“I don’t want to get stitches.” Pupils dilated with pain, my six-year-old little brother lay tense on the couch while we waited for my parents to take him to the hospital. I gently pressed a rag to a gash on his chest that had long ago bled straight through his shirt. The tough little guy hadn’t shed a tear, but his shaky breathing declared his pain. I looked down into his pleading eyes. He could be a man through the pain. He could be deal with a trip to the hospital. But the one thing he asked was that we protect him from stitches.
My little brother is a beast–he doesn’t let fear stop him and, at the age of six, he had the pain tolerance of an adult. But this attitude landed him in the ER four times between the ages of four and six. By the time this episode happened, he was familiar with stitches. But I had witnessed his blood-stained shirt when my little sister brought him up the stairs, saying the boards he’d been playing with had fallen over on him and gashed him with a protruding bolt. I knew what was coming.
Reuben knew that stitches were painful. He knew I had the authority to not let the doctors put in stitches. He believed that I was a loving sister and, as such, he was asking that I spare him this pain. But no matter how much bravery and pain shown through those six-year-old eyes, no matter how much I loved him, I refused to save him from the painful stitches–not despite my love. But because of my love.
I do not understand the ways of God. I have my own questions. I have experienced pain and breaking far beyond what I feel a good God should allow.
Lysa Terkeurst, in her book It’s Not Supposed to be this Way, pointed out that “There isn’t any plan God could present where I would willingly agree to be broken into unglueable pieces. I just wouldn’t.” In response, in my journal, I wrote, “I had to agree with her. What if God needed to break me apart for something greater?”
Lysa tells a story of when she suffered through 5 days of gut-wrenching pain, lying helpless in the hospital, begging God for relief. She writes
“And I had cried, because I thought God somehow didn’t care about my pain.
“But in the end, it was the pain that God used to save my life.
“The pain was what kept me in the hospital. The pain was what kept me demanding the doctors run more tests. The pain was what forced me to address what desperately needed to be attended to within my body. The pain was what made me allow a surgeon to cut my belly wide open. The pain was what saved me.
“Had God taken away the pain, I would have gone home, my colon would have ruptured, my body would have turned septic, and I would have died…
“He wasn’t ignoring me. No, I believe it took every bit of holy restrain within Him not to step in and remove my pain. He loved me too much to do the very thing I was begging him to do…”
For a second, I can understand. I can see clearly how God had to use the pain.
But then immediately afterward, I continue to ask, as I did in my journal, “Then again, He’s God… since when does he need anything? –I get hung up on that one.” So I still don’t understand. I still can’t wrap my head around the idea that God–able to do anything–needs to make me suffer through something horrifically painful in order to bring about greater good. But Reuben also didn’t understand why I allowed stitches in his life–why I needed to allow this pain for his own sake.
Somehow, far beyond my understanding, God set up rules for the universe–rules that he abides by, not because he absolutely needs to, but because he chooses to–for the best of the world. Rules that he could break to save me temporary pain. But it wouldn’t be worth it. And God has my future in mind.
So God allows pain. He allows me to be broken into unglueable pieces. Not in my own timing…because I’d never schedule it in. Because I am only a child and cannot see with his perspective, in this lifetime I may very well never understand the pain he allows–anymore than 6-year-old Reuben understood why I allowed stitches.
But, in the midst of not understanding, it does help to see a picture–a picture that I’ve lived out. A picture where I, in genuine love, allowed pain for the best of my little brother. I don’t understand everything, but I recognize that allowing pain can be done out of love.