• Sheila Harkins

Where My Pain Led Me This Morning

I'm at the ocean this morning and it is beautiful. I'm thankful for a long weekend so that I can be here in this setting, watching the pale green waves and enjoying the gentle sound they make as they break onto the sand. I want to feel as peaceful as the landscape around me.


It's tempting to push the pain down. To deny reality. To escape into a good book or to scroll through facebook, instagram or twitter. It's hard to stare truth right in the face because it hurts. I would rather life be about comfort and laughter and good times and fun and great food and exotic locations. But there is more to life than ease. This has certainly been true in my life these last few years.


We have lost several dear and precious family members within a three-year time span. We are still reeling from the two that occured this summer--our thirty-four year old son and our twenty-one year old nephew. Within the same three years, my husband lost a job that he loved. And, our family has also grappled with mental illness which has led to losses of another kind. This journey has included confusion, grief and many hours of counseling.




Life has felt a lot more like getting buffeted by waves rather than enjoying looking at them. I've felt like I can't stand up before I get knocked down again.

Suffering is not fun.

Sadness isn't the emotion I want to feel.

Confusion is not a state that I want to live in.


However, sometimes, it is in the pain and uncertainty that we see God in a new way.


We discover a treasure in the dark.

We experience tender mercies in the grief.

We are able to connect to others in a way we never could before because of a shared loss.


A few days ago some friends were praying for me about the new school year and I felt as though God was telling me that my suffering would be used to help the teens that I work with and love. I thought about Paul (writing in letters to the church that we can read in the New Testament) mentioning his desire that his sufferings would be used for the sake of the church and for their glory (Eph 3:13, Col 1:24, 2 Cor 1:3--7.)


And I thought about Joni Eareckson Tada and the way that she has used her suffering to build up the body of Christ over and over again. In her book A Place for Healing she lists some ways that Jesus can be lifted up, even though she may never step out of her wheelchair. This list includes "other wounded people to identify with, a hurting world to reach with the gospel and a suffering Savior with whom I can enjoy greater intimacy."


I think about Joni and the suffering and physical pain that she has known that I have never experienced--life in a wheelchair, dependence on others, and, in more recent years, excrutiating pain and cancer. Yet, for over fifty years she has used her suffering to share about God's grace. In the same book, Joni writes "You can't teach about suffering from a textbook...Sharing about suffering is like giving a blood transfusion...infusing powerful, life-trainsforming truths into the spiritual veins of another. And you can't do that with words only. Or, you shouldn't. How can you learn about suffering except by feeling the pain yourself?"


As I walked in an idyllic setting this morning, I didn't want to feel the pain, but I allowed myself to feel it. I asked God to help me receive the comfort that He wants to give me, so that in turn I could pass it along to others. I prayed that my pain would not be wasted. I prayed that I would love people deeper as I understand more of the pain that others may be going through.


As these thoughts tumbled through my mind, I thought of a teenager that God brought into my life earlier this year. I'll call her Sara. She had to leave her home country due to the violence there. Sara now lives here in another country--a stranger in a strange land. She and her mother are alone here, away from all that is familiar. They live in a small, one-room apartment. One small room that serves as their kitchen, their bedroom, and their living room. When we visit, we sit there, crowded into the little room as we try to talk to the beautiful girl on the bed who speaks another language. Did I mention that Sara is paralyzed--thanks to a bullet she received in her home country before they fled?




As I think about her pain I cannot imagine the physcial and emotional pain she daily endures. I believe God has led her to me, but I don't know how to help. My year has been hard. My job keeps me busy. It's time consuming to get a taxi to go across town to visit with her and her mother. But I don't want my pain to isolate me or make me blind to her pain.


I want my pain to remind me of her pain.


I do feel helpless. Sara needs a home country, but my home country isn't open to accepting her. And, I don't know how to be her advocate. The help I do give Sara and her mother seems so small--some money for food and rent and helping some teen girls raise money for some of her medical and educational needs. But, she needs so much more.


Today, I gaze at the ocean. I think about pain. And I pray that Sara would one day have freedom to see more than the four walls of her room.


I feel like I'm leaving this post unended. I'm still in the midst of pain. I still have no solutions of how to help my teenage friend. But these are the thoughts I had today. I hope that God will gather the tangents and somehow use this for me and for others as I try to be honest in my pain.















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