“Don’t waste your pain.” The first time I used that phrase, I was sitting across from a man who had just divorced his second wife. She had verbally abused his two daughters from the time they were eleven until he left her. “I knew I should have gotten out earlier,” he said, “but I kept holding out hope. One day she would be fine and the next day she’d snap. I’ll recover from this, but my daughters—
I put them through hell. I don’t know if they’ll ever forgive me, and if they do, what kind of scars will they carry?”
I sat for a long time listening to the man’s story, trying to offer as much support as I could. Two hours into our lunch, he looked at me and asked, “What lesson does God want me to take from this?”
Without even thinking I said, “Don’t waste your pain.”
The question we need to ask ourselves when God allows us to go through hard times is not why but who? In the mind of God, pain always has two intended recipients: us and someone else. If we choose not to take what we’ve experienced and find some way of using it to help other people, we miss a large part of why God allowed us to suffer in the first place.
In his book The Gospel of Suffering, philosopher Søren Kierkegaard asked:
When indeed does the temporal suffering oppress a man most terribly? Is it not when it seems to him that it has no significance, that it neither secures nor gains anything for him? Is it not when the suffering, as the impatient man expresses it,
is without meaning or purpose?
Absolutely. Suffering is pointless when it is without meaning, and suffering is without meaning, ultimately, when what we’ve suffered isn’t put to some greater use. Let your mind wander for a moment and think of ways God might want to use what you’ve suffered to help serve other people in Jesus’ name.
- Maybe you’ve struggled with infertility. How could God use what you’ve learned through that struggle to help other couples facing the same circumstances?
- Maybe you were abused as a child. Could God be nudging you to write poetry, magazine articles, or books to help others?
- Maybe you’ve struggled with unemployment. Does your church have a ministry poised to help similar people in your community? Could you help start one?
- Maybe you’ve had a bad accident and still feel its effects. How could God take your pain and turn it into a blessing for other people?
I taught a Bible study one night on the subject of abortion. Even though I tried my best to be as gracious and sensitive as possible, a woman in the group came up to me afterward visibly distraught. As a teenager in high school, she had been talked into having an abortion by her controlling boyfriend and regretted it immensely. I pointed her to a crisis pregnancy center, and she quickly became their lead volunteer counselor. She could have chosen to conceal her pain, like so many women in her situation do, and silently live with her wounds the rest of her life. Instead, she chose to give herself and her story away. I couldn’t have been more proud of her. She didn’t waste her pain, and whatever you do, please, don’t waste yours either.
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