Finding God in times of pain
One young woman shares what she has learned about God during her struggle with anxiety.
As a kid, I remember the first time pain was explained to me.
An article by Kids Health puts it pretty similarly and explains the reason for pain like this: “When your body is injured in some way or something else is wrong, your nerves send millions of messages to your brain about what's going on. Your brain then makes you feel pain. So if you put your hand on a hot stove, your nerves call your brain, and your brain quickly sends the message that your hand hurts. You get this message and pull your hand away from the hot stove, which saves your hand from further injury.”
I have always been fascinated by this concept- that pain is not simply the end result of injury. Rather it is a signal from your brain to the rest of your body that prevents the infliction of further injury and essentially prevents further pain.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is numbness. This too is a feeling I am not unfamiliar with. If I were to describe the valleys of my walk with the Lord over the past year and a half, it could best be described as switching back and forth between intense pain and extreme numbness. Now, I myself realize how “dark and twisty” this sounds. So let me explain.
My freshman year, I entered Biola University almost begrudgingly. I had wanted to attend a school further from home, and in all honesty was not sure I wanted to be in school at all. The transition from a lifetime of public school education to suddenly being fully immersed in a private Christian institution shook me in ways I could never have prepared for.
While some of these new experiences were negative, my life was really rocked in a positive way, namely due to the church I began attending at the beginning of the second semester. The body of this church welcomed me with open arms, sought after me, and spoke truth over my life to tear down lies I didn’t know had a hold on me. They taught me through example and discipleship how to truly know God, and perhaps most importantly, to love Him.
Gone was the dry, “hyper-fixated on your performance and sainthood” Christianity I had previously known. Where the sole focus of my faith had previously been my ultimate salvation, I was experiencing relationship with God that “saved” and transformed my life daily. This was living.
The pain arrives
Fast forward about a year and a half, and I was still in that community. Still loving Jesus and doing pretty much all the same things. But it was also around this time I began to experience intense anxiety. The source of my anxiety varied some, mainly centering around school, work, and creative performance. It got so bad that I would often find myself staring at my laptop, knowing full well that the assignment before me was supposed to be simple. And yet I was frozen, unable to start.
My assignments became rushed, turned in seconds before deadlines if at all. I felt stupid and incapable of any good work, and began receiving failing marks in several of my courses. Some days I physically could not bring myself to get out of bed to go to class, but remained otherwise high functioning. The best way to describe this sensation for me, is an intense numbness-to life, to joy, to all that I had once been so confident in. It slowly crept in, and before I could begin to recognize the symptoms, I was already paralyzed.
And yet, in all of this, I was still in the Church and pursuing a relationship with God. Why was it then that I felt like I was slowly drowning, and He was nowhere to be found?
It is said that there are seasons within our walk with God. There are ebbs and flows, as is the nature of any relationship. I too knew this, but was unprepared when the valley season actually came. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that I was gripping so tightly to the hilltop feeling that I did not allow myself to realize the earth beneath my feet was actually flattening. Rather than allowing myself to fully experience and process what was happening in the “inner room” of my life, I pulled a brave face and told the nerves in my body they were not experiencing pain. The struggle didn’t exist. I was fine. That is, until it became impossible to ignore.
An invitation to intimacy
This is my theory (which is admittedly, still in development): The pain we experience in life and the absence we feel of God’s presence is an invitation for deeper intimacy with Him.
While this may seem counterintuitive, it has been in the forced acknowledgment of my pain, of just how much I feel an absence of God’s peace, that I have begun to desire Him more. There have been days when the anxiety is so bad that I am literally on my knees, flat on the floor before the Lord. There are days where it feels like I am hanging onto my faith by my fingernails. In these moments, the only thing I have been able to cling to is what I know He has said of me.
Danielle, I call you beloved. You have worth apart from your performance, You are capable. You can rest.
When the work that I produce with my hands says otherwise, when my relationship with God is rocky ground, I cling to the belief that He is who He says He is, until all I can see is His love and mercy over me. I have found that in these moments, the Lord takes my mustard seed of faith and begins to cultivate it into something stronger.
Damaged, yes. A little rough around the edges. But stronger, and able to look back and notice the work He was doing in me. My struggle has not overcome His plan for me.
This is my prayer over myself, and for you, friend- that we would know that there is space in our stories for both the hills and the valleys. Let the pain and absence of God you feel drive you closer into His arms. Know that He is working in the quiet moments, that your awareness of the struggle is a sign that you are alive, and He is not done with you yet.
Written by Danielle Brimmage from Biola University. Find out more about Biola today.