It was a busy day for the surrounding crowds. He could hear the marketers in the distance, shouting their best offers at each passerby. The noises were familiar — he could identify each one after 38 years of agonizing repetition. But it wasn't the buzzing of the city that held his attention. He waited for the sound of stirring waters.
An angel would come and trouble the waters. At that moment, the one who first reached the pool would receive healing for their ailment. For some it was as simple as running and diving into the pool. For others, family members would quickly leap to action and carry them to the water's edge.
But for the man who sat at the pool for so many years, with no family or friends to accompany him, he was left to drag his crippled body across the rough ground. His hands and arms surely bore the scars from decades of desperation that kept him at the pool called Bethesda, his useless legs dragging behind him.
You have to imagine the questions he silently prayed in the long hours spent beside the pool. "God, why will no one help me? Will I ever be healed?" Some who made it into the pool before him must have had minor problems compared to his debilitating handicap. Some likely came once or twice and received their healing, never again seen or heard at the pool.
But he was reduced to a life of begging. He was alone and broken, yet somehow mustered the hope each morning to sit at the pool.
His healing would not come until the Galilean Carpenter looked down at him with compassion and spoke the words that the lame man would repeat until the day he died: "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk."
We don't enjoy pain. We're not supposed to. Pain is our body's way of telling us, "Something is wrong! Stop whatever it is you're doing!" It acts as a deterrent for harmful activity, and even reminds us during healing that the point of affliction is still not right (so please stop picking at it).
Pain is often temporary — the pinky toe smashed against the door, the tension headache that keeps us awake at night, or even the broken bone that takes weeks to heal. It hurts, but subsides so quickly that we forget it within a few hours.
But what do you do with the pain that lingers?
We are emotionally and spiritually susceptible to lingering pain that will not heal in a matter of days or weeks. This is caused by larger issues like abandonment, abuse, or the loss of a loved one, but can also be triggered by something as seemingly trivial as a hurtful comment.
Even though we might turn our lives to God, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and walk with Him, life will still present us with moments that will wound us. God's promise is eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but this temporal life, this "vapor," can often be enough to draw the question, "Why this pain?"
The man sitting at the pool was a Jew. He believed in God. He believed that he could be healed. He believed this because he saw people healed. He watched countless others rush into the waters and emerge from the surface whole and completely restored. He had faith, but his moment was delayed. Why should he wait as others found their healing? Why this pain? Why, when God is so able?
Because God had another plan.
It seems, in reading the scriptures, that God delays relief from the pain, whether spiritual or emotional for several purposes:
1. For the moment that He receives the maximum amount of glory.
2. For the moment that has the widest impact on those surrounding.
3. For the moment when the individual's life is permanently changed (not just his mind/body).
The crippled man at the pool had every reason to be bitter, to be angry. But we don’t know if he was. We don’t even know if he was resentful of the countless others that made it to the pool before him. All we know is that he sat there, day after day.
We know the crippled man, despite his pain, was consistent.
His healing didn’t come as he expected. It wasn’t the way he envisioned it. He thought that one day he would be the one to reach the troubled waters, arising a healed and complete man. It’s worth pointing out: he thought he would do half the work himself.
But that was not God’s plan.
The question: are you willing to allow God to use your pain for a greater good Will your pain be a testament to His glory, or will you allow it to separate you from the plan, the will, the foreknowledge of God?
Are you willing to accept that maybe God’s plans don’t have to line up with your plans? Are you willing to accept that the pain you experience might be worth the heavy toll it takes on your spirit? Are you willing to be consistent in your service and obedience to God, despite the fact that things are still not okay?
We all hurt, and we hate it. But God has a plan for your pain.
I began suffering from depression around the age of 11. For three and a half years, from age 15 to 18, it was at its worst. I held a blade to my wrists, making small cuts and becoming a “cutter” before the term was popularized. To the world, I seemed angry and sarcastic, but in the privacy of my bedroom, I cried tears of loneliness and shame. I dreamed of my suicide — I had it all planned in elaborate detail. The pain in my life was nearly overwhelming.
But God had a plan for my pain.
It is because of the pain that I suffered that I can listen to another talk about depression, either their’s, a family member’s, or friend’s, and instead of dismissing it, my heart immediately begins to break for them. I can empathize in this particular situation because I’ve been there. I’ve hated myself. I’ve hated life. I believed my family would even be better off without me.
But without the pain I suffered, I might not be able to relate. I might become dismissive or lack the understanding to address the issue. Without the pain, I would be ineffective. In January of 2001, God gave me the tools to fight my depression, but first, He had a plan to use it.
No matter the severity, nature, or extent of your pain, God can use it for His purpose.
Are you depressed? One day, you might minister to those who suffer in its grip.
Have you lost a family member? You might one minister to another who has lost a mother, father, brother, or sister.
Are you lonely? You might be the one person that can reach out to the shy person sitting in the corner of a classroom or workspace, because you have an intimate knowledge of the loneliness present in their eyes.
Are you betrayed by those you love the most? One day, you may be a living example to another of the power of forgiveness.
So don’t let your pain rob you of your trust in God. I’ve often heard my dad quote, “God has this funny hang-up. He thinks He’s God.” He understands the pain, and He wishes to wrap you in His arms and take it from you, but it must be on His terms and according to His timetable. As the 90s-era choir song says, "He may not come when you want Him, but He'll be there right on time."
Don’t let your pain rob you of your story — God just might want to use it.