Don’t waste your pain

Ben Reed —  May 21, 2012 — 8 Comments

What does it look like to live a good story? Am I living a good story? Why does it matter? I’m blogging as a part of a series today for Prodigal Magazine on what it looks like to live a good story. You can catch the rest of the writers HERE.

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When I was in graduate school, my wife and I joined a small group. Small groups are supposed to be a place of safety, and trust, and growth and encouragement. A place where you form relationships that help you make sense out of life, pursue Jesus together, and enjoy friendship. That’s the bill we were sold, and we bought it. Every Sunday night, we’d trek across town, 35 minutes south, reading our small group study on the way to group (don’t judge us), praying we weren’t the first to be called on to answer a question. Praying we weren’t asked to sign a sheet of paper that said, “I read all of this week’s lesson…before I got in the car to come over here.”

For a season, everything was great. My wife and I were both in seminary, so getting ourselves out of the academic classroom was refreshing for us. As we focused on applying the Scriptures to our lives, we found the Bible coming alive once again.

When things go sideways

But then we had to miss group for 3 weeks in a row. We had to be out of town for various (and might I add, legitimate) reasons, and couldn’t make it to group. The moment I got back in town, our group leader called me, and said, “Ben, I noticed you and Laura have been absent from group for a while now…” and he just kind of let it hang out there, hoping that I would pour out my heart in confession. But I didn’t. I just made things more awkward, letting the silence hang, creating a thick air of tension. My main reason for the silence was because I had no idea what he was driving towards. He pointed out that Laura and I had been absent for a few weeks, questioning our commitment to the group and our integrity as individuals. He said that because of our spotty attendance, there were people in the group who didn’t trust us anymore.

“Because we missed 3 weeks?” I said.

“Yep.” he confidently returned.

He began to unpack his thoughts, calling my integrity into question because, “I just think you’re holding stuff back from the group, Ben…because when we share prayer requests, you don’t cry.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I was…we thought we were committed to the group! “Ok…I get it. This is a joke, right? Joke’s on me! I almost fell for it,” I said.  But as I dug a little deeper, I found that there was a family in the group gossiping about us. They’d pull the leader to the side and plant little thoughts into our leader’s head, calling Laura and me into question. And as far as my lack of crying goes…I’m just not a cryer. Not that there’s anything wrong with guys crying…I make fun of those guys, but there’s nothing wrong with it. (that’s a joke…if you’re offended by that, then cry about it and I’ll make fun of you. :)) I’m not trying to be uber-tough, it’s just not my personality. But it was the personality of some of the guys in the group, and so, because nobody talked with me about this, space was created for people to think I was masking some deep pain. I wasn’t.

Over time, the leader began to believe the lies. Something that was absolutely benign, that could’ve been handled with one conversation, grew to a point where my wife and I were ready to be done with community. We were soon to move anyway, so we were just ready to check out of small groups altogether. Forever.

So we did. We walked away from this great gift God has given his people.

Until I got a call 2 years later from Grace Community Church to be their small groups pastor. Suddenly, this gift was placed back in my lap, and I had to wrestle through the risk of stepping back in, making myself vulnerable once again. I had to figure out whether I believed that biblical community was a gift…or a weapon. I had to discern if God was calling me to help others experience this weapon-gift or not.

4.5 years later, I can tell you with great certainty that I’ve found an area of life and ministry that I’ll give the rest of my life to promote. “Community” is a value that I hold in high regard. It was through frustration, though, that I found it. Had I not experienced the dark side of community, I wouldn’t value healthy, authentic, biblical community like I do.

Isn’t it funny how God works?

Isn’t it funny how God uses pain and frustration to shape who you’re becoming? How He uses an event or a relationship or a season of life to shake us to our core, and cause us to question so many things. And through that, mold us into who He created us to be.

I’m quick to pray the prayer, “God, please remove this suffering…I don’t like it.” But I have found that prayer, in my life, to be a reflection of an immature side of my faith. Instead, I’ve learned to pray, “God, through this suffering, give me eyes to see what you’re up to.” I wish I could say that my knee-jerk reaction to anything difficult in life is this prayer. Alas, I’m a work in progress.

It’s not wrong to ask God to remove pain. But through pain, don’t miss what God’s teaching you. Don’t miss the bigger picture that He’s up to, and how He’s ready and willing to use your pain to help others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-11)

Don’t waste your pain. Let God use it.

Question:

What pain, that you’re experiencing right now, might God be using to shape you into who He created you to be?

What pain, that you’re experiencing right now, might God use to change someone else’s view of life, difficulties, and Jesus?

 

 

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Ben Reed

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Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.
  • Brad

    Thank you for that one Ben! 

    My wife and I had a very similar situation with the first small group we were apart of. Unlike you and your wife missing three weeks, we only missed two :p (I mean three weeks? Come on man, what’s up with that?). Upon returning to our group we noticed a tension immediately upon walking in the door. We sat through the evening wondering what it was that we had done wrong that warranted our beloved group turning against us. Upon arriving home after group we received a phone call from the group leader who informed us that due to our “unexposed absence” over the past couple weeks, our level of commitment had come into question, and that although my wife would cry, the fact that I didn’t was also a cause to question both of our commitments to the group. My wife and I decided to stick it out with our group and I promised myself that I would try to cry. However, as the weeks progressed, I was labeled as insensitive because regardless of how hard I tried, I just couldn’t cry. I explained to the group that I just wasn’t a crier but was told in return that if I didn’t cry with the group that I must not care for the group. What?! It was at this point that group tension turned into my wife and I feeling unwelcome and we decided to leave the group. It was at this point, like you, that we had decided that small groups weren’t for us and that we wouldn’t have any part of them in the future. Yeah, that wasn’t how thing were going to play out though. I answered God’s call to vocational ministry a few years ago and am still in the process working my way though Seminary, but I know (and have struggled with) where God want’s me – small group ministry. Like you said, Ben: “isn’t it funny how God uses pain and frustration to shape who you’re becoming? How He uses an event or a relationship or a season of life to shake us to our core, and cause us to question so many things. And through that, mold us into who He created us to be.” YES! From the pain and frustration my wife and I experienced from friends who we had pursued Jesus with having turned their backs on us to God setting me on fire to see lives changed through small groups is proof that God uses us and our experiences (good and bad) to help others through their own.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Wow. Thanks for sharing your story, Brad. Hope you’re able to share that with others and help them process what God may be up to in their lives, too.

  • Mindy Miller

    Ben, thanks for sharing. I needed to hear that today. I don’t have a great story to tell, just that God knew I needed to hear those last few paragraphs.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      You dont’ have a great story to tell? 

      That’s a lie. You’ve got a beautiful story to tell, Mindy. 

  • Anonymous

    Am I a bad person for laughing really hard at this?: 
    “I just think you’re holding stuff back from the group, Ben…because when we share prayer requests, you don’t cry.”

    I think it is easier to put pain into perspective when I am past it…its hard to figure out why I’m going through a difficulty as I’m going through it except to say something cliche like “God will want me to use this to help others in the future”

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Yes. You’re wicked. Not quite as wicked as I am for typing it. But wicked nonetheless. :)

  • Lydia

    These thoughts…if I had chosen to reject the hard stuff God gave me, what a different person I would be! And not it a good way. Some of the hardest things are most beautiful.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Agreed. Completely.