The old adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” always puzzled me. I don’t know about you, but one of the last things I need during painful times is someone to encourage me (or try to at least) by telling me that as long as I still have a pulse in the end, I’m better because of it.
I’ve met plenty of people that haven’t grown “stronger” because of challenges. For some, what didn’t kill them didn’t strengthen them — it made them bitter. Or angry. Or confused. Or full of doubt. It was their circumstances that left them feeling anything but stronger in the end.
Life’s struggles will often drive us to doubt or at least wrestle with God. “Does He care?” “Does He even exist?” And we don’t have to go far to see or experience things that will raise questions, bring pain into our lives, or allow us to see that the world we live in isn’t just broken — but shattered.
But what if the pain and suffering that we endure wasn’t just a hinderance? Is it possible that the things in life that seem to kick us when we’re down aren’t just painful — but have a purpose?
There’s a passage early on in 2 Corinthians that may answer that.
The Apostle Paul — a man who suffered to great lengths in his pursuit of sharing the Gospel — shares where HIS suffering may have had a purpose:
“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. BUT as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
Here’s Paul — sharing not just about the hard days, but those in which he says were so hard, that they were “overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure.” Circumstances that he felt for sure would kill him. And what’s Paul’s response?
Rely more on God.
Really, Paul? All of my pain and struggles, that at times seem unbearable, are all to help me rely less on myself and more on God?
Scripture (to the surprise of many) is filled to the brim with accounts of people who endure suffering. Faithful people — going through painful hardship — some to the point of death. Jesus promised it, even (John 15:20). So how could a book that captures the story of God, His creation, His love, and His plan to redeem be so filled with pain, loss, and hardship?
Well, for Paul, it served as a reminder. It pushed him so far to a point where there was no way that he could go at it alone. For many of us, it may be that we’ve become so dependent on our own strength, that God has allowed things to play out in our lives in order to bring us back to the only thing that stands when everything else falls down — Him.
Very few people have ever found strength and learned life’s greatest lessons during the good times. It always seems to have to come through pain and struggle. As one author puts it, “We go deepest with God during the drought.”
Going through your own drought right now? Remember this — you weren’t designed to go through it alone. Finding purpose even in the most difficult days of your life may not only help you get through them, but may leave you growing closer with the God who — as Paul said — raises the dead.
• Colin Noonan is the director of youth ministries at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee. Share about your own pain and purpose with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.