God knows your pain.
He holds your tears in his bottle.
Your name is engraved on the palm of his hand.
Yeah, right. I’m sure. And I’d grimace and hug and nod my way through dozens of these well intended and kind encouragements.
Then I’d walk away from my would-be-comforters thinking, You’ll never know. You can’t understand my pain.
Those words from you-you mother of five, holding your third sweet surprise-don’t console. Your words are water off a duck’s back. They don’t bring comfort. And not just your words, but the words from the kind widows and single sisters and the concerned co-workers. None can know my sorrow.
Each heart knows it’s own bitterness, the Proverb says. But that’s no excuse to let common-to-man sadness morph into self-righteous pride. Here’s how that happens.
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [by] casting all your cares upon him, for he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7
The Devil, the Accuser, would love to separate us from God and the grace He gives to the humble. One of his big guns is to tempt us to doubt God’s love. Did God really say? Does Job fear God for no reason? He’d have us believe God doesn’t really care about us. Pain makes us easy prey when it leaves us preoccupied with ourselves. Nobody knows my sorrow.
Suffering can push us to God, refine us and result in praise, glory and honor when Christ comes again. It can help us plumb the depths of God’s love and rely on it more fully. The fellowship of sharing Christ’s sufferings is a sweet, sweet fellowship. But we forfeit the grace that could be ours.
We let pain puff us up and pull us away from the God of all comfort and the Body he lovingly equips to bind up our wounds. No one, we think, has felt the pain of my loss, abuse, miscarriage, marital strife or ___. Therefore, we reason, no one is qualified to comfort me.
Marshall Segal’s assessment of the pain-pride link is so insightful. Segal writes:
Pain becomes proud because it believes no one else understands. No one feels what I feel. And so pain distances itself from anyone who might try and speak into its suffering. But pain afflicts itself even more the farther it separates itself from others. God has given us himself, his word, and each other to produce faith, and even joy, in the midst of pain, even the most severe and unique pain.
One test to determine whether our pain is producing pride is to ask how we respond to encouragement from others, maybe especially from other believers who don’t understand our pain. Are we willing to hear the word and hope of God from someone who has not experienced or cannot comprehend our current suffering? If we’re unwilling, then pain has driven us into isolation, and Satan’s succeeding in his purpose for your suffering.
The humble let themselves be comforted. They take hugs. Paul didn’t let his pain isolate. I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, Paul wrote to Philemon (1:7). Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus, called Justus brought him comfort, too (Colossians 4:10-11).
Are you willing to let the Body do its healing work? Or will you let Satan succeed in his purpose? Will you humble allow God’s people to speak His healing, comforting truth into your pain? Or will you proud stiff-arm his hug?
The Two Sides Of Pride
Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
This might not sound like it has anything to do with your pain or your pride. But it might.
After a hard church parting and a decade of pain-filled estrangement, overlapping with more years that that of infertility, I now see how I used my pain to set myself apart and above. My year after year without pregnancy, the gut-wrenching loss of a dear church family and the mistreatment and injustice of it all. Clearly, my pain was worse.
Pride is competitive. And since I can be too, my pain went mutant. Pride wanted to be the center of attention, so pride- so I– byway of pain, set myself above others’ others pain and their comfort. And, as Lewis said, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego and the desire of the self-pitying is not really for others to see them as helpless, but heroes. (John Piper, Desiring God)
A God-Honoring Way Out
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort others in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
It is true that no one on earth has or will ever experience exactly my own little batch of suffering. But that’s okay. No one needs to have walked in my exact shoes to be able to offer me the exact right balm for my broken soul.
That’s because God already gave the exact right balm for my soul: He spoke his Word. Marshall Segal notes,
God wrote a book to overcome all of [the] inevitable ignorance and insensitivity. With the Bible, people can bring you the always-relevant wisdom and hope of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God.
But who knows One who does.
Because, Nobody knows but Jesus.