The reality of pain in our world is not easy for any of us to accept. Personally, I am rather a baby so far as physical pain is concerned, but emotional pain is perhaps an even greater problem. Many have grappled with the question including C.S. Lewis, who is one of my favorite authors. Some in dealing with it lose their faith; others make choices that powerfully affect their own lives and the lives of those around them.
Paul Meier and David L. Henderson have taken up the challenge in Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain. They take address 7 areas of emotional pain–injustice, rejection, loneliness, loss, discipline, failure, and death–and attempt, successfully I believe, to find a purpose in suffering the torments of normal life. As a Christian who believes that pain is a consequence of the fall from grace, it might be easy to assume that pain is simply wrong. Meier and Henderson suggest that pain has a purpose to help move us beyond ourselves and prepare us to become citizens of heaven.
Early in their discussion, the authors write that we fail to see this purpose because we focus on the circumstances rather than on God, allow fear of pain to supplant our fear and understanding of God, and forget our experiences of God’s past faithfulness as we struggle with present problems. Of course, for many of us, one area of emotional pain often comes to dominate our lives, potentially becoming a barrier to our progress in spiritual growth.
Personally, rejection and loneliness have been my greatest source of disappointment and self-doubt. I found the chapters on these areas of pain especially relevant and thought-provoking, in fact, causing me to slow down in my reading to ponder some of what they wrote. Two thoughts struck me as especially valuable. One was to remember that I’m not the only one who struggles with such feelings and to use my own needs as a springboard to reach out to others with similar needs, not to meet my own but to seek to be their friend. Such is the tragedy of self-focused struggles with pain, that is, the tendency to wait for someone to do something rather than becoming someone who does something.
I also found their observation about time in relationships to be right on the mark. In our world today, we Americans especially leave too little time for relationships–for spouses, children, or friends. In doing so, we deprive both ourselves and our loved ones from a most basic need. While Meier and Henderson offer strong medicine on developing our relationships with God in achieving pain’s purpose, they are clear that we have something important to share with each other that we should not neglect.
My strongest recommendation of Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain is that I will most likely reread it myself. The last area of challenge, death, is a sober but valuable reminder that we will all face that ultimate source of potential pain for ourselves and our loved ones, and that it ought not to be avoided or met without thought and preparation. Some deny their pain, while others become lost in it. For many of us, pain comes and goes along with life’s ups an downs. I will come back to this book, I suspect, the next time I find myself caught in my own pain whatever its source.