From my perspective of walking with the Lord for over fifty years and seeing some things clearly, seemingly for the first time ever, I’m surprised that the Lord can still teach this old dog some new lessons.
I have been in a mano-a-mono battle with cancer for over seven years. Looking back, it has been more than eight years, but I was not aware of the diagnosis until seven years ago this month. I’ve had months of freedom from pain and thought I had conquered it, only to have pain slowly, and sometimes quickly, return. The last two months have been especially focused and if I just accept what doctors are saying, it would be easy to move into fear, anger, self-pity. There is something about having every movement filled with pain that cuts away extraneous thoughts and brings into clarity what is important in my life.
Just today I had an amazing insight. At least it was amazing to me. And I’m sure it was not original with me. The insight, boiled down to its simplest form is this: pain sharpens love. We throw the word love around too loosely—expressing love for a certain kind of pizza or the latest movie, then use the same terminology to say “I love my wife and my kids and grandkids.” But the two kinds of love expressed here are universes apart.
When I watch my wife suffer second-hand suffering as she has to endure my groaning or sees the pain in my eyes (even though I try to buck up and not let it show), I am overwhelmed with love for her. She has never considered herself a “nurse” so there have been times in these seven years when she had to bite her lip, take a deep breath, and change a yucky dressing one more time in the middle of the night. That, THAT is one of the best pictures of love I can think of.
The insight God gave me today is that “pain sharpens love”. But it is not an automatic outcome. Pain will sharpen and bring love into clear focus IF we embrace it and bring it under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If, however, we do not accept the Lordship of Jesus over our lives, pain becomes one more reason to be angry and disillusioned with God. I know so many seniors my age who rage against God, shaking their fists toward heaven—demanding to know why God has inflicted some pain on their lives. The result of taking that path is bitterness of spirit that blocks God’s grace and mercy. They are left with an emptiness of soul and spirit that is truly tragic to watch.
When I think of those who suffer persecution for their faith, especially in other countries where Christianity is openly oppressed, I stand in awe of their focused love of the Lord. When I read accounts of pastors or other church leaders who are thrown into the most horrible jail conditions, deprived of basic health care for the torture they have to endure, separated from family, living day by day wondering if their spouses and children have enough to eat or if they are suffering persecution also—I am brought up short. I hear their testimonies of suffering, sometimes year after year, but how much they love the Lord and find great comfort in the face of suffering, just experiencing God’s love surround them. The darkest prison cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ. If that kind of suffering only sharpens the love of God one can experience, how much more should the minor suffering I experience getting out of my comfortable, warm bed increase my love for the Lord and the love He shows me day to day.
I choose to reject judgmental thoughts toward God. As an expression of that choice, I choose to not be judgmental toward minor things that I have no control over. But that is where I need the prayers and support of the Saints God has placed in my life. I need them to pray that I will experience God’s grace on a daily basis to reject a judgmental attitude and embrace His humility. If Holy Spirit will give me that grace, I know pain will only increase love in my heart, love toward God and the love I receive from Him.