Pain has a Purpose

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” Galatians 5:22-23.

Joy sometimes is portrayed like a super fruit of the Spirit. Christian communities talk about joy as if it is the only indication that the Spirit of God dwells in someone. Joy becomes a commandment rather than a genuine outpouring from what is within the heart. It becomes a task to accomplish, a ritual, a tradition and a chore. And while joy is good, there are other fruits of the Spirit to consider too.

I admit, I am a melancholy person. If you had a chance to see the latest Pixar movie Inside Out, I most closely associate with the emotional character sadness. I tend to be highly sensitive to things that are painful, to myself, others, and the world. But sometimes it seems as if this pain, this melancholy, has no purpose within the body of Christ or the world in general. I find myself ostracized for not having joy all the time. And this well-meaning joy that we talk about can sometimes be cruel to those who suffer in sadness like this clip here:

So, I do not always appear as joyful as some of my positive thinking, peppy, extroverted sisters and brothers in Christ. They are dearly loved and gifted by God in their own unique way and I respect that.

But sometimes, it feels as if joy is the only mark of a Spirit-filled Christian. I am even told that Christians are known by their joy. And if we want other people to want what we have as Christians, we must be joyful. No one wants to be sad or suffer a long time, right? So we teach others to have joy.

I am not saying those things are not true, in and of themselves. Those things are true, I just do not believe them to be the complete truth. While joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so is patience. I like the New King James Version of the word patience, which is longsuffering. It seems like a much more fitting word. Those who are patient suffer a long time. There is suffering that happens while we wait.

There is suffering in training. There is suffering as we gain endurance. There is suffering in sin that we have done, and in sin done to us and others. There is suffering in this world as we wait for Christ to return. There is real suffering that happens to the oppressed. There is real suffering that happens in this world because of injustice. And the Spirit of God suffers long in those places too. With the people who suffer. God is not any less present in the person longsuffering in depression, anxiety, grief, mourning, oppression, and injustice than the person who is marked with joy.

I say this, not so that we will all dwell in the place of suffering, pain and sorrow. I say these things because there is a purpose in our pain. Consider what the apostle Paul said in Romans 5:3-5:

“We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

This longsuffering, this patience, this pain that we endure will eventually produce hope, if we are in Christ. A hope that does not disappoint or let us down. A hope that is hard fought and genuine. A hope that eventually brings a satisfying joy. And enduring this kind of pain, this kind of suffering is the very thing that can compel us to have compassion on others who are hurting in the world. This kind of patience, this kind of longsuffering allows us to weep with those who are weeping. It is the very thing that compels us to go into a world where people are suffering because of injustice and pain and actually make a difference.

If you are feeling as if there is no purpose in your waiting, in your longsuffering, in your pain, I want you to know, you are not alone. I have been there and in many ways am still there. But these are the very things that can produce a hope that does not disappoint. The kind of hope in Christ that can change the world. It is in longsuffering that we learn to suffer long with others as we fight against injustice and bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. That is the purpose of our pain, of our longsuffering. To bear with one another, with those who suffer, and bring a remnant of hope into a hurting world.

The Holy Spirit is with us in our joy and in our longsuffering. For that I am truly thankful. There is hope for my life and your life too. No matter what fruit of the Spirit may be dwelling within us today, we can have confidence knowing that it is the same Spirit that works within us in our joys and our painful longsuffering.

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