I came across this short piece by Joni Eareckson Tada which puts captures in an evocative way the way God uses pain to invite us into a deeper relationship with Him:
When a broken neck ambushed my life and left me a quadriplegic, I felt as though God had smashed me underfoot like a cigarette. At night, I would thrash my head on the pillow, hoping to break my neck at a higher level and thereby end my misery. After I left the hospital, I refused to get out of bed; I told my sister, “Just close the drapes, turn out the light, and shut the door.” My paralysis was permanent, and inside, I died.
You don’t have to be in a wheelchair to identify. You already know that sad situations sometimes don’t get better. Problems don’t always get solved. Conflicts don’t get fixed. Children die, couples divorce, and untimely deaths rock our world and shake our faith.
We try to manage, like jugglers spinning plates on long sticks. When we feel utterly overwhelmed, we try soaking in the tub, sweating on the treadmill, splurging on a new dress, or heading to the mountains for the weekend. We smile and say we are trusting God, but down deep we know it’s a lie. We’re only trusting that he doesn’t load us up with more plates.
That’s how I felt. But after weeks in bed, I got tired of being depressed, and I finally cried out, “God, if I can’t die, please show me how to live.” It was just the prayer God was waiting for. From then on, I would ask my sister to get me up and park me in my wheelchair in front of my Bible. Holding a mouth stick, I would flip this way and that, looking for answers—any answer. I sought the help of a Christian counselor-friend who took me directly to the book of Lamentations. He showed me the third chapter: I am the man who has seen affliction . . . surely against me [God] turns his hand again and again the whole day long. (Lam. 3:1, 3). I marveled, thinking, that’s me!
I was amazed to learn that God welcomes our laments. I would eventually learn—mainly through Lamentations and Psalms—that nothing is more freeing than knowing God understands. When we are in pain, God feels the sting in his chest. Our frustrations and questions do not fluster him. He knows all about them. He wrote the book on them. More astoundingly, he invites us to come and air our grievances before him.
The quote is part of a foreword Tada wrote in Mark Vroegop’s helpful book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy.