Except when it's not. Sometimes pain is weakness leaving the body, and sometimes it's your femur bone being snapped in half! (Thank you, Brian Regan.) Sometimes it means being pushed to your ultimate limit resulting in growth and sometimes it means cruel and permanent damage…which leads me to yesterday morning's teaching about friendship. We read from 2 Samuel chapter 15 which tells of Absalom's (David's son's) betrayal of his father, and the loyalty of David's friends.
By the way, may I just pause here and *thank* God for not whitewashing people's lives in His word? God chose to tell His story through real people with messy lives who loved God imperfectly. I say this because I relate to real people who don't give me whitewashed versions of themselves. It's those persons of integrity from whom I can receive wisdom, encouragement, and, yes, correction. David, who was called a man after God's own heart, grievously sinned by taking many wives, including Bathsheba, with whom he had already committed adultery, impregnated, and subsequently had her husband murdered in battle. (Extremely messy, yes?) For those who say God winks at sin, though, I say keep reading. Yes, David was forgiven, but he had the dire consequences of his sin to live with for the rest of his life - including the death of his son and the inability to properly discipline his remaining sons.
So back to pain. And friendship. Why is it these two words are related? Our pastor said something at the end of his teaching Sunday that struck a painful chord in my heart. He said sometimes those friends we share our lives with will pull out your heart and stomp on it.
On one hand you have friends you become closer with through pain, and on the other hand you have friends who cause it. Friendship and pain, hand in hand, closer than I ever expected those two words to be.
So what's the lesson? What's the point? Through this last year there have been many times I wanted to crawl up, disappear, and just...quit. Yet, since quitting is not a valid option, my next choice was to allow a wall to form to keep people at a distance and protect myself from getting hurt again. The truth is…although I tried for awhile, I couldn't continue doing that either, because it would really just be another form of quitting, and besides, we need each other. It's true, people are often messy and flaky, and can be ugly, mean, and/or downright cruel. But people can also be kind, beautiful, humble, and encouraging. Jesus loved in a way that cost Him. Who am I if I am unwilling to even be open to making new friends? He was God wrapped in flesh, yet He chose to keep company with a group of self centered, slow to understand, stinky sinners (including me.)
There have been people this past year I can't even think about. The pain of loss just cuts too deeply. On Sunday morning, while "kitchening" (it's my own word; with a family of 5, I spend a lot of time in our kitchen cooking, cleaning, etc. so indulge me,) my thoughts turned to some of the people who have, for all intensive purposes, shunned us... I thought about their sweet babies, some in heaven, some probably crawling around by now, who we prayed for through their entire pregnancies, dear, sweet people - I thought about the people whose little ones I would love to see grow up into not so little and then big people, the same people who chose to cut us out of their lives entirely - I was able to pray for them and feel the pain instead of pushing it away. I was able to give it to Jesus and let His healing wash over me. Jesus, the Lover of my soul, the One Who will never leave us or forsake us. The One who knows more betrayal than I can ever fathom. And so now I thank God for my friends, like David's, who, though an entire kingdom seemed to be turned against him, would not leave him, even to save themselves. They are the friends I want to be like. Friendship like that is rare, even within the body of Christ. I am extremely grateful for my dear, precious friends and family who have loved us through this hard life season, giving us encouragement along the way. I am also thankful for the sweet and humble new friends He has brought into our life this past year. But do you want to know something else? I am even grateful for the people I thought were my friends who ended up smashing my heart. Because I know God deeper now. I have experienced His great faithfulness! I have lived in His grace and mercy. I get to forgive. I get to grow. And I get to know God's strength through my own weakness. Because without Him, my smashed up heart would have been cracked in half like a femur with no one to set it, causing crippling and death in my heart and life permanently. Not to say I never limped, or bled. There's been more of that than I would have chosen to experience. I wish healing could always be instantaneous but often it's not; He sets us in place and lets us walk it all out. And that's okay. His way is better.
Christians are called "the Body of Christ."
I Corinthians 12:18 adds, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased." Funny thing - yesterday as I drove my kids to do errands, we listened to a bible teacher on the radio who expounded on the word "set" in this verse. It's an orthopedic term. God took broken people, and "set" us in His body. We are made whole only in Him, yet He's chosen to put us together with other believers for our own (and each other's) health and growth. "As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend," Proverbs 27:17.
Maybe pain isn't weakness leaving the body. Maybe pain is one of our friends.
*It's been a few years since I wrote this. I am eternally grateful for the lessons I have learned through the experiences which prompted this post. I shared with my husband one day, "Maybe we can only truly serve the body sacrificially until we've been wounded by the body." Just a thought. Either way, I wouldn't change what we've been through. God has used it all as only He can. He has given us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. We are blessed to encourage others with the comfort and encouragement the Holy Spirit has comforted and encouraged us with. We are humbled every day that He has called us faithful and made us His own. If you are going through a church hurt, press into Jesus. Lean into what He's doing. He will make it into something beautiful.