Noticing a theme? After reading the title to my last post and then this one, you may be inclined to ask what the difference is and that’s a great question! This is the way it works for me:
Beautiful pain is looking at a negative situation then seeing and savoring its immediate beauty.
Joyful suffering is being in the middle of intense agony and having your spirits lifted by the virtue of a reward that is still on its way.
Or perhaps more concisely:
Beautiful pain comes from seeing the immediate virtue in past or present distress.
Joyful suffering comes from seeing the future reward in the midst of the agony.
I was able to look at my church’s situation this week and find something very beautiful in the moment, but today I had to remember how to fix my eyes on the future:
I knew I was gonna have some hard times coming. during the last several months, God has preceded times of trial in my life with powerful displays of His character. The most current one of those was Sunday (if you haven’t read about it yet, then go here: https://tenraikenshin.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/beautiful-pain/ ) It didn’t occur to me until Monday morning that I had it coming.
Monday night, my car overheated even though I just flushed the radiator and filled it with coolant 2 weeks ago. After I pulled over to let it cool down, my car wouldn’t start again and I had to call my brother to come give me a jump. (it’s 11:30 at night, mind you) I spend the ENTIRE next day trying multiple things to fix it to no avail. I spent almost $100, all of my plans fell through, and I was stuck in Elsinore all day…
The next day I wake up feeling like crap; something sorta physical but sorta psychological too. I drive my car to Menifee to a mechanic I know and trust before work (only having to stop once!) and call my brother to get me to work. Wouldn’t you know that a couple of kids in particular are acting crazy, (and it wasn’t even the usual ones!) it was hot as hell, I was exhausted from getting no sleep, I couldn’t take a nap in my car, and I just seem to feel worse little by little. My walk halfway up California Oaks Rd was actually a highlight, as I got some silence before my brother met me at Arco AMPM.
I got to my parents house and took a nap, but woke up feeling worse. I had to get to church though, so I went with my dad. We had a pretty good talk on the way there but as if things weren’t bad enough, I caught a glimpse of the “heart-wrecking ball” and felt a huge wound rip itself right back open inside of me. Seeing her killed whatever little peace I still had: I had officially been attacked from every angle and could feel my blood boiling inside of me. Still, I made it through the evening just fine, but for whatever reason, when I got home that night, it all came down even harder and I just wanted to throw something or… I didn’t even know what to do with myself: I wanted to throw something, I wanted to eat a sandwich so badly, but there were was nothing to make one with though! (I guess it’s a comfort food for me) I wanted to take a run, I wanted to take a shower, but all I could find the strength to do was sleep, so I did.
Today, a scripture I’ve already read 4 or 5 times in the last couple weeks finally clicked:
Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. -2 Corinthians 4:16-18
And that took me to a point earlier in the passage:
Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. -2 Corinthians 4:7-11
I’ve been trying to memorize the book of 2 Corinthians for a couple months now, (I’m almost done with chapter 1!) and we’re reading through it in our Lakeside morning devos, and it’s my favorite book of the Bible, you would think that in the midst of all of this, I would give the book some kind of personal application. Apparently not.
In fact, throughout the book, Paul writes about suffering extensively, and all I hear again and again is all the ways that its beautiful. I missed it though: I saw Paul’s suffering as something beautiful and glorious, something to be respected and reverenced, something to strive for. Passages like this:
For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in the province of Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength —so that we even despaired of life. However, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us; we have placed our hope in Him that He will deliver us again. And you can join in helping with prayer for us, so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many. -2 Corinthians 1:8-11
We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed. But in everything, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by pressures, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the message of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness on the right hand and the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; as deceivers yet true; as unknown yet recognized; as dying and look—we live; as being chastened yet not killed; as grieving yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing yet possessing everything. -2 Corinthians 6:3-10
Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for [My] power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:7b-10
Made me see what he was going through and how he handled it and admire him a lot. It was a healthy admiration, but I totally missed the point. Doesn’t reading those scriptures make his suffering seem epic and near otherworldly? I could pull scriptures like that from all over the place, honestly; but that exposes my problem: I have a tendency to give some experiences more weight than other based on some type of ‘nobility’ which may or may not really be there. In this case, it wasn’t there. Paul sure as hell didn’t see is pain as some extraordinary occurence, or something more glamorous than anything else. Or maybe he did, maybe every small happening was something profound and special for him: either way, his experience is not to be exalted above mine or anyone else’s, and I had been doing just that. He simply saw all of his pain as an opportunity to have joy, I’ve created two categories where Paul only saw one.
Whether the pain was dull or excruciating, for a great or small cause, temporary or permanent, for the sake of punishment or reward: Every moment of suffering was there to show God’s glory. ALL of his suffering was meaningful.
Why? Because in each of those passages, God has a promise and is doing a work:
producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory
so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh.
so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.
Paul wasn’t ever looking at the situation and saying it was beautiful, he saw beauty in it all because He saw God working and that motivated him. I’ve been looking at my situation and seeing no beauty, leaving me feeling insignificant and defeated. What I missed was the big picture and the result of the conflict, which is the push of the ENTIRE book of 2 Corinthians! DUH! It’s not to display Paul’s suffering as an archetype or example for us, but to show God’s faithfulness, power, and our utter dependence on Him using the “great” Apostle (St.) Paul as our example. To present God as our comfort (1:3), our life (1:9), and our deliverer (1:10) [And that’s only in the first chapter!] Hah, I just got that as I was typing! I’ve been reading the book wrong this whole time lol. Time to go read it again and really get it!