Hurt comes to everyone’s life in one way or another. For some, it’s more severe than others. Of course, when we use a generic term like hurt, it can mean physical, emotional, or spiritual damage. It can even be a potent combination of the three. It usually becomes a blend of the three because when we are hurting in one area, it bleeds into the other two eventually. A friend once said, “Don’t let your pain go to waste.” That’s stuck with me for many years. Every hardship has a lesson (or multiple lessons) embedded within it. Indeed, this is the essence of Paul’s anointed thinking when he wrote of learning to be content in every situation. (Philippians 4:11) Below are nine things to remember when hurting humbly written from one hurt person to another.
1. You’re not the only one hurting.
Pain has a way of causing us to turn inward and become unintentionally selfish. It’s easy to forget that others are hurting too. Understanding others have pain, too, doesn’t minimize or detract from what we’re going through. But it keeps our pain in perspective when we realize others have their own unique hurts and problems. There are extreme times of trauma when we need those closest to us to drop everything and be available. However, those moments can’t and won’t last forever. It’s intensely selfish to assume our hurt is the worst hurt. It’s also incredibly freeing to know that we are not alone in our pain. Finding someone who has experienced similar difficulties and recovered is often the most encouraging thing we can do.
I had to undergo four open-heart surgeries as a child. I was six when they operated on my heart the fourth time. Not too many years after my recovery, Jonathan, my younger brother, was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent years of treatment (you can read more about those testimonies here). My family spent lots of time in and around hospitals. Huge chunks of my childhood memories revolve around painful medical procedures. I have a vivid memory of being very young, lying in a hospital bed with tubes in and around my body, feeling like the most hurt kid on earth. Suddenly, the door flung open, and two nurses wheeled in a young boy missing both his legs. He was groaning with pain, and at that moment, the realization dawned on me that my pain was not the only pain in the world. To this day, if I start to feel like my pain is the only pain in the world, I walk into a children’s hospital and remember that hurt is a universal human condition.
2. Hurt doesn’t give anyone a license to be a jerk.
Years ago, I heard an old farmer tell the story of how one of his prized Tennessee walkers managed to escape his stable on a warm summer afternoon. After hours of searching, the old man found his treasured horse hopelessly tangled in rusty old barbed wire fencing. It broke the farmer’s heart watching that majestic beast trying in vain to break free, but with every effort, the shards of barbed wire embedded themselves deeper into the bloody wounds. With soothing words and a cautious step, the old farmer inched his way towards the grand animal with wire cutters in hand. But he wasn’t careful enough; from the corner of his eye, he saw the hoof coming, but it was too late. He felt an explosive sensation in his head, and everything went black. When he awoke, the horse was almost dead, and he was too.
The old axiom is true that hurting people hurt people. Sadly, this creates a cycle of pain in the hurting person’s life. Hurting people isolate themselves by constructing self-imposed barriers between themselves and those who care about them the most. It’s difficult not to be caustic, sarcastic, and just a little narcissistic when hurting deeply. Truly hurting people may lash out at random strangers or their closest friends and family members at any given moment, alienating them further and intensifying their pain. Like the horribly mangled Tennessee walker, hurting people don’t necessarily mean to lash out or act like a jerk; sometimes, it’s just a reflexive reaction. Regardless, pain doesn’t give us the right to attack the people around us. And it only makes the situation worse.
3. All hurts can be healed.
There might be scars that never quite disappear. The healing may not come when and how we want it to appear, but God will send healing if we remain righteous. One of the most encouraging passages in the Bible is Psalm 37:17-19:
“The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
The Bible never tries to sugarcoat the reality that the righteous will be afflicted, yet God will deliver the righteous from all their troubles. That little word all is so important because it encompasses physical, spiritual, and emotional hurt. There is no hurt that God cannot heal. There is no wound so deep that God cannot mend. And the righteous are never closer to God than when they are brokenhearted. Even while we are waiting for the healing, the Healer is with us.
4. God is present even when you don’t feel Him.
The greatest saints in the Bible often felt as if God was absent in their trouble. Isaiah lamented, “God, where are your dramatic, awe-inspiring works of in my day?” He had heard of “times past” when God would “rend the heavens and come down,” when people “quaked in God’s presence.” But where was that God now, Isaiah asked? He shouted in dismay, “You have hidden your face from us.” (Isaiah 64:1-7) The psalmist Asaph cried, “We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be” (Psalm 74:9). And Gideon, right before God used him to destroy an entire Midianite army with only three hundred men, said to an angelic messenger, “If the Lord is really with us… where are all His wonderful deeds like the ones our fathers told us about?” (Judges 6:13)
If you want to learn powerful lessons about finding purpose in pain, read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It’s the true story of Corrie’s life during World War II and her family’s efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis. Eventually, the Nazis caught Corrie and her sister, Betsie, and threw them into a concentration camp. In Hitler’s death camp, they experienced unspeakable horrors. A little gem in the story is the recounting of Corrie and Betsie’s first night in Nazi barracks. The bunk beds were stacked three levels high and barely offered enough room for a person to squeeze into them. Usually, two or three ladies were forced to share single four-foot-wide rancid straw mattresses. While laying there fighting nausea because of the stench and claustrophobia, Corrie felt something bite her leg. “Fleas,” she cried! Looking closely, Corrie and Betsie realized the entire room was swarming with fleas.
