Frederick Buechner, whose childhood was marked by great loss and grief, once told his story at a retreat and a man remarked to him that he was a great “steward of his pain.” A steward is someone who is careful and responsible with something. This man was telling Buechner that he was careful and responsible with his pain.
In a sermon on this topic, Buechner states that to move past an adolescent spirituality we all have to be good stewards of our pain. He says the problem is that many of us do not handle our pain very well.
Buechner says that we either hide our pain or we are trapped by it. We hide our pain when we try not to acknowledge it, stuff it down like it doesn’t really matter, and treat it like an embarrassing skin growth that we try to keep others from seeing.
The other way we are not good stewards of our pain is when we let the pain trap us. We can’t move past it and we slowly let the pain close in on us, make us smaller, and stunt our growth. Fear, paranoia, and bitterness surround us and we are unable to learn anything from the pain and our life becomes dark and relationships suffer and God often becomes the center of our anger. Richard Rohr says that, “if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
We have to be good stewards of our pain in order to Grow Up or there will be hell to pay for us individually and for those closest to us.
God seems to do some of his most effective and transforming work in our pain. Elisabeth Eliot says, “There is, in fact, no redemptive work without suffering.” Job, David, Elijah, Peter, and Paul all suffered greatly but also experienced great growth out of their pain. Job got to experience God’s presence; David could walk through the valley of death and fear no evil; Elijah could hit burnout and depression and still experience the powerful whisper of God; Peter could turn his back on Jesus but still be the rock on which the church was built; and Paul could be beaten, imprisoned, and persecuted but still learn to be content in all circumstances.
In my own life, I have suffered great loss and disappointment. I have experienced pain that has been acute and heartbreaking. Sometimes I have been a good steward of my pain and not hidden it or let it entrap me but other times I have operated out of bitterness and anger. Yet, God has been gracious to me. He has put people in my life to help me navigate my pain. He has reminded me of his great presence and love. He has given me people to serve and love and care for so that I can move past my self-consumption. He has given me the great promises in scripture that I can come to him and find rest and that he will give me his peace. I am starting to become a good steward of my pain.
Growth in Christ will not happen in the absence of pain. God often uses it as a laboratory to create a new, stronger and more mature version of us.
If you are suffering right now, know that God wants to redeem your pain but you can’t hide it or get trapped in it. You must embrace it and turn it over to God for healing and restoration. If you don’t, the damage will only grow worse. But, if you learn to be responsible with your pain, God will create in you a resiliency and reliance on him that will not be shaken.
What will you do with your pain?