Regret, Hurt, and Fear as Spiritual Assets
If you are familiar with my work and story, you may recall that I have experienced anxiety and depression from time to time.
I have had other hurts also.
I have buried a few family members and lost some friends to suicide. I have been immobilized by hypochondria and chronic sickness, diminished by insomnia and fatigue, discouraged and left lonely by rejection, aggrieved by loss and death, humiliated by gossip and slander, demoralized by fear and failure, and traumatized by abuse from my childhood.
Being a deeply flawed and sinful man, I have also brought some hurt on myself and others. I know the wearying effects of holding a grudge, living in denial, nursing toxic shame, and injuring people that I love.
Although I am familiar with pain, I have never contemplated self-harm. But there have been times when I told God that I had nothing left to give and would be fine if he took me Home. In hindsight, I’m very glad that he chose not to do this, because the darker and sadder seasons of life have served, ever so reliably and consistently, to expand my belief in and experience of the goodness of God.
Through pain and sorrow, I have been tutored in the counterintuitive nature of his ways. I have learned that the greatest strength comes through the avenue of weakness, the greatest wisdom through the avenue of disorientation, the greatest joy through the avenue of sorrow, and the greatest worship through the avenue of doubt.
As Melville said bluntly:
“Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
And mend the cracks in us, Jesus does.
If these ideas feel foreign or bothersome to you, I hope my newest project, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen, can help you with that. I believe that God wants to do a good work in you as you seek from him a wisdom that is higher than your own, and a peace that transcends human understanding.
Growing in the ways of God to become a more complete version of yourself is a lot like making a long-term commitment to physical fitness. The path toward becoming spiritually strong works a lot like good nutrition and exercise do. When you first start working with a trainer at the gym, her command that you do twenty-five pushups before quitting can feel like too much. With each subsequent pushup on that first day, you feel like you are getting weaker. But the actual truth is—and the trainer knows this—you are getting stronger. If you keep coming back and submitting to the discomfort, you will soon be able to do twenty-five pushups with ease, then later fifty, seventy-five, one hundred, and so on.
The human soul under the disciplined regimen of God works like muscles do under the disciplined regimen of a trainer. The more the soul is worked and stretched to its limits, the more able it becomes to endure suffering and enjoy God all at once. When this happens in us, we become the best kind of dangerous. The more we get pushed, the more pushing we can do, and the more able we become to show up for others in their toil and tribulation.
When God’s children start showing up for each other, the accuser starts to tremble.
God assigns purpose and meaning to the hurt we feel, even when we can’t see his hand clearly. His approach is never punitive and always instructive, even surgical. As a self-proclaimed physician for the mending of body and soul, our Lord never stabs his children as with a sword. Instead, he only cuts us, ever so carefully, as with a scalpel.
Our good God wounds us sometimes, but always and only to heal us.
“In your struggle … endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:4-11)
The first time I heard these verses from Hebrews was when an older Christian man introduced me to them after my heart got broken. I was upset with him for choosing these verses. I didn’t want to hear that my pain had a mysterious purpose, much less that God was somehow behind it. I realize now how shortsighted I was for being upset. I would later discover that these were the perfect and truest words for the season, and they have been for many seasons since.
Sometimes we can’t see the truth about God and ourselves until we see it in a rearview mirror.
Whatever regret, hurt, or fear you may have faced or are facing now, I hope that the Lord’s perspective on such things will help you avoid wormholes like cynicism and despair, and instead to discover—as the Apostle Paul did even from a hot, filthy prison cell—what he famously called “the secret of being content.” This secret, he tells us, is something that he had to learn, in the same way that Jesus learned obedience through the things that he suffered. Paul’s secret did not come home to him naturally, but supernaturally. When it did, he found contentment and even joy in times of plenty and in times of want, in times of gain and in times of loss, in times of happiness and in times of hurt. “I can do all things,” Paul wrote, “through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:10-13)
I want you to know Christ as Paul did, and as I am learning to know him also. I pray that the secret of being content in times of want, loss, and other things that hurt will become less of a secret and more of a familiar friend for you, just as it has become for me through the years.
This is an adapted excerpt from Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen: How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans by Scott Sauls. Scott is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of several books.