How do you respond to the discomfort of a pebble in your shoe? What about when it’s a more serious illness?
Discomfort, pain, and illness challenge us mightily when we hear Paul’s words, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4 NLT). How do I rejoice when I feel sick, depressed, or irritated?
Pastor Joe McGreever tells the story of Jack Hinton, who led a mission trip to a leper colony on Tobago. Toward the end of their trip, they held a worship service. One of the lepers entered the room, sitting on the back row with her face turned away from the stage. When Jack asked for song requests, she turned around and with a huge smile requested the song, “Count Your Blessings.”
If a leper can learn to praise God in the midst of her suffering, perhaps we can find a way to thank God in the midst of our minor discomforts or major life tragedies.
A warning about gratitude
Robert Masters coined the term “spiritual bypassing” to explain some of what we discussed about the dangers of gratitude on Day 41.
“Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.”Robert Masters
Essentially he describes the practice of over-spiritualizing issues in our lives to the extent where we ignore the real issues. For example, we could be so focused on giving thanks for everything in our lives that we ignore the fact that we’re bleeding or in pain.
I’m not suggesting that we ignore the proverbial pebble in our shoe. Instead, we can find a path toward healing through gratitude.
Discomfort is our friend
My wife recently asked me to do something that made me very uncomfortable. I flat out refused. She asked me if I’d be willing to do it if Jesus asked me directly.
After twenty or thirty minutes (I wish it had been seconds), I reconsidered and said I’d be willing to face my discomfort for the sake of the Gospel. What’s scary is that my discomfort exposed fears and a desire to play it safe.
I’m actually thankful for that discomfort. I don’t want anything in my life to prevent me from following Jesus and doing his will. Just like physical pain reveals injuries and ailments, the emotional pain of discomfort reveals internal issues that may require soul surgery.
Learn from your discomfort
In order to learn from your discomfort, I suggest starting with gratitude for the discomfort itself.
When someone faces severe depression or other mental issues, therapists prioritize stabilizing the patient so they can think clearly about their underlying problems. Emily Fletcher says gratitude works like a natural antidepressant. While medicine may be required for some of us, daily gratitude is a strategy we can all benefit from in the midst of life’s overwhelming circumstances.
“Gratefulness will not make the pain go away but it will help loosen the bonds of suffering.”Dr. Bruce Singer
Embrace your discomfort as a gift
The Apostle Paul said to give thanks in all circumstances. Let’s recount some of the circumstances he faced so we don’t think this is some kind of “pie in the sky” advice:
“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked.
Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”2 Cor. 11:23-27 NLT
Paul told us to give thanks at all times. If anyone had a reason to gripe or complain, it would be Paul. In the following chapter, Paul boasts in his weakness because that’s when he saw Christ’s grace abound.
No pain, no gain
Every athlete knows the adage, “No pain, no gain.” I recognize intentional pain to grow is different from the pain that arises from cancer, an accident, or some other source. But is it really? In one case an earthly trainer designs the pain regimen for our growth. In the other case, our Divine Trainer, God himself, uses pain for our growth and for his glory. Like in the case of Job, God doesn’t always cause the illness or pain, but he allows it for his greater purposes.
Rejoice in our discomfort
If God uses pain for our good, then perhaps we can rejoice that he counts us worthy to suffer for his sake. It may not make sense and it won’t feel good. You may feel irrational, but step out in faith. God has a design we will one day discover.
“The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.”Acts 5:41 NLT
Put a pebble in your shoe today. On purpose. Don’t take it out. Instead, each time it makes you uncomfortable thank God for the ways he uses discomfort to cause us to lean into his grace. Pray also for those going through much greater discomfort than you. Pray especially for the persecuted church.
Lord, I thank you that you endured the agony of the cross so I wouldn’t have to face punishment for my sins. I want to rejoice in my sufferings, so teach me to see my life as you do. Build my faith and increase my joy. I do count the unlimited blessings in my life as signs of your love and favor. Thank you for your presence, Holy Spirit. I love you, Jesus. Amen.