Sometimes pain and loss give way to something of inestimable worth.
When Milly, a young mother of three, moved to Colorado last year, she never imagined how her life would change in just one month. When her husband, Aaron, an Army sergeant, was transferred from Texas, the couple found a ripe mission field awaiting them. As a physician's assistant on base, Aaron saw how the young military men were suffering, physically and emotionally.
On a crisp September evening, Milly and Aaron gathered with their family to pray. That night Aaron poured out his heart for reaching the hurting young men he saw each day. The Holy Spirit's presence was palpable as the family prayed, committing themselves to God's calling.
The next day, while running on the treadmill, Aaron suffered a massive stroke. He died a week later without ever regaining consciousness. Despite fervent prayers for healing, Aaron was gone.
In the aftermath of loss, Milly watched God do something entirely unanticipated.
"This is never something we would have wished for," Milly says. "But God has opened so many doors that wouldn't be there if Aaron were still alive."
Milly and her sister-in-law, Deb, discovered a ministry to grieving military widows and their children.
The Catalyst of Pain
We don't like to think about it, but pain can be a channel to extraordinary ministry. James puts it this way: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2-3).
I've read that verse many times and wondered about the source of that joy. Joy is not a natural reaction to pain, after all. But the joy James speaks of comes from the realization that God is using the trial to shape you into a person He can use. A person who can help others.
When I was a senior in college, I developed a painful autoimmune disorder. In less than a week, I went from being an average, healthy college student to needing help to stand up, get dressed and even dry my hair.
All my life I had been a planner, so not surprisingly, I had my final year mapped out: finish college, complete an internship, get an editing job with a magazine. Now debilitated by arthritis, I was forced to trust the Lord for strength to get through each day.
Doctors didn't know what was wrong and couldn't predict whether I would ever recover. As my condition worsened, I struggled to retain control. The one thing I could not imagine giving up was college. I desperately wanted to graduate on schedule, with my friends.
One night as I lay in bed, I realized I could not continue with classes in my physical state. With tears streaming down my face, I told the Lord I would drop out of college if that was His plan for me. An incredible peace rushed in; I knew whatever happened, God would provide.
The Lord graciously chose to heal me. But He did a work in my life that might not have been accomplished through less painful circumstances.
Perhaps the deepest fruit of the experience is the opportunity I have to encourage others in similar circumstances. I have spoken with many young women with incurable illnesses. I know how it feels to have a disease threaten your future. I also know, that in those times, Jesus can be most near and dear.
The Bad Day Kid
Joseph is one of the greatest biblical examples of an unexpected calling. Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph managed to work his way back to success in Potiphar's house. Then Joseph's dreams were crushed again when Potiphar threw him into prison.
Ever noble, Joseph managed to succeed even in jail, gaining a position of authority. At the right time, God lifted Joseph out of his misery and positioned him to save not only his family but all of Egypt.
In Sunday school, I always pictured Joseph as this cheery kid you couldn't get down. Every picture showed him smiling like a reality TV show host. I think I imagined things must have not been so bad for him.
Now I imagine that Joseph must have had dark moments of asking God why. "Why did my brothers discard me as if I mattered less than one of my father's animals?" "Why did my master to whom I have been unfailingly good, believe his lying wife over me?" "Why am I constantly overlooked when all I do is good?" Why, God?
Eventually Joseph received His answer. "You intended to harm me," he told his groveling brothers, "but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
Joseph had discovered the secret: Today's heartache is tomorrow's exceptional calling.
Hope in Heartache
Last year I traveled to Russia with Children's HopeChest and met a doctor named Robin. Robin was on the trip to explore the medical needs in orphanages and baby houses.
As I talked to Robin, I learned that two years earlier, her 3-year-old daughter, Grace, had developed a severe heart infection. During the first three weeks, Grace nearly died. As Robin sat by her daughter's bedside — knowing that Grace had been truly loved and would be with Jesus if she died — Robin had a vision. She pictured orphans who had no one to comfort them when they were sick. Even in the pain of losing her own daughter, Robin's heart wrenched for these children. She decided that whether Grace lived or died, she would do something to help.
Grace recovered, and Robin kept her promise. She raised $10,000 for Children's HopeChest. But she not only invested her money, she invested her life. In the past two years, she has taken multiple trips to Russia to develop better medical care for orphans. A dark time in Robin's life birthed a ministry she had never considered.
While God would choose to redeem tragic situations, the enemy seeks to cripple us in self-pity or convince us that God has abandoned us in our pain. What makes Milly, Joseph and Robin extraordinary is the steps they took to turn trials into triumphs.
Lift your Eyes. The Psalmist said, "I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?" (Psalm 121:1). Joseph lifted his eyes to see beyond the pit to God's bigger plan. He remembered the dreams God had given him as a young man, and he chose to continue trusting. By fixing his eyes on the Lord, Joseph was able to endure abuse and injustice with the confidence that there was a greater plan at work.
Keep Walking. Trials are not an excuse to halt in our spiritual lives. Even before Robin knew if her daughter would live or die, she made a decision to follow God's call.
"When something is laid on your heart," she says, "there are consequences if you don't step forward. There is a certain peace that comes from acting on that calling, even if we don't understand."
For better or worse, Robin desired to be part of God's plan. Similarly, Joseph served God faithfully in every circumstance, whether desirable or undesirable.
Embrace your Calling. Before I got sick, I lived a relatively trouble-free life and found it difficult to relate to unbelievers. They would look at me and think, You have a perfect life. How could you possibly relate to my problems? Now that I have known pain and uncertainty, I am infinitely more sensitive to the hurts of others.
Milly feels the same about the widows she touches. "I can relate to their deepest hurts," she says. "I know how they feel and what they need." Milly sees that connection as a gift.
For some reason, we like to believe we are immune to tragedy — that God would never do anything to hurt us. But you only have to look as far as Joseph ... or Jesus, to see that God accomplishes some of His most powerful plans through suffering.
Our personal comfort is not the greatest goal. The greatest goal is that God be revealed through the sacrifice of His Son. And sometimes, it is against the dark backdrop of pain that God's purposes shine most brilliantly.
Copyright 2006 Suzanne Hadley. All rights reserved.