It was about 9 AM Tuesday morning, September 24, 1996. I was sitting at my desk in the beginning stages of preparing my Sunday sermon. My preparation was interrupted when my secretary buzzed me and said that my parents’ next door neighbor was on the phone.
Quickly assuming that something was wrong, I told my secretary to put the call through to me. The voice on the other end of the line said, “Jerry, this is Lydia, your mom and dad’s next door neighbor. Your dad asked me to call you to tell you that something has happened to your mom. You need to come to their house as soon as you can.”
As I hung up the phone, I tried to wrap my mind around Lydia’s message. I had been in the ministry long enough to realize that since her message was somewhat vague, and since she said to come to their house instead of to the hospital, I quickly concluded that most likely my mother had died. As I drove out of town, I prayed a prayer that I’d never had to pray before: “Lord, whatever it is that I am about to face, please don’t let me waste the pain.”
At the end of that 45 minute drive, I learned that my mother had died in her sleep.
Live long enough and life will eventually put you in a position of pain. Death does that, whether its sudden or after a long fight with a debilitating illness. Broken relationships, financial distress, loss of a job, broken dreams, crushed hope – all of these and more can bring pain into one’s life. So the question is not will we experience pain?
The question is what we will do with the pain once it comes?
Will we waste the pain or will we gain from the pain? Or, to paraphrase a Christian radio DJ I heard recently, will we allow the pain to make us better or bitter, allow it to turn our tragedy into triumph, turn our test into a testimony, and turn us from victim to victor?
An important truth to remember is this: what we do with our pain is a choice each of us makes for ourselves. Those who choose to waste their pain simply default to the natural tendency we have as humans. Wasting pain is our default position. Symptoms of that choice are the unlearned lessons, the failure to grow stronger emotionally, mentally, and especially spiritually, the inability to come alongside as an encourager to those going through similar experiences, and the unseized opportunity to purge one’s life of negative character traits revealed by the pain.
What practical steps can you take to make sure you don’t waste your pain?
- In the midst of the pain, either establish or reaffirm your non-negotiable beliefs about God.
A good place to start is the truth about God found in the lyrics of a contemporary Christian song “Trust His Heart”: “God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. So when you don't understand, when you don't see His plan, when you can't trace His hand, trust His heart.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask God why, but be sure to ask Him from a position of faith rather than from a position of doubt.
Asking why from a position of doubt means that I am looking for a reason to condemn Him, and maybe even for a reason not to believe in Him.
Asking why from a position of faith means that I believe God holds the answer, and that whether or not He should choose to reveal it to me, I will still move forward to learn from the pain, and grow stronger because of it. Asking why from a position of faith is the Romans 8:28 position (“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”) And what is His purpose? Romans 8:29 holds that answer, “so that we can become conformed to the image of His Son.”
- Once you have asked God why from a position of faith, as quickly as possible move to the “now what” questions. (And once you ask them, don’t forget to hang around to hear the answers.)
- “Lord, now that this has happened, what good do You want to bring into my life?”
- “Lord, now that this has happened, what do You want to teach me?”
- “Lord, now that this has happened, what do You want to remove from my life that is hindering me from being conformed to the image of Your Son?”
- “Lord, now that this has happened, what good do You want me to bring into others’ lives?”
- If necessary, forgive as you have been forgiven.
There is no greater contributor to wasted pain than being slave to an unforgiving spirit. Perhaps by now you have heard of the tragedy experienced in the life of Monty Williams, assistant coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team. Recently his wife of 20 years, the mother of his five children, was killed when a woman driving 92 mph in a 40 mph zone crossed over the center line and hit her SUV head-on. A week later, Monty Williams stood over the casket containing his wife and delivered a powerful faith-filled seven minute eulogy. Among the things he said that day were these: “Everybody is praying for me and my family, but let us not forget there were two people in this situation. And that family needs prayers as well. And we have no ill will toward that family. In my house, we have a sign that says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” We cannot serve the Lord if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness.”
The Bottom Line
“Lord, don’t let me waste this pain.” Those heartfelt words which I expressed to God the day my mother died, led to some of the most significant growth I ever experienced as a person, and especially as a minister who would be called upon over and over in the years that followed to minister to individuals who had lost a loved one. Whether you are currently experiencing pain, or yours is still to come, whatever else you do, don’t waste that pain.
About the Author
Jerry Long is a retired minister [38 years] living in metro Greenville, SC. He and his wife Lynne have two daughters and three grandchildren. He holds degrees from Clemson University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.