It’s strange that a chiropractor’s appointment could so strongly affect my understanding of prayer. But it did, and now I’m very excited–and a bit nervous– about grasping such a better perspective when I pray!
For several years now, I’ve been struggling with terrible pain in my hands, and yet I couldn’t seem to find what was wrong in order to get relief. Simple things like writing with a pen, sewing, using scissors, weeding, holding playing cards in my hands– or even a book– were becoming too difficult. When tests for carpal tunnel syndrome (which I was sure to be the culprit) and arthritis came back negative, I resigned myself, frustrated, to just “getting older,” and kept up a regiment of Ibuprofen to manage the pain.
Recently wondering if maybe chiropractics could help, I began treatment. And remarkably, after just looking at the initial x-rays, the doctor immediatey identified the source of the problem– in my spine– and I am finally on my way to better health! Instead of just pain management, the true problem is being treated at the source. All this time, I’d missed the real issue (my spine) because I was so focused on where the pain was (my hands.) Hopefully the pain will eventually go away, but only when the root of the issue has been healed. And that’s where my prayer life became so stirred…!
Let’s face it: nobody likes pain, and yet even as I write this, there are people all around who are going through the very difficult, very painful circumstances of life. Moved with compassion for others who are suffering in one way or another, we inevitably find ourselves praying for God to “answer”– that is, to take away their pain. Essentially, to give them some sort of “Ibuprofen,” some relief. The couple that’s devastated because they cannot conceive? We pray for God to take away their hurt by blessing them with children, of course… The devastated friend whose wife (or husband) left? We pray for the absent wife to return to her grieving husband… The young lady who has been waiting so long for someone to love her? We pray for God to send her a husband… The friend who lost his job and desperately needs work? We pray urgently for God to provide a job… as though filling these very legitimate gaps would finally provide them with peace and contentment, an absense of pain.
As much as I hate to admit it, I have found myself so compassionately distracted by the pain these friends are suffering that I suspect I have often been praying for the wrong things! Like the problem in my spine, maybe in many of these there’s something much deeper than the pain itself that God wants to heal first and foremost. Pain, as we know, is just the symptom of some issue that’s deeper.
The fact is, for the barren couple– truthfully– ultimate peace and contentment won’t be found “if they could only have children.” Just ask the devastated parents whose child is living rebelliously. And being married won’t guarantee that life will finally be fulfilling and satisfying. Just ask the wife who recently left her husband, frustrated because marriage wasn’t what she had hoped it would be– who now believes that not being married will finally make life more satisfying and happy…
Clearly, it’s not easy to let go of the things we perceive as antidotes for living without pain! But if we truly want things to change, maybe the focus shouldn’t be on better circumstances… maybe it should be us finding peace regardless of our circumstance!
I’m the very first one to admit that life would have been painful for sure if God had not given me a husband and children. But I’m also the very first one to acknowledge that the happiness and satisfaction I enjoy with my husband and family today didn’t happen by circumstance. It happened by fixing my hope in Christ through many years of hard work, forgiveness, humility, dying to self, deferring to somebody I didn’t always necessarily agree with, and even through some very painful chapters– as well as the times of laughter and happiness. Because life itself brings pain, as well as happiness. That’s just the way it is.
“Marriage” of itself isn’t what brings satisfaction and contentment in life. God– in marriage and outside of it– does. He uses marriage for His glory, as a tool to hammar out self-centeredness in both of us and turn us Godward, until the outward result is greater satisfaction and contentment imaginable, living with each other “before the face of God.” When the “spine” is healthy, there’s an absence of pain. There’s peace and contentment.
Truthfully, to remain unmarried may be painful, but to be married can also be painful.
To be childless can be painful, but having children can also be painful.
Being without a job can be painful, but having a job can also be painful.
Living with a spouse who is not what you’d hoped he was is painful, but leaving your marriage is also painful.
And yet in every adversity that life presents, Godliness with contentment is truly the greatest gain. It’s the core. It’s the source of our health. It’s the only thing that will truly heal our pain and bring blessed peace.
Admittedly, achieving this might very well be much harder than it sounds! The only person I know of (besides Jesus) who apparently achieved this was the apostle Paul who–having been in prison and out, having had friends and been left totally friendless– wrote, “There is great gain in Godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6) and “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11.) Therefore, we need to extend grace to each other, as we struggle to find this place of peace.
Ronald Reagan once said, “There are simple answers. But they won’t be easy.” So true! Simple is not necessarily easy. I know I haven’t fully grasped this yet. To prize my relationship with Jesus Christ above all else and find contentment in whatever state He has me in is often the very hardest thing I will ever do! But that’s what Christ has called us to.
Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic since she was 16) spent years praying for God to heal her of her paralysis– but recently wrote (in “A Place of Healing”) “… Notice I didn’t even bring up quadriplegia with spinal cord injury in [the context of ‘healing.’] Those long-ago and faraway days of pleading with God to raise me up on my feet and out of my wheelchair are behind me. Oh, I’m still in my wheelchair. But I’m happy. And on that level, I have been healed. Big time!”
Unfortunately, there will always be pain in life. For all of us! But far too often, pain is the nagging symptom that reminds us of something much deeper: the fact that in some way or another, we are not satisfied with our lot in life. If that’s the case, trying to bear the pain as we let God heal deep inside may likely be the hardest thing we’ve ever done– but it’s the only way, ultimately, to make the pain go away.
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