By Daniel Ritchie, posted January 16, 2017 at:
Ritchie is the student pastor at Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville, North Carolina. He is a husband and father of two.
I was born without arms.
That is the best way to summarize my story. I stepped into suffering at birth. My physical body is a billboard for my pain. This has brought mocking, cruel jokes, stares, and the constant feeling that I am not like anyone else that I meet.
I have never been able to hide. Many people can bury their pain, but my heartache is written all over my two empty sleeves. Those sleeves tell a story without my mouth ever saying a word. My pain almost swallowed me. But Christ showed me how much greater he was than my empty sleeves.
I used to think that being born without arms was the most horrible thing that could happen to a person. Christ has helped me say that the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me is also the best thing that has ever happened to me.
I am thankful for my pain. All of the frustration that has come with it has reaped a bounty that I never could have produced on my own. God stepped in and carried me along in my weakness, letting me taste his strength, grace, and love in new ways.
I have always been drawn to C.S. Lewis and his perspective on pain. Lewis lost his mother at an early age, saw his dad emotionally abandon him, suffered from a respiratory illness as a teenager, fought and was wounded in World War I, and finally had to bury his beloved wife. Lewis wrote about his heartache in his book The Problem of Pain, in which he penned one of his most famous lines:
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
We are most keenly aware of God’s character in our suffering. It is when our self-sufficiency is peeled away that we see how weak we really are. It is in that moment of weakness that, as God tells Paul in II Corinthians 12:9, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is in our pain that God has us taste his power most intimately.
I see the reality of Lewis’s statement clearly in my own life. God has shouted to me through my pain and reminded me of his truth. As the mocking words of men fell on my heart like an avalanche, God showed me that it is only his words that bring life (Psalm 119:25). It was in my brokenness that I saw God’s true strength as he carried me along. God used my hurt so that he could clearly write the lessons of his grace on my heart and set my affections on him (Psalm 119:67).
Using God’s Megaphone to Speak to a Dying World
One of the most interesting realities of suffering is that our personal pain also speaks to those around us. Our pain becomes God’s megaphone to a watching world. The world gravitates to the cancer patient who has hope and peace. Bystanders are astounded over the parents who cling to their heavenly Father as they bury their own child. My friends are taken back when I can shrug off hateful words of my disability and turn my focus to what God says about me.
Our pain gives us a platform. The question becomes then, what am I saying to the world in the midst of my pain? Do I let my faith become the product of my circumstances or is God still good even if my circumstances are not? As I trust God, even in my heartache, I let my life speak of a hope that extends well beyond what we can see or touch.
Rejoice in Trials
We have the difficult call of I Peter 1:6-7 where we are commanded to rejoice when we are grieved by various trials. Why are we rejoicing? “So that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Our willingness to suffer joyfully for the glory of God carries a testimony that none of us could ever express. We point to a glorious God who offers treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy (Matthew 6:19-20).
As we suffer and trust, we receive unique comfort from the Father. In our pain, we know God is still reigning, whether we taste comfort or affliction. As Paul says in II Corinthians 1:3-6:
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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
Christ comforts us so that we might share his comfort with a hurting world. His grace to us is meant to be displayed and not hidden by our silence. As our pain shouts to a hurting world, may our lives always sing of the fact that God is glorious even when our circumstances are not.
Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you. Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness. Amen.
–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children