“How can we live in such a place?” Corrie moaned. Betsie began to pray and ask the Lord to show them how they could endure this nightmare. Suddenly, a Scripture came to her mind that she had been reading:
“Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18)
Betsie was firm, “we must thank God for the fleas.” Understandably, Corrie was shocked and annoyed at the idea of thanking God for the fleas. Corrie couldn’t find it in her heart to thank God for something so awful.
As the weeks passed, Betsie’s health weakened to the point that, rather than needing to go out on work duty each day, she was permitted to remain in the barracks and knit socks together with other seriously-ill prisoners. She was a lightning-fast knitter and usually had her daily sock quota completed by noon. As a result, she had hours each day she could spend moving from platform to platform reading the Bible to fellow prisoners. She was able to do this undetected as the guards never seemed to venture far into the barracks.
One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks, Betsie’s eyes were twinkling. “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her.
“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we asked the supervisor to come and settle it. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door, and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ” God had a purpose for the fleas that Corrie could not see. She couldn’t see or feel God in that situation. But He was there all along!
5. Your response to hurt will determine whether you come out stronger or weaker.
Job lost everything: children, health, and wealth, but he refused to sin or charge God foolishly. (Job 1:12-22) Because of his righteous response, God gave Job more abundant blessings than he had previously. Joseph had visions and dreams from God, but his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. He was persecuted, falsely accused, tossed into prison, forgotten, ignored, but Joseph never stopped trusting the Lord. Not only was he restored, but God elevated Joseph to places he could not have imagined. (Genesis 41) Learning how to react correctly to hurt is possibly the most essential life skill we can learn.
Two thieves hung on crosses next to Jesus. It isn’t possible to adequately describe the agony of crucifixion. But crucifixion is one of the most excruciating and traumatic ways to die. Both thieves were suffering in precisely the same way. But one thief scoffed Jesus, and the other begged Jesus to remember him. (Luke 23:32-43) Beautifully, Jesus responded to the tormented thief begging for remembrance and promised him a place in paradise. (Luke 23:43) Our response to God while hurting can mean the difference between Heaven and Hell.
6. There are valuable lessons to be learned while hurting.
In his classic work The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrestled openly with the big questions of human suffering. He offers insights into revelations received during the most painful seasons of his life. Lewis wrote:
“I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed by such lines [where happiness and kindness abound and they always lead to good things]. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction… Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. … Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”
Only through suffering could Lewis gain such insight into the nature of God. In my own life, I have only traversed the deepest wellsprings of revelation through grief. Some insights can only be achieved through pain. Some depths can only be explored in the darkest places. Some epiphany’s flash like lightning in the middle of terrible storms. Learn to look for lessons strewn about in the tempests of suffering, and you will find priceless gems sparkling in the mud.
7. Anointing is forged and perfected in fiery furnaces.
In yet another definitive work, Beyond The Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world… We’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in this world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.”
Be careful praying for God to give you anointing; He will do it, but it will be painful. God will place you in situations where you will be forced to stand when everyone else is bowing down, and He will ask you to bow when everyone else is standing. The anointing will take you to the furnaces and fires of decision and sacrifice. The process is difficult, but the refining is worth it.
8. Hiding from helpers only makes hurting hurt worse.
When Jonathan, my brother, was battling leukemia, I met a little boy in the children’s hospital. His name was Jordan, and he was very young and as you can imagine he was very scared. The doctors and nurses seemed to him very large and imposing, so he would try to hide from them when possible. This, of course, was extremely disturbing to his parents, who wanted him to get good treatment. But it was impossible to make that little boy understand why doctors sometimes do things that hurt so we can heal. He turned hiding from his helpers into a game of cat and mouse.
We, humans, tend to be like Jordan when we’re hurting. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we hide from the One and the ones who want to help us the most. However, this can cause serious damage and keep us from getting the help we so desperately need. Resist the urge to isolate and hide when pain is acute. Please don’t let fear, or pride, or shame, or anything else keep you from allowing helpers to help fix your hurt.
9. Hurt is only a season that will soon pass.
According to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. There is a time for life and death, planting and reaping, killing and healing, destroying and building, mourning and laughter, there’s even a time for losing and winning. But there is one season the Bible never mentions, and that is a season for quitting. Because in the economy of God, there is no giving up. Quitting is not an option. Human reasoning says failure is not an option. But that isn’t so. God can handle our failures as long as we don’t quit.
The great thing about understanding that life operates in seasons is the accompanying knowledge that painful seasons will pass. Seasons are, by definition, temporary. Winter seems eternal, but it’s not. All the death gives way to life, and Spring bursts forth. So, never give up. Take courage and keep your faith because good things are coming your way.
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