Does pain have a purpose?

Cookie Cawthon

My daughter, Carson, 13 years old this month, struggles with crippling anxiety — exacerbated by the biochemical craziness of puberty. Her tendency to allow life to deeply penetrate her heart is a beautiful element of her make-up, but it means she has veered toward anxiety from the start. We are currently in a particularly rough patch. We were driving recently when she announced, “Mama, when I’m old enough I would like to lead a middle school Fuse Group, and I can tell them what I’ve struggled with. So they won’t feel alone and so they can be helped by what I’ve already learned.”

Proud Mama Moment: Check. Carson nailed the primary reason God allows difficulty into our lives. Painful seasons comprise the compelling chapters of our stories, and God permits each of us a weighty tale as a means to participate in His work.  

3 Ways God Uses Our Pain

1. Our Good

Our character is most effectively shaped by adversity. It has been through my own childhood abuse, depression, and other struggles that God has taught me humility, trust, and faith. It was through painful experiences that He unseated my pride, and my own hurt has been the dirt for compassion to grow. 1 Peter 1:6-7 confirms that our mettle is strengthened by the trials we endure.

Our character is most effectively shaped by adversity.

2. His Glory

1 Peter 1:6-7 also asserts that our difficult seasons are meant to point others to Jesus. When a wound wrecks our illusion of self-sufficiency, we recognize our need for God. In the rugged terrain of hardship, God proves His faithfulness and His compassion. Those aspects of His goodness would mean little outside the context of hurt and loss. And, once we walk out our healing, God intends for us to tell others about the faithfulness and compassion we experienced in the wasteland.   

3. Someone’s Help

Our pain is also meant for someone else’s benefit. This is how God recycles hurt. This is how He cultivates passion. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says we are comforted so we may comfort. We are healed so we may be part of someone else’s healing. A beautiful friend once encouraged me, “If there weren’t those who had been in ditches, how would those of us in them now ever know how to get out?”

Our stories — as busted up as they are — are our ministries. They are written with the ink of our strongest affections. Our hurt is never arbitrary. It’s only rendered ineffective by our silence and our inaction, when we hold our stories tight-fisted and allow them to atrophy from disuse. And our stories aren’t just intended for the telling. They are meant to have legs so that they become crisis pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, ministries for veterans, grief support groups, counseling practices, safe houses for abused women, books confronting porn addiction. Our pain is always ripe with purpose — purpose that fuels a passion.

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