Cradling my broken arm in his hands, the physical therapist gently straightened it and bent it, testing for flexibility. I felt vulnerable without my wrist and elbow braces, but was motivated to do what was needed to help the healing process. After kneading the muscles and tendons around my elbow, he said, “I’m not gonna lie to you, this next exercise will hurt pretty bad.” With that, he began rotating my lower arm slowly back and forth. I squeezed my eyes shut as every muscle and tendon surrounding my fractured wrist and elbow reacted with searing pain.
I was relieved to put my braces back on when he finished; they made me feel less vulnerable and provided some stability and comfort. Before leaving, I asked the therapist how I could differentiate between “good” and “bad” pain. Knowing which motions would help the healing process would motivate me to push through the pain. Almost as soon as I asked the question, I realized there was an obvious analogy in our spiritual lives. Just as there are good and bad kinds of pain in the physical realm, there are also good and bad kinds of pain in the spiritual realm.
Later that day I found the passage that I’d been thinking of as I winced on the table at the physical therapist. It focuses on the “good” kind of spiritual pain we sometimes experience:
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.’” (Hebrews 12:7-12, NIV)
The word “discipline” comes from two closely related Greek words: “Paideia” and ”Paideuo.” Both involve correcting, instructing and educating another person. The words were originally used to describe rearing children, but were later used in reference to teaching those young in the faith. One word that was not part of either definition was “punishment.” There are nine different Greek words for punishment, but none of them includes these words. Discipline has nothing to do with revenge or seeking justice after someone has violated a moral code. Although our culture sometimes uses discipline and punishment interchangeably, they are two entirely different things. Discipline is not for retribution, but for our benefit.
The Hebrews passage tells us that hardship is a form of discipline. This means the difficult experiences we face in life can all be used for good. Sometimes God allows painful circumstances to refine our faith or to build our trust. Other times, he wants to get our attention or to show us we’re putting our hope in something other than him. Occasionally he allows good things in our lives to be removed to make way for better ones. With our eyes on God, even the worst situations can make us spiritually stronger.
I’d never paid much attention to the last part of the Hebrews passage until breaking my arm. It says we should accept discipline to “strengthen our feeble arms” so that “the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” If I were unwilling to do the painful therapy required to restore strength and flexibility to my arm, I would ultimately be disabling myself. Although my fractured bones would heal, the stiff tendons and muscles would never become flexible again without some serious effort. The result would be limited mobility that would keep me from doing both daily tasks and fun activities that I love.
Similarly, submitting to God’s discipline heals and strengthens us so that we don’t go through life emotionally and spiritually stunted. Trusting God through challenging times keeps us from becoming bitter or from wallowing in self-pity. Instead, we lean into him through the pain, knowing that he is using it to produce a “harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
I’m learning anew the importance of letting God use difficult circumstances. The twinges of pain in my arm regularly prompt me to ask what he’s trying to teach me through this challenging time. My broken arm is an outward manifestation of something all of us experience inwardly. Each of us carries wounds, scars and memories that impact us daily, whether we realize it or not. When we let God use those painful things to draw us to him, we allow him to bring peace, healing and strength to our lives. You may not have a broken arm, but there may be some other hardship in your life that God wants to use to teach you. Will you let him do it?
Click on the link and be encouraged by Lauren Daigle’s song “Trust in You.” Let it be your prayer today.