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“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
-Matthew 5:3 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
I was asked once if I thought the only way we would discover God was through pain or loss.
I’ve thought a lot about that. Surely it doesn’t take tragedies to experience God. And yet, I think it does. Maybe it’s only when we are overwhelmed, broken, and “poor in spirit” – when we cannot find the resources within ourselves – that we are ready to acknowledge our need for God.
We are physically born in pain. And perhaps that is the only way we can be born spiritually as well.
Pain wears many faces: the pain of sorrow and loss, emptiness, and disillusion; the pain of guilt and shame, rejection and abandonment. Within all forms of emotional pain, we find ourselves struggling to find the answers and resources we need to satisfy our yearning.
We search for meaning in academic institutions and the wisdom of philosophers. We believe we will be happy when we have reached a certain level of success or have acquired enough wealth. We make plans, work hard to achieve them and believe we are good people because we attend church and believe in the golden rule.
And yet, in all our searching for happiness and contentment, we are left with a sense of being incomplete. The answers we thought we wanted don’t seem to be enough. Something seems to be missing and we keep looking for it. And then a tragedy, death or loss challenges our thinking and beliefs even more.
We look for answers to all our problems in science, technology and the internet. Medical research is providing us remedies for diseases and all forms of health and medical problems. While throwing the need for God out the window, we unconsciously keep looking for a God substitute that can provide answers of the spirit and soul.
What is my pain teaching me?
Pain, like everything else, can teach us. I have found it is precisely when I am in emotional or physical pain that I am challenged to stop and reflect on what is working and what is not. When I remain in its presence, I begin to accept my vulnerabilities, break down the protective barriers I have built and allow myself to be strengthened. It is in pain where I find the opportunity to grow, spiritually and mentally and become genuine and real.
Nobody likes pain and we try to avoid it whenever possible. Yet, without pain we would not know when something was wrong or when we have injured ourselves.
Acute pain is the body’s first line of defense against danger: move away, get help, do something.
People born without pain receptors are at high risk of physically injuring themselves. Pain is important for our survival.
We typically describe physical pain as throbbing, burning or some other one of a thousand descriptions.
But what about emotional pain?
How do you describe it? It is just as acute, but without physical signs of bruising or bleeding. And it usually brings out the worst in us. We become irritable, cranky and moody and lose patience and dump those feelings on anyone who happens to be around.
But, if we are willing, pain can bring out the best in us. We learn patience and develop fortitude and more effective coping skills. Our spiritual and psychological muscles are strengthened, and life takes on a deeper, more spiritual meaning.
Grief, Loss and God
We are not only challenged to come to terms with our loss but are confronted with the necessity to consider what life really means. We think happiness is all about career achievement, financial security and education.
While these things are important, they in and of themselves do not necessarily make us happy. When a loved one’s life is cut short, we recognize the importance of relationships, giving and sharing, and self-sacrifice.
When faced with pain or loss, we cry out to God for help.
There is scientific and medical evidence that prayers make a difference in healing from surgeries and injuries, regardless of whether the recipient knows they are being prayed for or not.
Prayer is an integral part of my life and I am very aware of prayers heard and answered according to God’s time frame and wisdom. And I have learned to formulate my prayers to meet the needs of the moment.
I believe we will only find the remedies we want and need when we are open to coming to God for answers to the questions we have difficulty formulating. When our well-laid plans have been destroyed and we are stripped of wealth, good intentions and well-designed lives, we find ourselves re-thinking God and our need for something beyond ourselves, our culture and technology.
This can be an enriching moment in time. Yes, it is painful and yes, if you could, you would avoid having to go through such times. But it can be a major turning point in your life.
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