Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pain is Only Part of the Story

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Romans 8:18

I came upon this verse a couple of days ago in my Bible. It was the first verse I saw when I opened my Bible seeking comfort, my eyes drawn to the bright yellow highlight over the text, letting me know that this verse must have stuck out to me once before. Since then, I have been meditating on this verse in both it's comfort and practicality. Every struggle we endure in life always seems overwhelming in that moment. When we face a conflict, deal with a time of depression, struggle to pay for college, cope with unemployment, lose a loved one...that circumstance is all we see. It seems to be human nature that many times, we are able to see the negative much more prominently than the positive. When we deal with fighting with a friend, or struggling to make ends meet, or constant feelings of inadequacy and hurt, it is so easy to focus on that. Sometimes we become so focused on those circumstances that we allow them to overwhelm us, to control us, and even define us. It is a personal problematic mindset that I have recently had to face about myself.

When reading over this verse repeatedly and getting revelations, I wondered why it is so easy to be defined by negative circumstances, why my personal feelings and struggles can control so many aspects of my life. The answer I came to was difficult, and it was simply that I, somewhat subconsciously, have a tendency to blame God when life gets difficult. I feel, in a way, that this is honestly a common mindset. God has full control, right? He could make the situation better. He could make ME better. Why is He ignoring my pain? Why did He make me the way that I am? Why are my prayers for everything to get better not making the pain go away instantaneously? We've all been there, asking God why He let something happen or why He is allowing us to feel a certain way. Our human minds get so wrapped up in our current struggles that we forget that that's all that they are; current struggles...or as it is written in Romans 8:18, present sufferings. No painful situation feels temporary in the moment. When we struggle, it can feel like the end of our world, and it's all that we see.

I am reminded of the story of Joseph. If anyone had to deal with unkind circumstances, it was Joseph. Let's just be honest, when your own brothers sell you into slavery out of jealousy, that is easily defined as a "present suffering". He was betrayed by his own family. Just place yourself into this story. Imagine having your own siblings, who you grew up with, become so overcome with jealousy that one, they plot to murder you. Then, even when they decide to let you live, they then choose to sell you into slavery, transforming you from their own flesh and blood into a piece of property, sold like you are nothing more than a mere object. I would have a hard time trusting in God in such terrible circumstances. Yet the Bible said the Lord was close to Joseph. Joseph could have turned away from God and allowed himself to be defined as simply a lowly slave, yet by trusting in God, he found favor and was raised from where he was, no longer defined as a slave, but had high position and standing. The betrayal he endured was but a small piece of a greater story of the visions and goodness and glory that God displayed through him.

Even though I am only in my early twenties, I have seen a share of hard times, times of struggle and hurt that seemed hopeless. I have endured situations where my only goal was to survive, but that was all. If circumstances didn't get any worse, that was enough for my own satisfaction. I couldn't see anything good coming from what I was suffering through. What good can come from losing a loved one, or near-crippling depression? Yet in my life, in the years since some of my most long-lasting and painful struggles, I have seen the truth of this verse come alive. The most pain-filled and shameful aspects of my life are now a story I tell to let people know how incredible God is! Our struggles are always horribly overwhelming in the moment, and it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If I have learned anything in the past few days, it is that when we turn away from God in the difficult times, it only makes those times darker. Times of trial are only hopeless and lost if we turn away from the hope and victory that God will always provide. We can either dwell in the pain and sorrow and let it destroy our very being, or we can turn to the only One who can keep us together and give us the strength to truly overcome our suffering. Every painful experience comes with the option to learn and grow, or stay beaten down and bitter. Ultimately, the choice is our own. We cannot choose to never face times of trial and suffering, but we do have a choice in how we will respond to those trying times. At the end of the day, our current struggles will become a testimony, so long as we allow ourselves to overcome those struggles with God's strength. Our times of suffering are only one part of our life story. Every testimony helps to form our life story, but more importantly our faith and character. Even though it is not easy, when times get tough, we have to trust in God and know that what we are facing right now is just a quick moment, and that while it may seem significant now, it is nothing compared to what God will ultimately do through us.