Some feelings are universal. At some point, we have all felt happy and hopeful; yet, we have all felt disappointed and distressed. We long for happiness and pursue pleasures. However, when pain enters, disillusionment and despair invade our lives. We fight for relief, looking for ways to fix or avoid painful situations. Some of us try to deny the pain or dodge it altogether. Possibly, you are in a place of sorrow, attempting to find a means of escape or relief, and nothing is working. The prophet Jeremiah and King David are two examples of men who endured downcast souls—hearts without hope in the presence of a God without a face. Yet, these two men made several choices to lift up their souls—choices you and I can make as well. They demonstrated courage, endurance, and a willingness to faithfully follow God, regardless of the cost. They chose to surrender to the Lord’s will, to seek the Lord’s Word, and to rely on the Lord’s tender mercies.

When my soul is downcast, I remember the penetrating words of one author, quoted in an earlier post but one that bears repeating:

Whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are . . . brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.[ref]Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Pantheon, 1999), 72–73[/ref]

One of the best illustrations of how God uses pain to soften and illuminate our lives is found in Galatians. Paul described his personal story. For years, Paul was a persecutor of Christians. However, by God’s grace, He sent Paul to the Arabian desert, where the apostle spent three years (Galatians 1:17–18). We know little about what happened during those years of isolation, but we know God transformed Paul from a persecutor of the faith to a servant of the faith. When Paul presented himself to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, many didn’t know him by sight, but many had heard that “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy” (1:23). God brought illumination from the darkness, and many were “glorifying God” because of it (1:24).

So it is in our lives. We experience seasons of delight and seasons of despair. And whether we are in a season of pleasure or in pain, all that comes into our lives is for the purpose of transforming us and teaching us to treasure God’s work in us. My friend, allow pain to do its work in you, through which you might someday find God’s perfect purpose for your life.