by Robert Earl Houston
I’ve been participating in a 30 days of Thanksgiving idea that someone came up with on Facebook. In that project, each day you stop and thank God for something in your life. I had to do some catch up initially and today, I wrote about pain. I thought I would share this and do some amplification:
Day 16 – I’m thankful for pain. I have been through some emotional pains through the years – from a child to an adult. There have been some dramatic woundings of the heart – some from people, some from society, some from church folk, and yes, some even self-inflicted. I have felt pain that I thought I would never recover from. I have felt pain that has caused me to cut some people completely out of my life. I have felt pain that made me wonder if God is real. I have felt pain that reduced me to tears, cut me to the marrow, and drove me downward. However, that’s in the earlier chapters but not in the final chapters. For in the latter chapters, I’ve learned to be thankful for those experiences that also compelled me closer to the Christ, made me fall to my knees in prayer, taught me to trust Jesus exclusively and know the difference and definition of true friends. I’ve learned how to walk in pain, talk in pain, preach in pain, and laugh in pain. So pain is not a bad thing because if you can feel pain, then you’ll be able to feel God also at work – so that you can make pain not a hinderance but a teacher; not a stopper but an encourager; and not a period, but a comma. Thank you Lord for pain.
There is something to be said about pain. Especially for a pastor. I don’t believe you can really pastor God’s people without knowing first-hand what pain is. The empathy that you really need to pastor the people is found in pain.
I never will forget the homegoing service of Dr. O.B. Williams, pastor of the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. His widow, Dr. Willa Williams, was crying and emotional at the service. Then Dr. Melvin Wade walked out of the pulpit, walked down the aisle to her pew, and held her hand. He didn’t say a word, literally didn’t blink, and just by holding her hand, she calmed down. It was the touch of somebody who knows about pain.
As a pastor, my members of all my congregations I’ve ever pastored, know that if there is a sickness or death, I try my best to be present. There have been some exceptions because of circumstances out of my control – but for the most part I try to be there. I remember that a successor to me at one of the churches I’ve pastored called me one night and the church was in a tumult and he said “during the meeting Doc they said ‘Pastor Houston’ would beat the ambulance to the hospital if he knew we were sick.'” They used it as a stick against their current pastor, but they were right.
I try to be there because I’ve sat where they sit. In illness, in trouble, in bad times – pain is a killer. Divorce is a pain. Trials are a pain. Transition is a pain. But again, you cannot minister to where you’re not at, and oddly God sometimes will allow you to minister to others while you’re going through the exact same plight of pain. I’ve ministered to people whose stories became mirrors of my own plights. I’ve had to sit there and hear stories that remind me of the old Roberta Flack standard, “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Little did they know that what they were experiencing was either a past or a present pain that I had or are dealing with.
Pain has caused me to move a little slower, think things out a little better – but I also find that pain matures you. It ushers you from the nursery to the chapel. It takes you from the balcony to the main floor. It creates lines in your face, gray in your hair and colors your eyes with wisdom.