Faith, Hearing God, Revealing Jesus, surrender

Finding Jesus in the Center of My Pain

JessicaSufferingQuote

Ugly tears coursed down my cheeks. Why? How could this have happened? The betrayal hit me like a gut punch. I wanted to scream it all away, or at the very least tear someone apart with my bare fingernails. But even that wouldn’t make it better, wouldn’t erase what I was going through. I felt so alone.

The hurt felt worse than a knife. It felt like a massive, crushing weight obliterating every inch of who I’d been. And I was left alone to pick up the pieces, not even sure I could.

Sometimes, the hardships we go through seem unimaginable: A difficult, completely unfair illness cutting us down in the prime of our life. Debilitating financial or legal issues that seem to have no way out. Crushing betrayal or other emotional or physical violation. It’s the opposite of how we think life should go.

In the midst of my pain, I was on my own. I knew no one who’d been through what I was experiencing. There was no one I could confide in who’d truly understand. Talking to a counselor brought temporary relief but no real solutions. Blocking it out and staying as busy as possible only worked for so long.

Then came Jesus. In the darkness, in the depths of my pain, I realized: He knew. I didn’t even have to open my mouth to share any of the scary or nitty-gritty details, because He saw them up-close and personal.

Not only that, but He’d been there, too.

In the depths of my #pain, I realized: #Jesus knew. I didn’t have to share any of the scary or nitty-gritty details, because He saw them up-close and personal. He'd been there, too. Click To Tweet

He’d experienced the worst pain, the deepest betrayal, the hardest suffering—none of it deserved, and all of it something He could stop if only He caved to temptation. Yet our Savior chose to bear the cup of sacrifice and endure. And it hurt Him—so very, very badly.

But for some reason, I’d never before understood this. Growing up, I’d been taught Jesus died on the cross, but His suffering seemed abstract. In paintings depicting the crucifixion, the holes from the nails had a bit of blood, and Jesus was frowning beneath His crown of thorns, but it was all rather contained—a PG version of what He’d really been through. Then His suffering was over and, whoosh! Our Savior was dressed in head-to-toe white with a glowing golden halo, smiling like He’d never been gasping for His last breath or sobbing from the pain of being sold for thirty pieces of silver by one of His twelve best friends.

But when I encountered Jesus in my sorrow, it wasn’t the Sunday school, family-friendly version kneeling beside me as I collapsed before Him in a darkened room with my prayer of surrender. It was the scarred-up Jesus, the One who remembered the ragged bloodstained holes from where they’d driven the nails in, who didn’t wince as they beat Him but cried out in agony, who didn’t just quietly and stoically accept that Judas let Him down but ached over the treachery.

This Jesus understood. And when I realized that, and I allowed him to meet me in my suffering, I was no longer alone.

Jesus never promised a life free of hardship when we became Christian. Suffering is universal. But it’s a shared suffering when we walk with Jesus, which makes all the difference.

Jesus never promised a life free of hardship when we became Christian. Suffering is universal. But it’s a shared #suffering when we walk with #Jesus, which makes all the difference. Click To Tweet

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (ESV).” These aren’t just words on a page. There is true rest, a peace, in knowing Jesus has been there, too, and can ease our burden.

There is true rest, a #peace, in knowing #Jesus has been there, too, and can ease our burden. Click To Tweet

But not only is there rest, but also hope. While Jesus did suffer, His suffering ended. He overcame. He triumphed. As He told His disciples in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Many years have passed since my tough time, and sometimes it feels like it didn’t happen to me at all, but rather to a character in a book I read. I still go through hard times, when I want to throw myself on the bed and cry, when I want to give up and surrender.

Yet now I have a secret weapon: I know God is with me in the center of my pain. And that, like nothing else, helps move me towards healing.

Identity in Christ

Moving Past Self-Doubt — Video Devotion

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identity

God’s Plans Versus Mine

I sat in the dusty Zimbabwean earth, peering up at the nowhere-near-ready church, and fumed. Our construction mission trip had just turned on end.

We’d traveled thousands of miles, spent thousands of dollars more to come this far, and now we were forced to face the hard fact: None of the building materials had been purchased. We had nothing to do but wait.

Anger coursed through me, and frustration. I looked down at my just-purchased work boots and gloves, eyed our unused tool belts stacked in a heap. What a waste!

But our team huddled and prayed, determined to give our work to God anew. And in the waiting came fresh blessings.

Helping the women of the village cook, shop for groceries, draw water from the well, braid hair. Playing soccer and King of the Mountain with a horde of barefoot children. Learning the native language while getting to know the bored men hired on for labor. Shining God’s light in spite of setbacks.

Two days later, we were working again. The plan had changed, and we didn’t leave with the completed frame of the new church as we’d hoped. But we left with friends and a heart for the people and the nation of Zimbabwe we probably never would have formed otherwise.

God’s plan had prevailed, after all.

