Pain and Faith

“It’s going to be an amazing experience!”

I’ve heard a lot of people say that about my trip next month. I love the sentiment, but I often worry about the assumption behind it. Going overseas and serving is definitely something that will be pretty crazy and challenging, but I often worry what people mean when they say “amazing.” It often seems like what people mean by that is usually designated by fun, exciting adventures, filled with joy and fulfillment. When we step out in faith, we may have some struggles, but all in all, it’ll be “awesome.”

I’m not sure if life works like that.

Those kind of expectations might even be bad for the experience of such a trip. Life never goes according to plan and I earnestly believe that God’s will doesn’t always place us where it’s fun or “amazing” all the time. Often, God places us somewhere where it’s going to be difficult, uncomfortable, and virtually impossible to adapt to. God doesn’t change us without challenges. The Psalms are filled with songs of lament, real struggles by real men following after the Lord. Whatever one does, whether they think it is a good thing or not, God may yet have it in the cards to wound us. Job, though he seemed righteous, had lessons to learn through pain. God’s is not limited to “amazing experiences” but to some pretty gosh-awful ones. He moves in the tears and in the laughter.

As I approach my departure I am reminded of the need to keep an open mind, and to be ready to deal with whatever comes. As I step out to try to serve as best I can, I need to stay aware that God moves in uncomfortable spaces, and that the joy of the Lord exceeds understanding and my situation.

Once I talked to someone about the experience of culture shock and how, despite how awful it can be, it has to happen for us to grow. Someone who does not go through that phase of really wrestling with their place as they try to adapt to a new setting may in fact be resisting change, and actively escaping the reality around them. I must be ready and willing to go through pain and discomfort. I must not settle for false visions but must be open to the hurt around me.

I cannot begin to predict the pain that I will experience, the lives that I will interact with, and the discomfort I will be in. No matter how much I research, I cannot begin to know what it will look like, and that is something that simultaneously terrifies me and excites me. When St. Francis decided to give up all he had and embody a radical faith in poverty, there was relatively no knowledge of what waited on the other side, except that it was going to be painful. I do not mean to make any parallels between me and St. Francis, as what he did was far more drastic than me. I will simply be¬†taking one month out of my summer to serve and returning to a cushy grad school gig that pays me to go to school, but I understand that his decisions were based on the knowledge that he didn’t know what he was getting into, but he knew he would have to go through pain. Many times faith means jumping in somewhere even though we know it will hurt.

Hosea says in chapter 6, verses 1-2: “Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.” God uses pain to change our perspectives. Many times, as American Christians, who have been immensely blessed with wealth, status, and safety, pain is a symptom of a sinful life, not just a sinful world. We cannot embrace it as a part of faith. Yet, as we see throughout history, with Christ as the supreme¬†example, pain was often found an essential part of the Christian walk.

God is good even when life stinks.