One spring Saturday my younger brother and I slid onto the bench seat of my dad’s 1960 Chevy truck and rumbled out to a ranch nestled in the shadow of the hogback west of Denver. We wore cowboy boots and over-large leather gloves. We didn’t ask why we were going. We didn’t care. We were visiting a real ranch. Maybe we’d meet a cowboy! Watch him lasso his horse.
At the ranch Dad handed us shovels and pointed to a pile of horse shit! “Load it in the truck, boys.”
When life is shitty is when we grow and learn the most.
I learned so much that day.
- Leather gloves are more than fashion accessories.
- Working ranches are grittier than on tv.
- Horse manure tastes worse than it smells.
- A little shit won’t kill you.
Once home Dad didn’t tell us not to throw it into the wind. A few face fulls taught us sure enough. But that shit sure greened up the grass.
Why do hard times so often cause us to learn and grow?
Pain Is Spiritual Fertilizer
Though doctors say there is no evidence children’s growing pains are connected with growth, there’s plenty of evidence that pain causes spiritual and emotional growth.
As a pastoral counselor, I’ve had few clients who just need a tune up. Most are shit deep in pain. And once they address it they grow.
I’ve also found that until most people suffer, they are not ready for growth. Rather they are too busy yanking their on own boots with broken straps.
And all of us have experienced inexplicable growth during this eternal pandemic.
Like it or not, pain is God’s fertilizer.
Pain Births Vulnerability
“Blessed are those who . . . .” We’d expect Jesus to finish with “are wealthy, have never faced loss, and are well fed.” Instead Jesus drops words picturing pain and vulnerability. Jesus knows a deep and fulfilling life is one of dependence on God. He didn’t just teach this; he lived it. Jesus lived in vulnerability to and dependence on the Father.
Pain births vulnerability and this is the first step to healing. It opens us up like a flower ready to receive.
When have you been the most vulnerable? A time of suffering no doubt.
Pain Makes Us Ask Deeper Questions
Shitty times also make us question perceived reality. This is one of the messages of the book of Job. Job lived, like us, in a time when people believed the lie that the good earned their blessings and the bad earned their curses. Job’s friends told him to ask God what he had done wrong to deserve such shit. But Job knew innocents suffered and that he had done no wrong to deserve this. Out of his suffering Job asked God deeper questions.
Had Job settled for the easy question and its tepid answer, he never would have demanded his audience with the Creator of all things. And he would have remained as deluded as his friends.
What deeper question has your suffering surfaced? And are you willing to wait for God to address it?
Pain Opens Us to Mystery
Notice I used the word address not answer. God seldom answers our questions. Especially why questions. This is largely because the answers to why questions are buried in soil too rich and laden with truth for our beautiful but limited minds to mine.
“Were you there when . . . ?” God asks Job and each of us in turn to address our cry of why.
Even asking lesser beings why questions leaves us stammering.
“I love you,” The Redheaded-Wildflower tells me.
“Why?” I ask out of self-doubt.
“Your blue eyes?” This may be true but we both know it’s more than that. But what that more is we can’t name.
Instead I bask in the mystery of The Redheaded-Wildflower’s love because if I could explain it, I would diminish it. And her.
When we can’t even plumb our own why, what hope have we to unravel God’s?
It’s impossible to bask in pain. But suffering asks us to sit in that place of uncomfortable mystery with God. Because to definitively explain God’s ways would diminish him. And the pain.
But God does not ignore us or our suffering. He is there. Christ wore our suffering and more! He experienced it, embraced it, and redeemed it.
Pain Give Release to our Heart Cries
Again Job: “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” (Emphasis mine.) Many people believe you shouldn’t complain at or to God. Suffering and the book of Lamentations disabuses us of that untruth. Eventually God did respond though Job ultimately couldn’t fathom what God said. Job did, however, receive God’s comfort.
Pain has cracked open the hard shell of my heart and opened me up to the comfort and love of my family, friends, and God. And I’ve matured, grown, and had something more than clichés to offer others in their pain.
Don’t silence your heart cry. Let it wail.
Pain Plus God Equals Healing
In her gorgeous and insightful book “Gift from the Sea” Anne Morrow Lindberg writes, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
Lindbergh knew pain. Her first born baby son was kidnapped and murdered. But her list of what must be added to suffering is incomplete. God is the final ingredient. Ask God about your pain.
God may not tell us why we suffer. But God will show us what it accomplishes, how, when in God’s powerful, artistic hands suffering is redeemed, suffering shapes us. I am who I am today because of what has sprouted from the manure in my life.
When have you grown the most in your life? I wager it’s been when you’ve been shoveling shit.