Friday, May 18, 2018

Pain Before Beauty

I’m sitting in the middle seat of the middle bench of my car. I always call the vehicle I drive a “car,” but really it’s an 8-seat people transporter SUV. The sun is harsh this afternoon and I'm trying to limit my squinting and frowning, which threaten to give me more pronounced so-called “expression lines” while I wait on one of my kids. Had I been a little more prepared, I would have changed and used the time to workout while I wait.

Our house has been under construction for the last while. Most of our exterior siding has been torn down for replacement because it was in very bad condition. Some of the older areas needed replacement studs, window headers, fresh insulation, and foundational supports; all of our windows and exterior doors will be replaced as well. This has been so needful: no more rain coming in, no more wind blowing locked doors wide open, no more glass rattling in old aluminum frames, no more views obscured by foggy windows due to defective seals…and an opportunity to recreate and modify according to our preferences and needs.

The incessant banging and pounding is a little obnoxious, but it’s a necessary step to progress. So is the dust and dirt that is appearing everywhere inside, and the interference to my ability to accomplish as much as I’d like in a day. I’ve often thought that progress usually comes by way of setbacks. In fact, as I often do, my mind makes connections between the things I see and experience, and the facts of life. There is a necessity to trouble, inconvenience, and pain in life if we desire progress, personal growth, or change. A few examples come to mind:

Demo and dirt before new construction
Muscle pain before muscle strength
Mental exertion before new concepts understood
Messy kitchen before meals
Greater disorder before reorganized closets
Winter before spring
Rain before growth
Labor before delivery
Toil before harvest and feast
Failure before learning
Trial before faith and perseverance
Repentance before forgiveness
Death to self before new life in Christ

Sometimes great pain must come before triumph. Several of my recent conversations have been about faithful women, and over again I keep noting that the strand that connects their stories together is great pain, trial, and adversity. Strong women are not the result of an easy life. Remarkable beauty, depth of character, wisdom, virtue, and true hope in God are typically birthed through pain. And a deep and life-giving relationship with Christ that goes beyond mere head and Bible knowledge often comes through the bonds of suffering.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed that one of the rose buds on my bush had been severely damaged as a result of the demo/construction project of our house. The tiny bud was wilted and appeared totally doomed, hanging from a stem that was nearly completely severed. A week or so later, however, I discovered that it had begun to bloom.

Though the stem was still crooked and bent, it had fully mended. The once delicate stem had transformed to a gnarled stock, stronger and more defined than it had been before. The bloom was now receiving water and nourishment (not from itself, but from the plant), allowing it to flourish and carry out its created purpose. The purpose of all flowers is not only to add beauty to the environment, or to provide nectar for other creatures, but to produce a seed for a new plant to grow with many more blossoms to come.

Sometimes the mere fact that a person has been violently torn down makes their rising again so remarkable, so beautiful. Because of its shape and story of survival, this blossom was now best suited for a higher place.

It makes me remember not to fear pain or hardship, and that a bad situation may need to get worse before beauty can arise.

Today I’m confronted with the fact that I’ve got to tear down some incorrect notions before rebuilding correct thinking, and before living with confidence. Freedom comes at a cost. All my life I’ve been a player in someone else’s disturbed scheme, and I’ve been required to play along, trapped in a nightmare. Scared, confused, hopeless, hurt… frequently carrying a burden never meant for my shoulders to bear.

Ever notice that nightmares are hard to describe to another person? Words used to communicate a night terror never seem adequate to describe the mental torment and the reason for night sweats; mere words are inadequate to describe why in the morning the thoughts can’t be easily shaken. Some bad dreams never seem to end. And so it is with me: I’ve been silenced, unable to tell my story. I’ve run and hid many times, set the burden behind, determined to set a new course, make a new beginning. Then, once again, I’m confronted with the need to rescue another and I’m caught in the twisted game once more.

Seems odd for me to write such things here, sort of veiled and rather abruptly. It’s my constant quandary: needing the courage to speak (and receive help and hope), and respecting the privacy of others. Does truth always need to be spoken? If not spoken, am I taking part in a lie?

I'm left asking the same questions over again: What is most loving in this situation? What is the right thing to do? Courage through telling, I think, will be our freedom.

If truth sets free, then freedom is going to hurt.

Pain before freedom. Suffering before the beauty of freedom.

I think this is most loving, too.


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