Thursday, July 10, 2008

Needless Pain

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves (Ecc. 4:12).

The very words “needless pain” should make us pause for a moment. If those words happen to show up in a hymn, you are not likely to linger and think. For one thing, hymns don’t stop. There’s no time to think in the middle of a song. Second, the familiarity of the hymn itself works against sustained reflection. Once you’ve sung “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear” a few hundred times you stop hearing the words. Unfortunate but true.

But right now you’ve got a few moments to think. “Needless pain.” Unnecessary. Pain you don’t need. Pointless. We get that. But those words suggest that there might be such a thing as needful pain. That’s what we struggle to understand. Most of the messages we receive from the world around us tell us that all pain is to be avoided. All pain is bad, indicative of something gone wrong, cause for alarm.

Our scriptures tell us something different. There’s no shortage of biblical language about rejoicing in our sufferings. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. Psalm 119 repeatedly speaks of the good that comes from affliction. “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71). C. S. Lewis had it right when he spoke of pain as “God’s megaphone.” God speaks to us in suffering. A pain free existence lulls us into spiritual slumber.

And yet, that God speaks to us in pain does not mean that God asks us to be gluttons for pain. It is one thing to bear pain well. It’s another thing entirely to invite more pain into your life than God intends to give you. That’s where friendship comes in. To refuse friendship is to bear needless pain.

Few have said it better than the wise author of Ecclesiastes. His basic premise was that two people together will have a better time of it than one who does life alone and without companionship (Ecc. 4:9-12).

To insist on working solo invites needless pain. You can’t accomplish as much. You can’t earn as much as you might with a team effort.

To walk alone invites needless pain. When you fall there’s no one to hear your cries for help, no shoulder to lean on as you limp. It’s hard to place all of your weight on your own wound.

To face alone all that life throws at you is to invite needless pain. We can’t make a decent defense by ourselves. Someone needs to stand with us and watch our back.

So God gives us friends. The old hymn resonates with truth when it reminds us that to refuse friendship, especially friendship with Jesus, is to forfeit our peace and to bear needless pain.

The practical response to this may be as simple as a conversation. If you’re bearing needless pain today the best thing you can do is talk to someone. Let someone else know what you’re dealing with, what you’re afraid of, what you’ve done. This is why God gives us friends. To keep solitary company with your pain means that there is very likely something you’re suffering needlessly. Be done with it. Take it to a friend in conversation. Take it to the Lord in prayer. And unload the weight of needless pain.

To often, Lord Jesus, I forfeit the peace you want to give me and take on needless pain by distancing myself from you and from others. Give me courage to reach out. Teach me to pray. And show me how to be there for someone else, that they might find relief from needless pain and receive grace through our friendship, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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