What I Learned Through the Pain of My Most Difficult Moments
Facing the Pain of Divorce
It was the most painful season of my life. Despite my pleas to stay, my wife of more than twenty years left me for another man. My heart was broken, leaving me emotionally, physically, and financially spent. I was a staff pastor, but I couldn't continue to serve the church I loved.
Depression quickly surrounded me. I found myself begging God to take me home, to let me die. The grief from the loss of my wife, my source of income, my kids was almost too much for me to bear. I had no means to support myself, and I owed more than $60,000 in debt I couldn't pay. I had a sense of hopelessness and despair I'd never experienced, overwhelming to the point I couldn't see any hope for my future.
"But you were a pastor. Where was your faith?" Excellent question. After having begged God to save my marriage and ministry, I was blinded to His presence by my focus on all I perceived I had lost, leaving my faith in shambles.
Perhaps, David felt some of what I was feeling when he wrote in Psalm 13:1-2 (NLT): "O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?"
Dealing with Financial Difficulty
Divorced pastors are not exactly "hot items" in the job market, so I struggled to find employment. Ultimately, the only work I could find was auto sales, which was a commission-only job. If I didn't sell, I didn't eat. So, I got pretty skinny in that season as I sought to hone my skills as a salesman. It was rather ironic that I was driving a new Cadillac, provided by the dealership, but couldn't afford to put gas in it.
The low point of my life was one of my first paydays. I opened the envelope that held my check, hoping for enough to survive a couple more weeks. After taxes and child support, I had $19.32 on which to live until the next payday.
Broken and distraught, I made my way home and fell to my knees next to my bed. Trying to pray, all I could do was sob. Finally, gaining some sense of composure, I began to tell God all the things I'd lost—my family, my ministry, my home, my sense of self-worth, and on and on I went, whining my heart out to the Lord.
Finally, I turned around and sat by my bed with my head in my hands. I was drained. The clouds of despair surrounded me. It was in those desperate moments I heard, not audibly, but with crystal clarity, "You haven't lost everything because you haven't lost Me and I'm all you need!" My heart was lifted as I began to worship with fresh faith, the Lord who had never abandoned me.
Lessons Learned Through My Pain
- Respond appropriately to pain and difficulty.
When I turned to God, my circumstances didn't immediately change, but I did. In my heart and mind, I was refreshed, alive again, and hopeful on a level I'd never known before. My focus was again on Jesus, and my vision for a future was becoming clearer. I began to understand, not necessarily why things happened as they did, but how I must now appropriately respond to this season of pain with faith and confidence.
- Trust that God can redeem and restore.
As a gift from God, He allowed me to win a sales contest at my dealership, which enabled me to take my then 16-year-old daughter to the Bahamas, all expenses paid. Additionally, though I wasn't sure I'd ever have the privilege of serving the Lord as a pastor again, I received a call from a small congregation in Ohio who needed a bi-vocational pastor. I served that church for more than thirteen years. As a bonus, though it took more than ten years, the Lord enabled me to repay every penny of my $60,000 debt. To God be the glory, great things HE has done.
- Hold on to your faith.
One very valuable benefit of that painful season was that it taught me to never doubt in the darkness what I know to be true in the light. Shortly after my son and I made our way to Ohio to serve the church there (my daughter was away at college), my son was diagnosed with leukemia. A few months later, my dad, whom I dearly loved, died of Parkinson's disease. Through the three-plus years of my son's battle with cancer, I never doubted the Lord's presence, and I never turned from my hope for my son's healing.
Though the doctors advised my son, because of the chemo and radiation treatments, that he'd likely never become a father, at age thirty-nine, he fathered Hannah Christine. She is now almost four years old and is my only grandchild, which led us to our present home in Texas, following my retirement.
- Allow difficult circumstances to transform us.
The profit of pain for me is the hope that whatever life sends my way, I have a Savior who loves me and is for me. Nothing catches Him by surprise. Every pain is a potential platform upon which the Lord can do what only He can do in my life. He is faithful and true. He always keeps His promises. His Word is reliable and filled with wisdom that will guide and sustain me in every season.
I've learned that there are insights and understandings that can be gleaned from pain that can be learned in no other way. I've learned that our circumstances are God's friends, partnering with Him to help us conform more perfectly to the likeness of our Savior, which is God's will for all who follow Him (Romans 8:29).
Steven Furtick said, "Some of the reasons you gave up were not because it was hard, but because you didn't know you were winning." Sitting by my bed, sobbing tears of regret and loss, I didn't feel like a "winner," but because of Jesus, I was and am!
Peter also saw things in his pain and heartache that led him to say, "So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—through your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world" (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT).
Finding Encouragement for the Difficult Moments
I love the oft-quoted words of C.S. Lewis: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
If this is a season of pain for you, hear the word of the Lord for you: "Be still, and know that I am God!" (Psalm 46:10). Find a quiet spot and listen for God's "megaphone" to speak hope, courage, wisdom, and healing into your weakness and fear. Know you are loved and the Lord is with you and for you and has plans for you that are too incredible for you to comprehend in this moment. Satan is a liar and a deceiver and will seek to silence the voice of truth. But immerse yourself in God's Word, worship, and fellowship with others who can love you and give you the loving support you need in this hour. You are not alone—never have been and never will be!