Eustace, one of C. S. Lewis’ characters in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia, learned to stay in the pain and receive the blessing God had for him. Eustace had become a dragon. But he yearned not to be a dragon. He wanted out of the scaly skin and scary stature. Attempt after attempt, Eustace tried to remove his dreadful, dragon-like self. But he could not. Only Aslan (the character of the Divine) could provide grace. But it hurt:
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was, lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much, for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious, and as soon as I started swimming and splashing, I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. (New York: Macmillan, 1952, 1980) 109.
Eustace had to sit through the peeling layers of skin, Aslan’s grip on his tender new flesh, and the searing of cleansing to become a boy again. And so do I. Like Eustace, I must endure the pain long enough to allow God to transform me.
For More Grace
After his cleansing, Isaiah was used by God as a most significant prophet. And Jesus asked Peter to use the pain of his denials and personal failure to strengthen and build up fellow believers (Luke 22:32). God used their pain to cleanse them so that he could grace them more. Both men stayed with God in their pain and despite the pain.
Likewise, as I give God my struggles and mistakes and surrender my pain to God, God can give me a story to tell—a story that God can use, bringing greater glory to himself.
Unfortunately, the rich young ruler didn’t seem able to go through the pain, and, oh, the tragedy of not allowing God to take him to the other side! Compare that to Abraham, whose response to God’s request seemed automatic. What love and trust he must have had to respond unflinchingly to God’s command to sacrifice his precious son! Similarly, when I simply choose to obey, God often shows me that the very thing I am holding on to is actually hurting me more than the pain I might feel when I let it go. And as I let go, I discover the blessing that comes with obedience. I am freer. God has released me from one more thing that binds me and holds me down. And I begin to understand perhaps why Abraham’s obedience was so easy. He had experienced God’s faithfulness and knew that obedience—obedience despite much pain—would result in God’s abundant blessing.
The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you” (Genesis 22:15–17).
And So . . .
Am I learning to like pain? No, not really. I’m not sure I ever will. As P. T. Forsyth reminds me, “God is deeper than the deepest depth of man. He is holier than our deepest sin is deep. There is no depth so deep to us as when God reveals his holiness when dealing with our sin. . . . [And so] think more of the depth of God than the depth of your cry.”P. T. Forsyth, The Cure of Souls (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971) 128.
What I am learning is to look more for God, to turn to him faster, and to anticipate the blessing of meeting with him. I remember the character and faithfulness of God and wait and hope on him. I begin to fix my attention not on myself, but on God. “It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy,” Spurgeon says, “when we can forgo the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us.”Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 6.( Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1950) 59.
So even in this painful place where I cannot see resolution, I can still be with God. I can still find my solace in him—remaining in Christ and relying on his strength to support me. And even though the road ahead of me is not at all clear, God has shown me the pathway, nevertheless. Obedience is a lively, adventurous response of faith. So as I walk in it—as I tell the truth and do the right thing and obey what I know is true—I can wait and hope in God to work all things together for good.
God is a God who meets with me in my pain, through my pain, and sometimes because of my pain. And every time, it is a blessed meeting with the living God.
Sometimes grace hurts. Thank God that it does.
Ashley Hall Roberts (JD, MAR) is the director of Small Group Leadership Development at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Ashley’s passion is for holistic development and personal pursuit of the divine calling.