Living before medicine would have cured or medicated her symptoms, Martha Snell Nicholson was bed-ridden with intense pain for decades. In the midst of her pain, and because of it, she wrote one of the more meaningful poems I’ve read on suffering.
Her pain was physical. On this day, yours may be mental or emotional, or you may be waking to another dark day washed in the waves of an unexpected calamity. Your vision of what your life was supposed to be lies crushed under your present reality — you hurt with pain you’re not sure you can endure.
On this kind of day, your Father speaks to you by His Word, reassuring you that your suffering does not sneak in with stealth, undetected by Him. Rather, trials of any sort come for your good, overseen by Him — so that you might ultimately be conformed to His image (Rom. 8:26-30.) You are assured that:
Our Lord uses tribulation to sanctify us. We can rejoice that He is refining us and making us holy through permitting pain in our lives. Our Father is working everything together for good in the lives of His children, even tragedy. (R.C. Sproul)
In your tragedy, your suffering, Your Father always purposes good for you, and the greatest good is the gift of His presence, His face. When in the pain He reveals His strong love for you, other substitutes (ones you might have turned to on a sunnier day) are exposed as paltry and unable to sustain.
You, in the end therefore, rejoice as He burns off your dross — the impurities, or anything that clouds your richer understanding of His care for you — for in the dross-burning, His face becomes clearer. You desire only Him, for none other is as beautiful: and in the desiring, as you turn to Him alone, you are refined, sanctified, and made like Him.
In pain, driven to a daily awareness of your need for your all-powerful, all-wise Father, you desire only His face. And this is the place for which you were created — to bask in His presence, loved by Love unimagined.
Knowing everything He knows
I pray Mrs. Nicholson’s clarifying words will encourage your heart and help set right any confusion about His ever-present, ever-purposeful goodness to you. For it is true that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to to His children (Rom. 8: 15-18). It is true that the thorny path carries its ordained purpose, working for its great end. It is true that He uses the trial to show us His beauty more clearly. And it’s very, very true that, as Tim Keller says:
He will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.
When the given path is thorn-strewn and His powerful love alone sustains, we realize that if we’d known everything He knows about His good plan for our growth, we really would have asked for exactly the path He’s given. Having known deep suffering, Mrs. Nicholson writes of this very truth. In the first line, she calls herself a mendicant, which means “beggar or pauper.”
I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne and begged Him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart. This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou has given me.”
He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore, as long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more. I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace, He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.
The greatest good — the greatest gift of all — is the thorn that pins aside the veil which hides His face. Today, turn to Him! For the Love that frees from all other of the world’s false promises is found there. Not the love of fickle feeling or amorphous concept, but Love who is a Person.
His name is Jesus, and He is even more beautiful.