Have you ever cried or found yourself especially hurting over something that in itself really wasn’t big enough that it should have caused such an intense response? The recent death of a friend brought me pain that was surprisingly intense and difficult to bounce back from. As I wondered why, God gave me some helpful insights.
Our hearts are like a bucket. Each painful event puts water into the bucket. Past events can still cause some pain when we are reminded of them. When those events first happened, they may have contributed half a bucket of water; now it is only a few drops. The water evaporates as we allow God to bring healing, so that by now the combined hurt from decades of our lives has been reduced to a tablespoonful of water, not even enough to notice. More recent hurts, however, and current situations add water to the bucket, sometimes a cup, sometimes a gallon or more, depending on the magnitude of the event. There are times in life that our buckets are very nearly full; any additional event, though it may not be huge in itself, is enough to make the bucket overflow.
When there is too much pain for our hearts to contain, there must be an outlet for the excess. There are options for handling that overflow. We can choose not to acknowledge the pain. If we do acknowledge it, we can either accept it or fight against it. There are then three basic responses: ignoring, fighting, or accepting.
Someone who ignores the pain responds with stoicism, pretending not to be affected. In his self-reliance, he suggests that nothing bothers him. In terms of the bucket illustration, he tries to make the sides of the bucket higher, perhaps by taping a piece of cardboard around the top. The soggy, dripping cardboard shows his plan to be ineffective. The pain of life does have an effect, and pretending otherwise hinders both our ability to properly deal with the event and our ability to minister to others.
The second response acknowledges the pain, but fights against it. In order to avoid the flow of excess water, the person hardens the water into ice cubes. He becomes angry, bitter, or resentful. He converts all of the extra emotion into those dangerous responses which can poison the soul and alienate him from God. This reaction can have devastating effects on his current and future spiritual welfare.
The third response recognizes the pain and accepts it as such. This response allows the excess water to flow over the sides of the bucket and soak the ground around it. The response of acceptance often leads to tears, sometimes in abundance. While perhaps uncomfortable or even frustrating, the tears are not wrong. Being willing to cry is saying, “God, I accept this hurt as by Your design. I will respond to the pain with a submissive spirit rather than fighting. My tears recognize the reality of pain, but by choosing tears instead of anger, I am saying that I am willing to hurt within Your plan.”
This submissive response is possible as we recognize God’s truth. First, each contributing event is within the sovereign control of God. Neither the reality, the timing, nor the combination of the events is wrong. On the contrary, each aspect is very right and good within the plan of God (Dan. 4:35, Rom. 8:28).
Second, the fact that these events hurt is not wrong. I Pet. 1:6 speaks of the inevitable heaviness brought by a variety of trials. In II Cor. 4:8-9, Paul talks of the pain and confusion of trials. In II Cor. 1:3-6, God Himself recognizes that affliction is hurtful enough to require His comfort.
Third, pain may linger. In heaven all pain, tears, and sorrow will be abolished forever (Rev. 21:4). On this sinful earth, however, there will always be pain (Jn. 16:33). Because some situations have ongoing effect or intermittent reminders, the pain of those situations may continue to some extent.
Fourth, God gives grace to bear the pain (II Cor. 12:9). He also tells us in I Cor. 10:13 that He knows our limitations and will not exceed them. While it may seem that too much is happening, God says that cannot be. The situation is never too much when accompanied by God’s grace.
Fifth, God does heal pain. He does that in part by putting boundaries on the pain to keep it from being overwhelming (II Cor. 4:8-9). The Bible also makes it clear that God’s work through pain is never over until He gives the healing (I Pet. 5:10, Job 5:18).
Sixth, God heals through love. I am unaware of anything else that has power to heal. The loving words and gentle hug of a friend help the healing process. Whether or not anyone else is available, God Himself, whose very nature is love, ministers to us in a way that no one else can. He talks of things like folding us under His wings and carrying us in His arms (Ps. 61:4, Is. 40:11). He is the God of all comfort (II Cor. 1:3), He loves us with everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), and He heals the broken-hearted (Ps. 147:3).
Seventh, God uses the pain for greater purposes. Through the painful situations, God is continually molding us to make us more like Christ (Jam. 1:3-4), but the greater purposes are bigger than us. When our weak human vessels survive past the breaking point, it becomes clear that the power is God’s and not our own (II Cor. 4:7, I Pet. 1:7). Our victory through pain brings glory to God.
When our bucket of pain is full and overflowing, we can choose to ignore the pain in self-reliance, fight against it in anger, or accept it in submission. The painful events, within the sovereign plan of God, do bring pain, and tears of acceptance are an appropriate response. It is not then unreasonable to think that tears and even the pain itself are part of God’s molding process. The bucket is overflowing because God intends it to be that way for the work that He wants to accomplish. Pain and tears, therefore, are okay. I would rather cry from now till the rapture in acceptance of God’s sometimes painful plan than to fight against it.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” II Corinthians 4:7 (NASB)