Perseverance In Pain and the Grace To Stay

By Samm Norton

The body of Christ, His church, His temple, His people. This is what “The Church” is supposed to be. Unfortunately, it often falls short. The church is expected to exemplify Christ's love and His faithfulness, but He and He alone is perfect, and therefore our earthly efforts will fail more than they will succeed. We've all, at one time or another, beenafflicted by these feelings of believing we're unloved, rejected, and abandoned. The hurt that accompanies these feelings seems to validate a defensive response of walls and barricades to hopefully keep it from happening again. Thus, when we observe the church, we see a group of individuals tragically desperate for belonging and approval, but who are, in actuality, residing far from it because of our extensive brokenness.

We the church appear to be trapped in a never ending cycle that defeats us. Having been betrayed, lied to and cheated, we refuse to trust. Abandoned by our parents, friends and loved ones we will not commit to one another because surely the other party will eventually jump ship. This is the destructive cycle repeated time and time again. Whether we choose to admit it or not, our fears keep us from what we all hopelessly long for more than anything on this earth. We want to be accepted and to belong. We want to know we are loved regardless of the long list of committed hurts. We want a place to call home with the very people we are afraid to admit we can't lose.

Paradoxically, we all limp around because we just can't seem to stop the recurring cycle of fear and division. Allow me to introduce the shattered, mangled member of the church. Impaired and refusing to be mended, we are wrecking balls repeating the torture done to us. We leave people, we leave the church. We gossip and smear one another behind each other's backs. We serve and give of ourselves when the time is right and the moment is comfortable for us. What we do, and refuse to do, is often based on our momentary feelings or the lies we believe, rather than the truth. Friends, church, family. This is theissue that runs through all our relationships. It is apathy to dismiss this and I believe denying the gospel of Jesus Christ to not stand and war together against such darkness. The division, brokenness and pain that lies within the body of Christ is the very enemy to light and love itself. Our ability to carry the gospel of Christ’s healing nature is diminished because of it. Though simple, the response we should have is not easy.

God is God and we are not. We cannot be God, or fill the role of God in other’s lives, and we should not expect as much from one another. We desperately need one another and we need community, but He and He alone satisfies. So, which is it?  My friends, this is the grueling, painful, exhausting, beautiful, lovely, rewarding labor that Christ has called us to. We simply need to get the order right. First, look at the order that is flawlessly depicted in Hebrews 6:13-20 where we read of the certainty of God's promise. God, swearing by Himself, in His faithful character made an oath with the heirs of the promise to Abraham to go before us as our High Priest, this to be the anchor of our souls. This is to be our hope that is sure and steadfast.

Jesus Christ, first and foremost is the anchor of our being, identity, belonging and satisfaction. We first turn our eyes to the One who has died for us and breathes life in to us. First, we endeavor to fix our gaze onto the character of our faithful God who is perfect in love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. He and He alone is steadfast, holy and righteous. First, we expect and rely upon the gentleness and kindness of our Father. We expect and anticipate that our God will never leave us nor forsake us. First, we hold on for dear life to the rock that is Jesus Christ, because that rock is undoubtedly our foundation for life. He and He alone is the anchor to our souls. Do you believe that He is all these things? Have you believed a lie that He is not? We must believe the truth that He is for us in order to hold on to Him as this anchor. Abiding in this anchor we can now turn to our brothers and sisters and strive to bestow, with every ounce of our being, the love that has been so graciously bestowed upon us.

Remember that messy band of individuals mentioned above? Yes, us, the church. Well, that is who Jesus has called us to be in covenant relationship with. Those are the mismatched, disheveled, insecure bunch of outcasts we are called to live life with and devote ourselves to endlessly. This is second in the order. We need the first to enable the second, but the second breathes life into the first. Our lives have to be tethered to the truth of Hebrews 6:13-20 for the reason that this mismatched crew will let us down, but God's promise will not. However, let me now introduce you to the incandescent, restoring member of the church. Friends, we experience Christ's love, patience, mercy, kindness, and the list goes on, through one another. Christ is experienced in His church, through us His people. We see the characteristics of Jesus lived out through the hands and feet of His people. The incarnate Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father but He sent His Spirit to dwell within the body of Christ noted in 1 Corinthians 12. Not just the overall global church that reveres His name but the local church as well. That is how we see, hear, touch, and know the feel of Christ’s love. This should ignite in us a burning flame, knowing that through relationship with Jesus we can collectively labor to walk with one another through restoration and healing to then go out as a body, united to ignite the world. This begs the question, how do we practically go about such a calling?

