Editor's note: This is the third post in a special Advent devotional series, focusing on Isaiah 61:1-3. You may also want to read the introduction, "A Front Row Seat to Holiness" and part 1, "What's the 'G' in UGM?"
The Pathway of Pain
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” Isaiah 61:1
“There are no safe paths in this part of the world.” – the wizard Gandalf in master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale, The Hobbit
Perhaps you’re not a fan of fantasy literature. Truth be told, neither am I, but Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth consistently rank near the top of recommended reading lists, and I think I understand why. Consider this quote from the same story:
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. - The Hobbit
If we were writing our own stories, I dare say most of us would write safe, comfortable ones. We would, like Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, want to stay where it was warm and dry and the pantry well stocked. We certainly wouldn’t write pain and suffering into our own lives or the lives of our loved ones.
I was struck by this point recently when I sat down with four residents at Anna Ogden Hall and listened to their stories. Each of them spoke of coming to a new understanding of God, and I realized that He had used pain to woo them to Himself. God is the ultimate author and designer of our lives. The Psalmist wrote: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
One of the residents that day, Leah, put it like this: “The key question for me is this, What is God’s ultimate plan for me? His answer is my journey.”
Chances are, if you and I were writing our own stories, they wouldn’t be very interesting. We might never come face to face with our weakness and our need. We might never fall on our faces or come up against more than we could handle on our own. We might never undergo hardship or grow or learn to do without.
Thankfully, God is the author of each of our stories. Sometimes the journey of reliance on Him is the pathway of pain, but the overarching theme is always grace. And we can help to write that theme into each other’s lives.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Worth thinking about: Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz, wrote: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” Part of the “binding” of a broken heart is finding meaning in the breaking.
Take Action: Think about a time of suffering in your life. Take a few minutes to write it down. What followed? Can you see how God used the pain? If so, write that down, too. Is there someone who might be encouraged by hearing your story? Why not send it to them in a note or email? Remember, Christ lives and works within you to bind up the brokenhearted around you.
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