"For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead." 2 For. 1:8b-9
The day was February 22, 2014. I thought my life was over. The picture below was taken just 3 days earlier in a small village 13,000 feet above sea level where we had been dropped off by helicopter . Notice the smile on all of our faces? We were so happy to be in the Himalayas. It was day one of a six day trek through the Himalayas where we would hike 90 miles in just six short days. Amidst the beauty of those wonderful mountains, I saw some of the worst poverty and suffering I had ever seen in my life.
February 22 marked the third and longest day of our journey. We hiked for 10 hours that day. As night was falling and the trails were getting harder to see, my body began to break down, and I was reaching the point of surrender. At one point, I thought I might die. Every part of my body hurt. Even parts of my body that I didn't know could hurt, did hurt. Then I went from thinking I might die, to hoping I would die. I remember telling one of our guides, "just tell my family I love them. I can't take another step."
Thankfully, we had incredible guides with us who were able to keep me moving, and eventually we reached our destination for the night. Three days later we reached the end of the trek, and I had lost 16 lbs. in 6 days. It was one of the single best/worst days of my life. I learned several lessons about pain on that excursion. Here are a few of them you might find helpful.
First, pain tells you something is wrong. In my case the pain told me that my body was not prepared for the tremendous physical toll that hiking the Himalayas was going to inflict. The pain exposed areas of weakness that needed attention. I needed to do more cardio, and I needed to lose some excess pounds. Often, pain reveals areas where God needs to chisel away some things that don't need to be in our life. Without the pain, we'd go on thinking that everything is okay. Pain is a blessing to tell us what needs to change.
Second, pain brings about deeper relationship . To say that I have a bond with the other five men on this trip would be a gross understatement. There is a bond that happens when you go through pain with someone. David Platt, Dennis Blythe, Cory Varden, Donnie Arrant, and John Butterfield are five of the finest men I know. There is a bond that we share because we endured the pain of those six days together. There is a depth of relationship, appreciation, respect, and admiration that only comes from going through difficult circumstances together. In marriage, our love grows for our spouse when we face trials together, and there is no way to microwave this depth of relationship. When someone is there for you in our deepest time of need, it creates a special kind of bond.
Third, pain causes you to evaluate what's important . If you've ever been through life altering pain, then you know that it brings life into sharp focus. Physical, emotional, spiritual or relational pain forces us to evaluate our priorities to determine what's most important. When my body was breaking down in the Himalayas, issues like television, my cell phone battery, what kind of car I drive, the latest news in entertainment were not at the top of my list. What was at the top of my list? Putting one foot in front of the other to make it to the next destination. Pain often clarifies for us the most important things in life. It forces me to block everything else out.
Fourth, pain makes us completely, utterly dependent upon Christ. I often say, "You don't realize God's all you need, until God's all you've got." When we go through painful circumstances, we realize the source of our strength. If our dependency is upon things other than our relationship with Christ, we will realize it very quickly because suddenly those substitutes are gone. Pain is a great reminder of our need to run to Christ to find our strength, joy, and sustenance.
Pain isn't fun. We don't enjoy it. Often our first thought is, "how can I alleviate this pain as quickly as possible?" But, our life should not center around the avoidance of pain or the alleviation of suffering. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, "But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God." I can choose to reframe my pain as an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to learn something about me, other people, and Christ. If we do learn to do this, the pain won't be wasted and will result in my sanctification.