During my teenage years, I struggled with a huge sense of hopelessness because of the disparity between my expectations of where I thought I would be and where I actually was. I was struggling to get up from bed every day because I felt like a corpse putting on my human suit to face life, which at that point felt meaningless.
And so, to console myself, I developed a nasty smoking habit, drank alcohol to help me forget my woes and threw myself into an insanely packed study and work schedule. I hoped that these little pleasures would either bring me the meaning I was looking for, or at least numb me from feeling the pain of having no inner purpose for being alive.
Working four jobs in university while trying to stay afloat with my social life and exams wasn’t difficult at all because I had fulfilled what I thought I wanted – a life filled with semblances of purpose. I was busy. I was needed.
In my second year in university, I received a phone call that changed my world: One of my good friends was in a motorcycle accident and was paralysed from the neck down.
At first, I numbed myself to another level, taking on more responsibilities to avoid dealing with the grief. My heart was so broken that I could not bring myself to face the intense anguish we were both facing.
But after journeying with him for a little more than eight months and seeing him through rehabilitative therapy, in which I witnessed him regaining mobility and strength, I had a revelation of how pain and pleasure in life both exist to draw us closer to God.
DO NOT PURSUE TEMPORAL PLEASURES
We have to remember that God made pleasure, not the devil. But instead of blindly pursuing pleasurable things and experiences, we need to start by seeking the one pleasure that fulfils our soul – God.
Our keenest pleasure needs to be in God, satisfied by God and rooted in God.
The problem with pleasure is that we seek it for its own end. We seek it to fill our own desires, only to enlarge the void in our hearts when we seek pleasure from anything that isn’t God.
I remember this example: Once, I was so thirsty after running, but didn’t want to spend $2.30 buying a bottle of mineral water. So I ended up buying some other artificially sweetened drink instead. While it satisfied me for the moment, it made me feel even more thirsty afterwards.
We can never be satisfied seeking anything or anyone apart from God. There are dangerous effects in pursuing carnal and empty pleasures. Apostle Paul preached about these dangers to various churches in the New Testament. We remember Lot’s wife in the Old Testament when she looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.
That is a picture of what happens to us: Our hearts get attached to the things that we find pleasure in, until we find it almost impossible to leave them behind – even with God Himself leading us out. Ecclesiastes 3:11 puts it this way: “He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
The void in our hearts and the emptiness we feel cannot be filled by the temporary pleasures of this world. We were made for and from eternity. We were made for God’s eternal delight and glory.
As Christians, our end goal ought not to lie in pleasure. It must lie only in Jesus Christ.
DO NOT FEAR TEMPORAL PAIN
Pain is also certain this life. Jesus guaranteed it (John 16:33) and Peter told us not to be surprised (1 Peter 4:12).
Anxiety happens when you anticipate a bad outcome in the future, stemming from the worry of experiencing pain. But here lies the paradox: In being preoccupied with wanting to avoid pain, we suffer the pain of constant anxiety.
In the Bible, we read about the horrific deaths, torture, beatings that the disciples had to endure throughout their ministry with Jesus, even after Jesus’ ascension! And yet, they pressed on with the conviction and certainty in sharing the message of Christ.
How powerful it must be to have eternal comfort and strength that is able to bring us through, and not just out of, the worst of sufferings.
It helps to remember that when suffering occurs, which it will, nothing happens apart from the sovereignty of God. This doesn’t mean suffering is good. It just means that because God is in control of everything and His ways are perfect and just, even if we cannot yet see how.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
We only learn and grow from our suffering and pain if we see how God is moving in, through and with us in that struggle.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Pain is not to be seen simply as an inconvenience or a loss of pleasure, but rather as an invitation from God to allow Him to use the pain to bring us closer to Him, and in that process be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
To put things in perspective, suffering comes and goes, but God is always there.
We all have seasons of pain, but God promises that they will not be more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), nor will they last forever. And even though we may not know what exactly is going to come our way in the future, one thing is certain: He will make all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.