When we set ourselves to doing God’s work and our plans fall apart, it’s hard to see the big picture. Our pride makes us think our plans are His.

The Bible has so many examples of God using the difficult and even catastrophic for good, and then we realize—He was there all along. Click To Tweet

For example, in Genesis, a Hebrew teenager named Joseph is sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, a terrible betrayal. Joseph was the son most beloved by his father Jacob, also called Israel, and his brothers hated him for it (Genesis 37:4). But God’s plan was always at work. Not only did Joseph cling to God and rise to Egyptian leadership in spite of his shackles, but he eventually saved both Egypt and his family during a time of severe famine.

When his brothers realized their transgression, they fell down before the brother they had once despised. Joseph wept and responded, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV).

Sometimes, heeding God’s will means letting go of our own plans. Click To Tweet

I imagine Joseph, stripped of everything and cowering at the hands of his brothers, didn’t have any idea the God of the universe had a master plan to make all this good. But he trusted God anyway. Though all of Joseph’s hardships, the Bible tells us, “The Lord was with him” (Genesis 39:3). And after Joseph died, his bones were ultimately carried out of Egypt by Moses, the man God called to liberate His people when they, hundreds of years later, endured their own slavery, and buried in his people’s new home, Israel.

When I look back on my time in Zimbabwe, I don’t much remember the church we helped construct, but I do remember the people—their faces, their dreams, their songs, their laughter. I remember and celebrate our connection as Christian men, women and children united in a common goal.

I’m certain that was God’s plan all along.

Have you ever struggled to accept God’s plan over your own? How did it turn out?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below and make sure to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram!

And before you go … have you grabbed your free ecopy of our Bible study yet? If not, you can do so HERE! (You can get a print copy for just $5 HERE.)

Also, make sure to visit us on Crosswalk to receive daily devotions sent directly to your inbox. You can find our devotions HERE. 

identity

Owning the Label I Once Spurned

Picture of Jessica with text pulled from post

It took me a long time to own up to being a Christian. I believed in God and willingly accepted Jesus as my Savior—all that was fine.

I didn’t want to be lumped in with some of the other Christians I knew, and frankly didn’t like very much. The sanctimonious girl at school who invited me to church not because she wanted me there, but because she felt it was her job to expose me to her denomination. The cutthroat, super-ambitious guy at work who ogled me daily but wore his churchgoer status like it was his get-out-of-jail-free Monopoly card. The nosy neighbor who’d tell me all about her church bake sale and that Sunday’s sermon while simultaneously gossip-slaughtering everyone else on the block. No thanks.

So when my friend called and offhandedly teased me about having “turned into one of those Christians,” I was taken aback. While I knew what I believed, I certainly didn’t want to be relegated to the judgy, holier-than-thou classification she wanted to pin on me.

I’m not sure whether I laughed her off and changed the subject, or flat-out denied her tag to save face. But I do remember hanging up the phone and feeling just like the Apostle Peter after Jesus’s arrest.

Peter was extremely close with Jesus and part of his inner-circle, so fervent and loyal a Christ-follower that Jesus called him “the rock” upon which He would build His church (Matthew 16:18-19). When Jesus told him he’d fall away and, in fact, reject Christ three times before the rooster crowed that very night, you can almost see Peter’s “no way, never!” scoff (Matthew 26:34).

Yet, sadly, that’s exactly what happened. Trying to avoid capture himself, Peter insisted once, twice, and finally a third time that he “didn’t know the Man.” Just then, the rooster crowed, “And Peter remembered Jesus’ statement, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75 ESV).

That day on the phone with my friend, I denied my Lord. In my reluctance to get categorized as the “wrong kind of Christian,” in effect I’d taken myself out of the category altogether. What I’d done felt like a punch to the throat.

See, denying Jesus isn’t just rejecting our faith. It’s also being embarrassed about the label we carry. It’s being more concerned about the way others see us than the way God sees us. Click To TweetLooking back, I recognize I denied Him in other ways throughout my youth, like when I didn’t speak up when I witnessed injustice, or when I caved to sin instead of holding fast to what I knew to be right.

Today I’m proud to call myself a Christian. When I meet someone who gives me the side-eye, even better—I know it’s a chance to give someone a new perspective on the term, a chance to represent what it looks like to be a modern-day Jesus-follower. Click To Tweet

Owning my Christian label was a big step in embracing my faith and my identity in Jesus. As with Peter, it took understanding how I’d fallen short—and making a choice to step up from then on out—to experience freedom.

Have you ever felt hesitant to claim a label because you were afraid how you’d be perceived? How have you learned to overcome your discomfort?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below and make sure to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram!

And before you go … have you grabbed your free ecopy of our Bible study yet? If not, you can do so HERE! (You can get a print copy for just $5 HERE.)

Also, make sure to visit us on Crosswalk to receive daily devotions sent directly to your inbox. You can find our devotions HERE.