I can still remember the day the pain started. I was folding laundry that October morning in 2012, and I quickly noticed that my shoulder hurt. Before you start feeling too badly for me, please know it was not exactly going to break my heart to set the laundry aside. But a couple of weeks and a couple of doctors later I was in blinding, excruciating pain from my shoulder to my fingertips.
It was an all-consuming pain.
Twenty-four hours a day. No relief.
And it was consuming me.
It was a couple of months later that I walked into a specialist’s office in Philadelphia carrying the shredded remains of my career in my hands, along with a boatload of unrelenting pain, and many failed attempts at diagnosis and treatment, praying that they could fix me. I wanted to sit down with the doctor that day and hear them say, I believe you, I know what it is, and I know how to fix it. And instead I heard the words, I believe you, I know what it is, and there’s really nothing to be done for it. And if that wasn’t enough, there was the added zinger of, By the way, your career is over. They warned me that to ignore their medical advice would end in the permanent paralysis of my dominant arm and hand. And so I left that day with no career, very few answers, and no hope of ever returning to life as I knew it. It’s funny how a single moment in time can change your entire life. In the time it takes to watch one episode of a television sitcom I felt like I was stripped of my career, my purpose, my calling, with no light at the end of the pain tunnel. And frankly, if someone would have come to me then and told me that God was going to work it all for good, I might have punched them with my good arm.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely love Romans 8:28 that says, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. The problem comes when we try to use this verse to call things “good” that have nothing good about them. And if I know one thing I know this- there is nothing good about chronic pain, and in no way could I see how God was going to make “good” out of it.
Fast forward five years, about a thousand trips to a specialist in Baltimore, and two major surgeries later… I still have pain. Yep. It’s not nearly as debilitating as it was, I have good days and bad days, and all in all I find it to be completely ridiculous. But I’ve learned some amazing things over the last five years…
I’ve learned that major life events can show us who our friends really are, and that the really amazing ones stand by you through whatever it is you’re going through and continue to stand by you. I’ve learned firsthand that the way through really is together.
I’ve learned that to my shock and awe, my kids can in fact fold laundry AND put it away. They can also unload the dishwasher! Who knew??! I MAY HAVE NEVER LEARNED THIS ANY OTHER WAY.
I’ve learned that some of our deepest most intimate moments with God can come out of our darkest, most painful moments of questioning Him, and I’ve learned that His shoulders are strong enough and broad enough to handle any questions we dare to ask.
I’ve learned that just when we think we’ve lost our purpose and calling, God can reveal things in us that we never knew were there and fill us with new purpose that is greater than we ever could have imagined.
And I’ve learned how over time, God can work the painful things of our lives for our ultimate good- I’ve learned the true meaning of Romans 8:28.
Oh friends, please hear this- when a loved one is going through a difficult time, your theological answers, though the theology may be true, are often not what they need in that moment. They need you to be there. To empathize with them. To help them in practical ways, and let them know that no matter what they’re going through, you’re not going anywhere. They need you to bring them Starbucks on a rough afternoon, and listen to them complain without ever uttering the words “at least…”. Then when the time is right and you feel the Holy Spirit quietly prompting you, share the hope found in God’s word as you continue to stand with them.
God can take all of the not good things in our lives and work them together for our ultimate good if we let Him. I believe we have a choice in that. We can choose to let our trials make us bitter or make us better. And while my dreams of being an Olympic weight lifter may have been dashed because of my condition, I do know that I’m a better, more compassionate person for going through what I’ve been through. And that is good 😉
1 Peter 5:8-10
Journal Prompt/Reflection Questions //
What are the most difficult trials you have been through?
How might God be working them for your ultimate good?
What are some practical things you can do to help keep the right perspective while going through a time of trial?
Is there someone in your life going through a trial that you need to come alongside and support?
Prayer Focus //
Lord, I thank you that no matter what, you are always good. I thank you that though what I may be going through isn’t good, you can work it together for my ultimate good and for your glory. Help me become everything you’ve created me to be, using the good and the bad things in my life, and help me keep my eyes fixed on you through it all. In Jesus’ name…