Remember Goodness in the Midst of Pain

Colleen Chao
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I remember the spring of 2009—that corner booth in the little café where I met with God before the sun came up every morning. I sat with my coffee, Bible, journal, and C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. I experienced the nearness and tenderness of God in a way I’ve never quite been able to put into words. It was a season of suffering back then too, but those were sacred, otherworldly moments that gave meaning to my pain.

And I remember the summer I was thirty-three and still single. I left behind extremely stressful circumstances to spend three weeks visiting best friends from coast to coast. We sat in the sun, sipped coffee, took walks, talked late, and laughed hard. I experienced the kindness and joy of Jesus in a way that has marked me ever since.

“We don’t need to pretend our afflictions aren’t real and miserable.”

God tells us so often in Scripture to remember—remember who He is and what He has done for us. But suffering can make us forgetful. Our minds are overwhelmed with our present pain or the complexities of surviving another day. We become like a child fixated on his scraped and bleeding knee—in the middle of Disneyland. Caught up in his pain, he loses sight of the magic and marvels all around him.

In the book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah describes suffering that would cause most of us to forget the goodness of God—especially because Jeremiah attributes his suffering to God. He says things like,

“He has driven me away and forced me to walk in darkness instead of light” (Lam. 3:2).

“He has laid siege against me, encircling me with bitterness and hardship” (v. 5).

“He forced me off my way and tore me to pieces” (v. 11).

Yikes. Is it okay to say things like this? To tell people that God has forced us to walk dark and difficult paths? That He is the One who has weighed us down? 

I love how raw and real Scripture is, don’t you? Haven’t we all felt the truth of Jeremiah’s words on our darkest days? It’s safe to be unedited with God. He can take the full weight of our emotions and questions—and then give us eyes to see things from His perspective. I’m so grateful that Jeremiah was gut honest about his afflictions, but I’m even more grateful that he didn’t stop there. Look at what he reminds himself of in the middle of his anguish:

“Yet I call this to mind, And therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him. . . . For the Lord will not reject us forever. Even if he causes suffering, he will show compassion according to the abundance of his faithful love. For he does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind” (Lam. 3:21–25, 31–33). 

Jeremiah did something astonishingly simple yet powerfully effectual in the midst of his suffering: he remembered. He reminded himself of who God is. In essence, he was saying, “Self, God isn’t happy about my suffering. Nope, that’s not His way, that’s not His heart. Remember—He is the God of love, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, and compassion! This is not for nothing. Hope again!” 

Thousands of years after Lamentations was written, another Jeremiah—Jeremiah Burroughs—wrote in a similar vein:

Name any affliction that is upon you: there’s a sea of mercy to swallow it up. If you pour a pail full of water on the floor of your house, it makes a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no appearance of it; so afflictions, considered in themselves, we think they are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God’s mercies we do enjoy, then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison.

We don’t need to pretend our afflictions aren’t real and miserable. We just need to put them in the right place— within the “sea of God’s mercies.” We look (and keep looking) at who He reveals Himself to be in Scripture, and the wonderful things He has done for His people, for us.

When have you experienced God’s love, kindness, or compassion? Replay that memory in detail today. He came to you in such a beautiful way then; He will come to you again. Sit in that sweet remembrance and let it pour your pailful of pain into His ocean of mercies—mercies that are vast and new every morning.

For Further Reading:

In the Hands of a Fiercely Tender God

by Colleen Chao

Is it possible to face the darkest days of life with hope and joy and purpose?   The life of Colleen Chao was bright and beautiful—it...

book cover for In the Hands of a Fiercely Tender God