God is not wasting the pain in your life. He never wastes a wound. He’s healing you at this very moment and using that pain to show you a dream bigger than you realize.
Joni Eareckson Tada found her dream, but only after a diving accident left her a teenage quadriplegic. In a wheelchair for nearly 40 years, she’s now a successful speaker, author, and artist, and a beloved advocate for the disabled. But coming to realize His dream has been a difficult journey filled with pain, patience, and healing. He calls you and me to the same journey.
Despite Joni’s success, physical pain has shaken her faith many times. But she’s learned to embrace the hope that does not disappoint because God promises us that if we stay obedient to Him, the product of suffering will be perseverance, character, and hope (Roman 5:3-5). “Hope,” as Nouwen defines it, “is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown. Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.” 1
Notes Joni, “When I trust God in the midst of the most mind-bending pain, my hope is built up, not to mention my character.” When we trust, we allow room for hope.
Trusting God to reveal His dream in our life and give us hope often requires an extraordinary act of willpower. When Joni wakes up and thinks, Lord, I can’t go on…I don’t have the strength, she refuses to let her emotions go down that dark and grim path toward depression. Instead, she prays, Jesus, I don’t have strength; but You do. I have no resources, but You do. I can’t do this, but You can. She says, “The weaker I am, the harder I have to lean on the Lord; and the harder I lean on Him, the stronger I discover Him to be. God always seems bigger to those who need Him most.” 2
This humbles me. The harder I lean on Him, the stronger I discover Him to be. When I’m in the dark, deep valley I have to remind myself to hold onto to the assurance that God never wastes a wound, and that in my pain I really do need to lean on Him.
Paul did. He was pounded by the evil one. All hell was against him. And in the dark valley, he cried out to God not just once but three times to get rid of the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8). It was really messing him up. But God chose not to take it away.
Paul realized something special in that moment, something God wants to show you and me as well—He’s using our weakness to do His work in and through us, building trust, so that His dream for each one our lives can become a reality. We might paraphrase Paul as saying, “When I am weak and learn that He is there, He is present, I’m free, I’m strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Did you ever do one of those “trust falls” where you fall backward into the arms of someone you trust to catch you? You give up total control and place absolute trust in that person to catch you in that moment.
God wants to teach you the same about Him—that you’re not in control. He is. He wants to show you that when He seems most absent and you’re falling backwards, He really is most present and there to catch you. God walks beside you even when you can’t see, hear, or feel Him. He provides you with what you need to get through deep pain, unbelievable circumstances, and surreal events. In your weakness, He wants you to place your hope in Him to prove to you He will not disappoint.
But this requires you to step out in faith, and you must be willing to take the first step. Just like the Israelites, for whom the waters of the river Jordan “piled up in a heap” when the priests carrying the ark of the Lord stepped into the water (Joshua 3:16), we too must step first, even when circumstances challenge our ability to do so.
Then provision comes. And again, like the Israelites, we don’t know what the provision will look like or how or when it will come. But it will. “Jesus says that maturity means growing willingness to be led—even to places we might not eagerly choose.” 3
More often than not, hardship blurs our vision of the future. And although much uncertainty lies ahead, you have to willingly take the first step, knowing that one thing is clear—you can be certain about who God is. Even with difficulties in life, He has overcome the world (John 16:33). So “be alert, be present [God is] about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don't you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19 MSG).
J. I. Packer explains that God has a purpose for our pain:
This is what all the work of grace aims at—an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever-closer fellowship with Him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to Him. How does God in grace prosecute this purpose? Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh, and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances, no yet by shielding us from trouble created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort or another—it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast.” 4
We rarely understand how God is using pain in our lives to refine us. But just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean He’s not doing it. He is—because He has a dream for each of our lives.
1. Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing, 60.
2. Joni Eareckson Tada, personal communication, January 18, 2007.
3. Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing, 36.
4. J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 227.