I believe the answer can be found in perseverance in pain and the grace to stay. When compared, relationships can vary drastically. However, all relationships tend to bear a few common denominators. They can be messy. With the mess comes pain, and sadly, in most situations, someone or some people often leave with unresolved matters. In my own experiences and observing others I have found these two relationship variables to be a crucial turning point. Pain infiltrates our lives a number of ways. Usually we enter new relationships lugging a backpack of old pain with us. Our new relationships are good for a short while and then we hit a pot hole. Most of the time they are easy repairs, but inevitably a tire explodes and there's a little more work that needs to be done. One party or possibly both are deeply hurt, angry, and confused. The lies that came into the relationship have not been adequately addressed and so the cycle continues.

Perseverance in pain is the willingness to humble oneself, be vulnerable and have the uncomfortable conversations or do the uncomfortable thing to restore what was broken. The grace to stay is the willingness to deny your flesh telling you to run. It is the room given to yourself and others to repent from the lies and turn to the truth of relationship to which Christ calls us. The awkwardness, the being stretched to trust one another. It is so counterintuitive to our flesh.  Our instincts are screaming to high-tail it out of there. But, I say again, persevere in pain and practice the grace to stay, for this is where we will begin to witness the magnificent, healing work of our Savior. By being present in the midst of pain and choosing to stay in relationship with the collective body and one another, we begin to fight back in the midst of the battle. Slowly, but surely, we undo the lies and darkness that has entangled so many. For the individual who believes they are unlovable, they experience the truth of God's steadfast love when the body remains present in pain and their friend does not leave. The power the church possesses to war against the brokenness of the people is at our fingertips if we would just choose to say, “We are here, and we're not going anywhere.”

The words of Thomas Merton's Body of Broken Bones from New Seeds of Contemplation explains it well. "As long as we are here on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of the body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain that comes from the differences between them. There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and sorrow that are the price of the resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion."  He then goes on to say, "But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds."

In varying times of my life I have found myself in just about every possible scenario. I have been the jumper, the one who hangs the crew out to dry and bails. I have also been the one left on the ship alone, lost and frightened. I have been the crew member who lies around and lets every other member do the work. I help no one and no one helps me. I've also refused to board the ship in the first place. Imagine, literally, the body of Christ acting in such a way. What do you see? Chaos! Utter and complete chaos. People are trampled, bleeding, probably crying. There's confusion and frustration. The ship is unstable due to all the movement and commotion. It's undeniably a disaster with zero assurance of safety amidst the ship’s voyage. Despite the pandemonium here, the solution is not complicated at all. When you choose to board the ship, you get on and you stay on. All hands on deck, a member for life.

To be truthful, this is an awfully tiresome and strenuous call. And is this not exactly where we are supposed to be? From Genesis through Revelation, where is God? What is He doing? He is steadfast in His faithfulness to persevere in pain and show undeserved grace to stay in relationship with His people. Friends, Jesus does not intercede for us with his feet kicked up and a drink in hand. Jesus went to the cross and died for us so that He may mediate, day and night the Bible says, on our behalf for the sake of restoring and reconciling us to the Father. This is not a part time gig with breaks, or a five day a week, nine-to-five work schedule with weekends. He ceaselessly goes before the throne of God for us. How many times in scripture do we see God's anger and sadness towards His people? How many times do we read that God makes a promise or a covenant with His people? A way out? A path to redemption from the committed sins? Countless times God endured and walked through pain with His people. How many times does God leave His people? Not once. And may I boldly ask, who we think we are to do so to one another?

It can be brutal, anger inducing at times and undoubtedly painful and tiring, but together the load to bear is lighter. Church, let's stand together to take up arms and strike down the division and darkness. Choose to persevere and stay, and watch as the glory of God radiates in a church laboring to put back together a body of broken bones. Be present. Attend worship gatherings.  Give to the body and serve the body. Be present in one another's lives. Make time and show up. Aspire to settle in for the long haul. The gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost penetrates the core of our being with knowing unquestionably that we are loved by Him. We read it, we hear it taught to us, but the moment it penetrates body and soul, joints and marrow, is when the body grows together through pain, withstands the downpour and stays to repair the damage. The road is long with mountains, valleys and storms along the way, but church I ask you, is there anything more worthwhile and greater than enduring with each other to convey and exemplify the love, belonging, and acceptance we have in Jesus Christ? Surely, there is not. Stand up! Anchor yourself to the One true rock and foundation for our lives. Endeavor to love faithfully, through pain, for the sake of restoration. For that, my friends, is the calling on each of our lives.