Pain in the offering

This week marks the 18th anniversary of my father’s death. Honestly, it feels even longer; it seems like a lifetime ago. I was 10 years old when my father passed away and I’m gradually becoming more aware of how that event has shaped me. As with all things, my heart has been healed by the grace of God over time. My relationship with my Heavenly Father means more to me due to the passing of my earthly father. And I’m at a place where I can truly thank God for the painful things I’ve experienced in my life. It’s a feeling close to the heart of James 1 when the writer encourages us to consider it pure joy when we face trials. Yet, in many ways, I miss my father more now than I did a few years ago. I think part of my feeling stems from my experiences as a father and a longing to share those experiences with my own father.

But something else occured to me as we were singing Blessed Be the Name in worship recently. The line “…there’s pain in the offering” really struck me and I began to think about my experiences, specifically the pain I’ve faced in my life. And it occured to me just how much I’ve learned through those difficult times. I’m a different person because of the deaths of my father & mother. And my faith is finally strong enough to be thankful for those experiences. Without them, I might not sense the abiding presence of God in my life. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be in ministry. And, as much as I miss my parents, there’s no way I’d trade my pain (or as Gary Bradley would say my “bag of rocks”) for someone else’s. All I can do is offer that pain back before God and thank Him for it.

The difficulty with this line of thinking and praying is the effect it has on you as a parent. As I reflected on my experiences with pain, it dawned on me that soon, my children will be exposed to the pain of the world. As much as I would want to protect them and shield them from such pain, I dare not rob them of opportunities similar to the ones I’ve been afforded to wrestle with and learn from my pain. Certainly, there are some painful experiences I hope and pray my children never have to endure and I would go to great lengths to protect them from pain in some of its more vile and obscene manifestations. But if I truly want good things for them, I must pray for God to bring pain their way, too. For the testing of our faith brings perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work if we are to reach maturity. The challenge I now face as a parent is to muster the faith to pray such a prayer for my children.

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9 Responses to Pain in the offering

  1. scott says:

    I must say that what you have had to endure, and the faith that you possess, minister to so many people, me especially. Your faith is a continual, living testament to me.My biggest fear is that I leave this world before my children develop saving faith. Your dad is obviously very proud of you.

  2. Matt W says:

    Ditto what Freeman said. Outside of my spouse, my dad is probably my best friend and I can’t imagine having grown up without him. I don’t know if you realize it or not, but the way you have handled life’s challenges has had a huge impact on your friends.

  3. Jason says:

    You guys are too kind. I’m blessed to have such good friends. But I know you all have faced adversity and challenges in your lives, too. The difficulty is learning how to deal with our pain within the context of our faith. Scripture brings me much comfort. I recently came across Psalm 27:10, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” Words like that sum up so much for me; the Book continues to be a conduit to the Living Word for me, nourishing me where I am.

  4. mike the eyeguy says:

    Jason, thanks for sharing your story. You’ve walked a hard path–I’m glad (and thankful) they you’re still here to tell the tale.My dad died a few weeks before my high school graduation. The resultant tailspin took me through some dark back alleys of doubt. With dad gone, it seemed like all bets were off and anything could be possible, including the possibility that God didn’t exist.Thanks to Lewis, Schaeffer, Chesterton and a host of kind and patient friends at Harding and elsewhere I emerged from that valley with a faith that I owned. Like Yancey, I’m sometimes a “reluctant Christian,” but even on my worse days I can affirm with ol’ Frank that “He is there and he is not silent.”I can usually tell who has suffered and spent time on the mourner’s bench and who has not. Those who have suffered often listen more than they talk and when they do speak, they are usually measured in their responses. In contrast,those who have suffered little or none often see things more in black and white and are quick with “all the right answers.”As to praying for our children to suffer, that one gives me pause. Phrases like “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” and “be careful what you wish for” come to mind. When it comes to that particular prayer, I prefer to remain silent. I know their suffering will come in it’s own good time.This is similar to a question which has come up on some other blogs: Would it be better for American Christians to suffer (like the Chinese for instance) or enjoy the freedom they have to bring about good for the Kingdom?This brings to my mind lessons from history and a dilemma that early Christian faced: do I run from trouble and use the time and space to spread the gospel or do I seek out martyrdom and be with Jesus? It’s interesting to read how the early church sorted through some of those conumdrums. And that, my friend, could be the subject of another blog someday!

  5. Jason says:

    Mike,I agree…our children will certainly face pain in their lives, no matter how we might try and shield and protect them from it. I guess what I’m praying these days is that my children will learn as much from their pain as I’ve learned from my own experiences with pain and sorrow. There’s a certain crystallization of our faith that occurs through pain. The darkest moment of my life was in the aftermath of my mother’s death in 1994. After her death, I went to a very dark place spiritually. Doubt isn’t a strong enough word to describe what I felt. I hated God. I guess I’d dealt with the loss of my father by projecting so much more onto my mother. She become both mother AND father for me. I questioned how a “loving” God could allow these things to happen. I refused to cry, unwilling to show God how much I hurt. I went a full year after my mother’s death without crying, and I wore this proudly as if it were some kind But through all that, I eventually came full circle in my faith. I attribute it to an experience I had one evening: I was alone with my thoughts – my friends were all out of town, nobody to hang out with, nothing to do. In the quiet of that evening, I found myself evaluating my life and I realized how bankrupt I was. I’d spent the last year of my life trying to fill the void in my heart with anything to keep me busy: school, work, sports, even youth group activities. I found that if I kept myself busy enough, I didn’t have to think about God or my pain or anything meaningful. But like every prodigal, I eventually hit rock bottom. That evening, I began to reflect on my life and the emptiness and the pain and how much I missed God. It was really that simple. I began to let all this wash over me and I began to cry, slowly at first, and I said to God, “Father, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I began sobbing as I said these words over and over and in that moment, I felt something like peace slowly take root in my heart. I honestly felt the presence of God in a real way that evening as I took that homeward step and that moment made all the difference in my life. Since that day, I have been blessed by the abiding presence of my true Father. I wouldn’t trade the pain I’ve been through for without the pain, I wouldn’t have experienced God at the depth of my being.Sorry for the long reply; just a little sentimental as I think back over the years, realizing how God has never stopped pursuing me, even when I turned my back on Him.

  6. mike the eyeguy says:

    Sounds like you couldn’t get away now even if you tried.Lewis called him, “The Hound of Heaven,” and for good reason.

  7. Jason says:

    I’ve had some friends who’ve told me I remind them of Jacob when I tell them my story. I’m one who has wrestled with God. And while I can see and understand that, I think it’s more accurate to say God has been Jacob for me; he’s engaged me and refused to let go of me, in spite of my best efforts to run. The Hound of Heaven indeed.

  8. T.H. says:

    The spiritual greats all have this x-factor of suffering and loss in common. Jason, you are no exception to the pain nor an exception to the ranks among the great. Your friendship and companionship in the ministry has inspired me more than you know.

  9. Jason says:

    I appreciate how kind and thoughtful you all have been with your comments. It means a lot. Thanks, guys.

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