A Dawning Realization, Which I'd Rather Not Admit...

...is that God changes me most, and makes me a far better, more Christ-like person through pain. There, I said it. Yuck. Not a huge fan of pain.

But it's true. There's something about being stretched to a breaking point by stress and difficulty that stretches and expands your character as well - if you let it. I'm coming to see this ever more clearly, through experience. When I come out of really challenging times, depleted and drained, I find myself strangely more empathetic; more sensitized to other people. I tend to sympathize more easily with their pains, and I also tend to appreciate other people who are naturally compassionate more readily. In other words, I'm a bit more compassionate myself for having been stretched.

I got to thinking about all this recently as we worked through a particularly intractable pain issue with Amy. We've learned how to cope with chronic stuff for the most part, which is good because like most guys I do NOT appreciate the feeling of not having full control over my circumstances. I also find that difficulty in my bride's life is much harder for me to handle than in anyone else's life, including my own. She's something of an Achilles' Heel, you might say. So this recent bout really frustrated me.

As always, God provided some answers and the ability for us to act on them. So we're "through it" for the time being. But I was just telling her that now, on the other side of it, I find myself changed. Why is it, I wondered aloud, that God has to use pain to change me? (And why does she get the unlucky task of being the main way for God to get my attention? What a lousy lot... sorry babe.) Most likely, pain is the road to change because under normal circumstances my life is pretty good. I'm generally in control and generally happy with the results. At such times I fall easily into a self-satisfied state, and lose my focus on the big picture. It is then that the worst of my nature can take over, and I can find myself task-oriented and not sufficiently engaged with other people.

That reminded me of a saying that a friend shared with me years ago - I don't know where it originated - and he asked me what I thought of it: "God cannot use someone greatly until he has wounded them deeply." I wasn't sure whether I agreed with it back then, and I'm still not entirely wild about the way it's worded. But I think it may be on to something. If that statement is saying that pain and difficulty can stretch our capacity to care for others, and that we thus become more like Christ when we walk through dark times, then I'm increasingly inclined to agree.

At the very least, I know that for this task- and intellectually-oriented person the times that strain me most are the times that increase my capacity for love the most. First of all for God and the future, unshakable kingdom he's promised us in Hebrews 12:28-29. And because of that, greater compassion and empathy for other people, whom he loves.

Whether I'd like to admit it or not.


Aaron said...

Great post, Matt. It's crazy how God works: I had written a post on a similar topic a few days ago and just published it, about Paul's thorn and vision in 2 Cor 12:7-10. I greatly appreciated your insights here, as they totally related and resonated with me. I've always looked up to and appreciated the faith you and Amy have in the midst of her suffering. It really illuminates God's surpassing greatness and sufficiency of His grace!

My "Trutheran" Christian Living blog

Matt Guerino said...

Good post on your blog. Boasting in weakness... that's one of those biblical statements I think we hear a lot so it becomes familiar, but it is really revolutionary. Talk about being humble - if I can boast in what I DON'T have, I must really not be into myself.

Thanks Aaron!

Crown of Beauty said...

Dear Matt,
The last comment I got from Amy on my blog left me teary eyed. It's because I cannot imagine how much pain she has to go through, and how that must naturally be affecting all of you as a family, and most especially you.

I can relate with what you wrote. Somehow when it is someone else in my immediate family that is going through pain, I feel like it would much easier for me if I were the one going through it, instead of me being there, and helping in whatever way I can...but mostly standing helplessly by knowing I can do very little, or nothing at all, to remove the pain.

But you are not exempt from the pain, for you have your own experience with it, and it touches you in a real way.

It is good that pain has become God's agent of inner change for you. It has also been his major tool in my life. Yes, we both know what it is to be humbled, and made more gentle and kind, more understanding, more forgiving, less judgmental, more compassionate...because of pain, our own version of Pul's thorn in the flesh.

I say it is good, because I have met people who stand on the opposite side of the spectrum, and have become hardened and embittered by the pain they have had to face in their lives. What a pity. What a waste.

I appreciate this post so much. And as the new year goes by, I keep you close to my heart and continue to pray for you and Amy in a special way.


Matt Guerino said...

Thank you my friend. You point about the potential of pain to make us bitter rather than make us pliable is a good one that I hadn't pondered in connection with this post. That brings good encouragement to keep on. Just tonight as I was telling Amy I wanted to fix her pain, she matter-of-factly said, "it's good for you." I didn't want to hear that, but I know she's right. And now in your own way, on the same evening, you told me the same thing! Thanks for continuing to be a blessing to us.

Leanne Stewart said...

Remember that sermon you preached at GSCC about tithing?

Well, this post was another one of those moments, Matt.

I almost don't want to go back and re-read this again because,truth be told, I'm still working on my halting breath as I type this.

Too close to home, brother, at just the right time. Again.


Anonymous said...

The aspect of some becoming bitter in hard times reminds me of the well known saying, "hard times make us or break us." In my opinion, America has suffered from the lack of this. Not enough people are being made or broken. Although, the way things are going, maybe that will change soon...

Matt Guerino said...

Thank LeAnne, and Anonymous :) In a way, both your comments fit nicely together. It probably is true that the level of affluence we have enjoyed in this nation has made us apathetic, relieving us of the burden to choose whether pain will make or break us. That may be changing on a larger scale.

But now here we are as individual Christian people wondering how we will respond ourselves, as LeAnne so clearly communicates. A bit at a time, God is helping me adjust to less-than-ideal circumstances. Not real fun, but I can almost feel my soul being re-shaped in the process. How 'bout you?

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