It’s no secret that holidays can be a hard time for some. Whether its from broken relationships, disappointments, family dysfunction, regret from the past or just plain loneliness, some will experience hurt. Of course, it’s not just at the holidays although they tend to highlight it. Let’s face it, no one wants to hurt emotionally or psychologically. There is nothing pleasurable about pain and our desire is to remove it far from us as possible. We live in a very therapeutic culture. Billions of dollars are spent each year on self-help tools, psychologists and other fixes to make hurt go away from our history, mistakes, present realities or future fears.
Christians are not exempt. Having just spent this past semester in a biblical counseling class, it reminded me of how fragile and complex is our humanity and how much the raw stuff of life truly impacts us, even if we want to deny it. There are various tools at our disposal to aid with getting over the areas in our lives that have caused hurt and in some cases, even harm.
But, it strikes me that Christians can become so intent to remove any traces of hurt in their lives, that the sanctifying process is actually hindered. We can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fix ourselves in order to live a life that’s pleasing…to us, so that we feel good about ourselves. Making peace with your past turns into a creation of peace in the present so that we don’t have to experience hurt in our lives and get rid of those pesky little triggers that catch us unaware. By doing so I wonder if its possible that we remove the very thing that God works to grow us deeper in our faith and Christian walk.
Now, I get that we don’t want to live in dysfunction. We don’t want the pain of the past controlling us but rather to be controlled by our spiritual identity in Christ. Certainly we want to reconcile whatever brokenness exists in our lives. But I wonder if that means that we should work to remove all hurt.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Scripture never tells us that our goal should be to remove hurt in our lives. In fact, when Paul waxes reflective in Philippians 3 about the greatness of knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, he also adds “and share in the fellowship of his sufferings.” Surely that suffering will be caused by past actions and present discrepancies. It’s one thing to correct sinful or harmful patterns in our lives but quite another to remove any traces of hurt from the experiences in this life. What if the pain of experiencing this hurt actually produces something far greater, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond our comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen.” (2 Cor. 4:17). What would we see if we work to remove it?
On this Christmas, I think about the world wide proclamation of the Son of God who became just like us, descending from his majestic and glorious abode to enter into humbling and humiliating circumstances. We give a glossy finish to the baby born in a pristine stable, surrounded by the glistening worship of men and angels. Yet, do we truly reflect on the full gambit of the humanity incurred from the drastic change in circumstances, going from the glorious to the gritty? Even our portrayal of this precious scene betrays our desire to remove any traces of undesirable elements.
Beyond the facade of the picturesque nativity lies both the joys and the anguish of sorrow and grief of humanness, a boy who became man who carried the full weight of our humanness and sin on his shoulder through an excruciating death. And this is what Paul says we wants to share in. I think Paul, who himself lived with a past he regretted, experienced exile and rejection from his former peers, and lived a nomadic and unpredictable life, recognized that there something far greater the hurt from that discrepancy created – a need for Christ and his grace. For that hurt lets us know that we are deficient in and of ourselves to correct, reconcile or redeem the very thing that has produced all the hurt we have experienced – the sin that entered the world through one man’s disobedience (Romans 5:12). So we turn to the 2nd Adam, Christ the Lord, in whom lies redemption and forgiveness of sins. And when those triggers come, that we can’t seem to remove, we can rest in his obedience and sacrificial gift and his position at the right hand of Father, serving as our advocate with all the fullness of understanding exactly what we’ve felt (Hebrews 4:14-15).
Moreover, it lets us know that this is not all there is. Imagine if you rid yourself of all hurt in this life, what would impress on us that there is something far better ahead? We would read about it but likely be inclined to give it the same nonchalant nod we would with the pristine nativity scene. Rather, let that hurt remind you that there is something still wrong and in need of desperate repair. For its in that desperation that our hearts long for a day when it all gets fixed and there will be no more hurt, pain, sickness or death and God will dwell with us, even greater than he did the first time. Maranatha!