pain and suffering, healing from painYou’ve passed the point of no return. Last blog’s cliffhanger left us on the precipice of being hurt in your marriage.

 

My past four months have been filled with death, pain, betrayal, floods and draughts. The recent scarcity of any “good” times whatsoever has strained my patience, pushed my buttons, tested my resolve, destroyed my dreams, shaken my faith, and made me question what I believe. My limits have been tested and challenged to the breaking point and, have indeed, broken in some areas.

Many of you are, at this moment, nodding in agreement with me, replacing my “four months” with your own timeline of months, or years, or…even decades.

 

For those of you just tuning into my writings, I often write from a personal point of view, many times from a position in which dwells the very audience I wish to reach. So if you’re not in the loop, or checking out this blog for the first time, an important fact for you to know is that I lost my little sister just over four months ago to a vehicle-pedestrian car accident. It happened on Thanksgiving to be precise. It was twenty hours of the worst pain anyone can experience.

And after the sharp pain, the dull ache set in and the real challenge began. Adjusting to life after having your world rocked and your perceptions of God shattered, is no easy task. In fact, the immediate month following Courtney’s death and memorial service was easier than the next three months. Dealing with lawyers, finances, and all sorts of other logistics relating to Courtney’s death, has been nightmarishly draining on my emotional tank.

That draining effect is not limited to my relationships with Courtney’s friends, or our family.

It has awoken deep dark places in my heart where I have harbored marital resentment, anger, dissatisfaction and selfishness, without even knowing it. In short, the new emotional, psychological, and physical demands on me, due to grief, have raised to the surface issues that would have festered and grown and become a cancer in my marriage.

My analytical nature immediately recognizes that had Courtney still been alive and our family spared all this pain and suffering, many years from now may have seen a much darker, much less hopeful conversation taking place.

Through my years-long obsession with learning and listening to podcast sermons from a host of different pastors around the nation, I have become quite familiar with John Piper’s, Desiring God Ministries mantra, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” This challenge (yes, challenge) has often been at the forefront of my thoughts over the past two years, since having our daughter, Kaelyn.

Since tragedy struck over 4 months ago, when my emotional gas tank sprung a leak (more like cracked), I have come to realize how true that mantra really is. My satisfaction has rested, at least partially, in my marriage, my family, and my emotional well-being. As long as I’m healthy, happy, and cared for, I was good. I felt saved…

…And then, all that stopped being enough, and though I have trusted my life to Christ, I had placed so much of my true enjoyment of life upon things that were never created to bear that kind of burden. I stopped feeling saved, because I stopped feeling cared for, both by my spouse, and I admit, by God.

I put so much importance on my marriage that when I ran to her for shelter and comfort in my sorrow, she broke under the weight of too much expectation.

Has that ever happened to you? The thing you most want to hold you up can’t do it! It’s because the only thing that can truly rescue you from helplessness, heal you from pain, and support you in your weakness is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

I realized that I was unhappy, for various reasons, all stemming from how this world had let me down. I had placed the ultimate value on good things, instead of on the One who gives ultimate value.

So here I am, having felt undervalued and unappreciated by the one from whom I expected the most value and appreciation (a.k.a. my wife). What do I do? How do I reestablish trust and vulnerability, and above all, how do I attain an attitude of grace.

Let me flash back for a moment to my sister’s death. For simplification, let’s label that as the biggest cause of my recent turmoil. Like Job and Joseph, it seems unjust for I and my family to have to suffer such loss. She was only 23! She had so much more life to live.

It’s easy to exhort, “Trust God and love Him,” when times are good, and He is blessing you in obvious ways. My recent reading of The Shack, though, has brought to light so many ways God blesses us not just in spite of suffering, but through it, and how those blessings given to us through pain actually produce more solid character in our lives than everything working out just how we think it should. Romans 5:3 tells us to “GLORY in our sufferings, because we know that suffering” produces hope, through all of God’s mysterious ways, “and hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:4)

So it comes down to why you and I, and all you husbands and wives reading this experience unhappy times within marriage, or just plain unhappy marriages.

The answer is because God never called us to live happy lives, but holy lives. And God intends for your marriage to be a vessel of holiness, more than happiness.  But the real catch is to know that true holiness will bring true hapiness!  (But you can’t seek the latter without first seeking the former.)

At Courtney’s memorial service, there was a man named Joe I’ve known for 14 years, since high school. He and I have argued about religion; I have pushed the gospel on him, and he has pushed it away as a result. That was back when life was “good.” He now tells me that even since then he has seen real glimmers of character and compassion, even through my judgmentalism and “Christian” elitism.

However, in the genuine authenticity of the moments when my father, mother, and I spoke at the memorial service, Joe told me there was something about us, something in our words, our eyes, that caused him to see something worthwhile there. He turned to his friend (and mine), Matt, and told him he’d like to start going to church. Four months and a day after Courtney’s death, Joe made the decision to follow Christ!

I got the call at noon, right after church that day, and suddenly the suffering and pain and terrible heartache had a point and a purpose. About half an hour later, after telling everybody I knew that I could find, I was in the car heading to have lunch with my mom when I felt the urge to turn on the radio. Family Life Radio introduced Michael W. Smith’s Healing Rain.

As the words and music played, the healing really did pour out upon me, as if God was literally emptying a watering can of medicine upon my broken and battered heart. I could see a tiny bit of God’s perspective as I heard His voice in my heart, “My son, My love is shown more fully in tragedy than it ever could in a time of prosperity. Nobody searches Me out in a time where all their needs are being met. Joe and I now have a relationship because he saw My power in the midst of your grief and weakness.”

God is faithful, friends.

I’ll leave you with some lyrics from a song from my sister’s funeral, called Blessings by Laura Story (very worth a download in iTunes). It helps me rest in the satisfaction of God’s sufficiency, even though he may send pain to us at times. I pray it will help you do the same, in the hard times your marriage will experience.

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for yoru mighty hand to ease our suffering

But all the while, you hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.

Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops?
What if your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

…What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
And what if trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the darkest nights are Your mercies in disguise?