I read it once, “anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded” (Manning 2002:48).
Twice, “… like most truly profound people, she was intimately familiar with pain” (Chole 2006:14).
A third time, “It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace” (Voskamp 2010:97).
Things that come in threes cause me to pay attention, wake up to the Voice, tune in to the message. Like scraps of paper floating my way in a bottle, this trinity of perspectives on pain communicate something vital.
They remind me that suffering is like a scourer, scrubbing out all that is self, scraping out all decay, creating the capacity to contain all the fullness of God.
All the hard places are not random happenstance, wounds inflicted for the sake of it. They rid us of superficiality and easy answers. They give credibility to the consolation we offer to others. Because who really trusts words of comfort offered by someone who has never suffered themselves?
Only someone who has been there, who has drunk the dregs of our cup of pain, who has experienced the existential loneliness and alienation of the human condition, dares whisper the name of the Holy to our unspeakable distress. Only that witness is credible; only that love is believable (Manning 2002:44-45).
There is hope in this, the possibility of redemption, the small offering we are able to make of solidarity with those whose suffering is much deeper and farther than our own.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Pain also offers the choice to let go of foolishness and the illusion of control. We can stop trying to snatch the pen and write our own lives, instead trusting that “maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds” (Voskamp 2010:21).
This is true wisdom. To know that God is wise, and I am not; to trust His perspective and seek it out more than my own; to let suffering complete its work in me, birthing depth, peace, patience, trust; to let pain empty me out so I can be full of grace.
This is the way to exchange bitter for beautiful.