What an odd and strange thought and even more odd title for a blog post..Praise Him Through the Pain. This past week the lesson I prepared for my youth group at church was, of course, a Thanksgiving related lesson due to the timing and season we are in. The scriptures for the lesson - 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." NLT and Colossians 3:17, "And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father." NLT, tell us to give thanks to God at ALL times and in ALL you do and say. Sometimes this is harder said than done.
In my youth group are kids who have already experienced and seen in their short lives some of the worst circumstances that life has to offer - from parents who are addicted to drugs and have been in and out of jail to sexual abuse to homelessness to physical and mental abuse. It is hard enough for mature Christian adults to understand how to spiritually handle difficult situations but can you imagine being 13, 14 or 15 years old and trying to cope with very adult circumstances? Some of these kids in our youth group are the children of church members but most of them came to us from off the street. They make a choice every Wednesday to get on the church's bus and come for a hot meal and a lesson about Jesus. There are no parents forcing them to do this and leveraging their authority over them to influence them to participate. Over half of my class are kids who have little or no supervision at home. They are choosing to be at church of their own free accord. What an amazing and inspiring tribute to our Lord and His mighty hand of guidance and protection over theses children. He has literally picked them up and placed them in our hands to love them, teach them and guide them into a relationship with Him. What an awesome gift and sometimes heavy responsibility that is. These kids have so much to overcome to see a God that loves them and is there for them in the worst moments of their young lives.
Without fully comprehending this I began this lesson this past Wednesday about giving thanks to God in all circumstances and at all times. There were some hard hitting questions in the lesson about when it might be difficult to give thanks such as in the face of adversity and hardship. That's when God opened my eyes to the true heart of this lesson, what He really wanted these kids to understand. Their souls were wounded from the hardships they had already suffered and they were fearful of the God that they perceived caused it all to happen. The true nature of God was not what they knew. They had formed a very broken and inaccurate picture of God as a mean bully who'd kicked them around their whole lives. It sincerely broke my heart when I understood this and I knew without a doubt that God had given me this lesson to teach them, but not for the reasons I had thought. I thought it was going to be a simple lesson about kids needing to learn a little something about gratitude but it was so so much more and so much deeper than I could have ever imagined. These beautiful wounded children needed to know that God was not the source of the horrible things that had happened to them and He did not "allow" it to happen to them.
The lesson evolved into helping them understand that unfortunately we live in an evil world where Satan is the prince. He has domain here and he is the source of the pain they have suffered. Everyday people make bad choices that often hurt themselves and others and all of those choices are fueled by temptations and bad information that Satan has put in front of them. Many members of my class have been the victim of other peoples bad decisions that were guided and manipulated by the father of lies. God helped me impress upon them that He was not the source of their pain but the source of their survival, their strength and their comfort. He is the one that helped them to find our Church where at first it was about a hot meal and a little down time with friends. But it has evolved into so much more for these children. It's a place where they found structure, love, guidance, understanding and the compassion of an all loving God.
It is no mistake that the church bus rolled through their neighborhood, down their street and in front of their house. That my friends was the hand of God. That is how He began to deliver these precious souls from the turmoil of their lives and show them the strength and power available to them for healing, deliverance, perseverance, and most of all - forgiveness. It's easy to tell someone to give thanks to God in all things when you have never truly been touched by utter despair and hopelessness, pain and suffering beyond reason, and such tragic loss that your heart just can't bear it. The true testimony of our faith is responding to God with praise and thanksgiving in spite of these circumstances because we recognize that He is not the cause but the deliverance from them. As difficult as it was for me I told them that my husband and I could understand their pain and misgivings about trusting in a God that they perceived had let them down. We had suffered tragic paralyzing loss in March of 2000 when my husband's son took his own life. It was a pain that I was certain there was no recovering from. But we did recover and through the grace of God we moved forward in life. And now we find ourselves ministry leaders in our church giving back in ways we never imagined, like standing up before a youth group and telling them that I understand their pain and it's not God causing it but God who has given them the strength to endure it.
God can and will take the circumstances of our life that were caused either by our own or others temptations and failings and make them a source of strength and compassion that we can use to help bring others closer to Him. Because of our loss, my husband and I have been able to give love and compassion to other people suffering a similar loss to our own in a way that only a parent who has lost a child can. We have become more sensitive to the needs of those who feel they are at the end of their rope and just can't go on. We are able to tell our story of the loss we've suffered and that there is hope if you lean into the arms of our loving and gracious Savior. Just recently a family in our church suffered a similar loss. Their son was killed in a car accident. The day after his death, they attended church. Most of us were surprised to see them because it can be so painful to walk into a room and know every eye is on you, the look on every face reflecting your pain back at you. But the mother of this young man wanted to be in her church. I honestly don't know what was on her mind in those moments but to me it spoke volumes about the position of her heart and her faith. To me it said that she recognized that God was not the source of her pain and suffering or the tragic loss of her son but He is and will be the source of her healing and comfort through her grieving process. It was one of the most beautiful and heart wrenching moments I've ever witnessed, her determination to give praise and glory to God in spite of the pain she was suffering.
I reminded the kids in my class of this moment and assured them that if a grieving mother could praise God through the pain, then they could as well. He will help them find peace and redemption in the midst of life's trials and He will help them paint a much brighter future. They need only put their trust and faith in Him. Whether they realized it or not, it's the reason they got on the bus. It's the reason it passed in front of their house to begin with and it's the reason they are here in this house of worship now, the grace and mercy of our loving Father. He held them up and held them strong to get to this point today. He sent a church bus to pick them up and deliver them where He will continue to guide their path if they continue to show up. But most of all He will reward their faithfulness if they give Him thanks and praise no matter what temptations and hardship the devil tries to throw at them. In all things and at all times, give thanks and praise to God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise Him through the pain.