true joy.
And when you forget that he is good, you cry out to him. He comes and picks you up—I’ve seen it happen. You have learned patience—to work when there is not yet rain, or growth, or fruit—when there is no healing. In that waiting, I have seen him work in you (Romans 5:3-5). I have watched him refine you. You’re more thankful, more peaceful, more prayerful, more joyful, more wise, and more of many other graces. I will pray he one day restores you (1 Peter 5:10).
You’ve become acquainted with the Prince of Peace.
Oh friend, I cannot heal you, and sometimes I can’t even help you. But I have watched our Jesus at your side. He can heal you, if he decides, and I know he wants to, and will someday—he bought you with his own blood to make it certain. He is wiser than we are, and I’ve got to trust him to handle you with care. He loves you, I’m certain of it because of the cross. And, I’m delighted to say, I know he’s glorified in you, because you love him, even in your Pain.
Though the diagnosis never be discovered
Nor sufficient drugs in the drawer,
Though Tylenol fails
And Advil yields no relief,
Though free evenings be turned to dark nights
and there be no help but to pray,
Yet we will rejoice in the Lord,
We will take joy in the God of our salvation.
We can keep sailing into the storm, knowing Jesus is in our boat. And I pray one day he stands up and calms your storm.