What a thought! I could learn from this tragic experience. It need not destroy me. This pain, this awful, unrelenting pain, could be made an ally.
Well it has been said, “…man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). No matter how hard we try, no matter how much faith we have, in this life we are going to have to deal with adversity. Sooner or later trouble comes to us all.
For some of us it is nothing more serious than a broken relationship, or a business deal that goes bad, or a stint of unemployment. Others experience trouble of a more grievous nature. A mother loses her children or at least it seems that way to her. Her firstborn, a son, ends up in prison and her daughter is living with a lesbian lover. A wife discovers that her “Christian” husband is an abuser. Now she lives in terror, fearing for her safety and the safety of her children. A young husband and father learns that his wife has only a few weeks to live. As the Doctor walks away he is left reeling, wondering how he will cope. Something inside of him screams, “Why God, why?”
Faced with life’s inevitable tragedies we have three choices. We can curse life for doing this to us and look for some way to express our grief and rage. Or we can grit our teeth and endure it. Or we can accept it. The first alternative is useless. The second is sterile and exhausting. The third is the only way.
Not resignation, which gives up and says, “Whatever will be will be.” But acceptance, which believes for a miracle even as it accepts the harsh reality of the present difficulty. Acceptance does not demand a predetermined conclusion; rather it leaves the nature of the miracle to the wisdom of God. It may come in the form of divine intervention in the circumstances of life. Or it may come as a miracle in our spirit, enabling us to make peace with our pain, to see it as an ally rather than an enemy.
Several years ago I went through a very difficult period in my professional life, partially of my own making. I experienced all the accompanying emotions – anger, regret, loss, shame and a host I couldn’t even identify.
After weeks of morbid introspection and self-flagellation I finally came to grips with myself. With real determination I turned my attention toward the future. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to live the rest of my life imprisoned by that painful experience. I would learn from it, to be sure, and I would do my best to never make the same mistakes again, but there was nothing to be gained by continually berating myself. Regret was a luxury I could not long afford.
As I focused on the future I thought of the advice T.J. Watson, the president of IBM, once gave a struggling writer. He told him, “You’re making a common mistake. You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t that at all. Failure is a teacher – a harsh one, perhaps, but the best. You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts? That’s great! Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason. Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that reason? That’s what I have to do when an idea backfires or a sales program fails. You’ve got to put failure to work for you. You can be discouraged by failure – or you can learn from it.”
How had he put it? “Failure is a teacher — a harsh one, perhaps, but the best.”
Not an enemy but a teacher. “You can be discouraged by failure,” he had said, “or you can learn form it.”
What a thought! I could learn from this tragic experience. It need not destroy me. This pain, this awful, unrelenting pain, could be made an ally. Yes she was a harsh teacher, but her very harshness sensitized me to lessons I might otherwise have never learned.
With great tenderness I embraced my pain, invited it in, made peace with it. It did not go away then, or for a long time thereafter, but at least it was no longer pointless. Now it had a purpose and that made it somehow bearable. I resolved that I would not waste that failure. It had cost me dearly and I was determined to learn everything I could from it.
Carefully I examined the entire episode. Step by step I went over it, beginning with the initial idea and working toward its tragic end. I catalogued my mistakes, then I dissected them looking for erroneous logic, improper motives, inaccurate conclusions, even relational failures. And I found them too. They were there where I never thought they would be. This too was painful, for I was seeing myself as I had never seen me before, but I strengthened myself with the knowledge that God was redeeming my failures. He would use each painful lesson to make me a more effective minister, a more compassionate person.
As I think about that whole experience now, twenty years later, I realize, as painful as it was, that it was an invaluable learning experience. God did not cause that failure, nor did He will it, that was my own doing and I will take full responsibility for it, but He truly used it.
Maybe you are in the midst of a painfully difficult situation right now. Maybe fear and anger have pushed you to the point of despair. Maybe you’re ready to give up.
Instead make peace with your pain. Learn from it. Ask God to use it to make you into the person He has called you to be.
He has not forsaken you. He still has plans for your life – “…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).
This is Richard Exley straight from the heart.Richard Exley Ministry PO Box 54744 Tulsa, OK 74155 (918) 459-5434