Harnessing Pain for Breakthrough

Harnessing Pain for Breakthrough

I looked up at the attic access as I dragged the six foot ladder into the narrow closet.

It was barely wide enough for my shoulders. The yellow remote strap hung over one shoulder as I held the six inch hose. I took a deep breath and pulled the mask over my face. The ladder wobbled as I climbed toward the opening.

I poked my head through the opening and turned on my headlamp. The rafters were barely wide enough for me, with the angled roof nine inches above the rafters. I contorted my body through the tight space. It was a miracle I made it through, dragging the giant hose behind me.

Somehow my handyman-of-a-father-in-law managed to sweet talk me into being his attic monkey; squeezing into dark, dusty attics and filling them with insulation. Most of the time we used fiberglass -a fluffy pink material that falls like a gentle snow. Sometimes we used cellulose -recycled material ground up into basically piles of dust. Coming full speed out of the tube, it’s less like a gentle snow, more like a violent sandstorm. 

Unfortunately this attic was going to be a cellulose sandstorm. I barely had room to move without jamming my head into a nail, piercing down through the roof, or falling through the ceiling between rafters. I became more and more terrified as I set up to blow. I squeezed as far as I could down a narrow section of the attic, crawling over and under duct work. 

How am I going to get out? Once I start blowing, I’ll be blind. My breathing shallowed. I don’t think I’m getting out. This is where I die. I could feel the space closing in on me. They’re going to find my body years from now! There’s not enough air up here. 

Whenever our breathing is shallow, we're usually less aware of God's presence. Fear and panic are symptoms that we are fixated on the lack of something rather than the presence of Someone. I suppose this is why Jesus can sleep in the middle of a storm on a raging sea. He's more aware of the presence of a loving Father than the apparent absence of safety.

"Let us go across to the other side…"

-Mark 4:35

Did Jesus know they were heading into a violent storm when they climbed into the boat? Seems like something He would do. 

Jesus sleeps peacefully as the disciples rush around a sinking boat in a full panic. "We're all gonna die! Don't you even care?!" Oh I can so relate to their frustration. It's infuriating when people around me don't share my terror.

Jesus slowly gets up, stretches and yawns. He casually walks through the rising water level to the bow. He looks the storm in the eyes and whispers, "Chill out." In a moment everything shifts and an eerie silence hangs about them. He pierces right through the disciples with two questions, 

"Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"

The pairing of these two questions is important. He's telling us something about the correlation between our emotions and our beliefs. What we're feeling has the ability to show us what we're believing. Our intense emotional reactions have a secret power that if we could learn to tap into, could move us forward into unclaimed territories in our hearts. Intense emotional reactions expose places in our hearts where we haven't yet fully received the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Fear shows us that we've allowed a threat to become magnified to such a degree that we've lost touch with God's bigness. Despair reveals that we have more faith in the permanence of our situation than in God's capacity to redeem all things. Shame shows us that we're more confident in our broken condition than the transformative power of Grace.

Feeling sadness or fear or even anger is healthy and appropriate. But in the space of our emotional pain we can easily fall prey to  faulty thinking that can torment us and take us captive. When Jesus comes on the scene calling for repentance, he invites anyone who will listen to live in the reality of God's goodness actively present and ruling on the earth. Your emotional turmoil exposes the bondage of your bad beliefs and can become key to moving you further into the Kingdom of God.

Jesus wasn't concerned about the disciples facing the storm. He didn't seem eager to spare me of a narrow attic. Jesus allows us to face places of discomfort, pressure, and threat in order to expose our faulty beliefs. Each painful circumstance we find ourselves in is an opportunity to change the way we see.

When we learn to be more aware of God with us than the size of our problems, we'll see our obstacles as a context to discover nourishment.

Joshua and Caleb give us a great example. The 12 spies had just returned from exploring the promised land, and were explaining their findings. Essentially they discovered two things: 1) The land was even better than they had imagined, and 2) there were big, nasty giants in the land. Most people began to lose heart at the news of the giants, but not Joshua and Caleb. They spoke up:

“If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.” -Numbers 14:8-9 

    They are bread for us. 

How could giants become bread? I’m pretty sure we can count cannibalism out. Did they really think it would be that easy to defeat giants in battle? No, I don’t think so. Giants wouldn't just lay down and surrender when Israel advanced on the battlefield. There would be a struggle. Blood would be shed. 

There is confidence in such a statement, but confidence in what? They weren’t expressing a confidence that the process would be painless, but that they would overcome the enemy, no matter how big. Not only would they overcome the enemy, but the process of overcoming would be a source of strengthening. It’s as though Joshua and Caleb are saying, these enemies who are way too big for us, are going to become the way in which God nourishes us. When there's a giant in our way we can get excited. God is providing an opportunity for breakthrough and nourishment.

I laid on rafters surrounded by duct work and nail heads for several minutes, fighting off the rising panic. I whispered an honest prayer, Lord, I can't do this. I just don't have enough air.

In an instant a gust of wind shot up through the access panel, hitting me in the back. I gave a nervous laugh. I could sense the Lord’s response to my panic-

Kyle, there’s more than enough of what you need, even here. 

Courage filled me. I became more aware of the space around me than the enclosures, the attic seemed to expand before me. I reached for the remote, pushing the button for material. As the sandstorm began to brew I gave a maniacal laugh for no one in particular. In my best pirate voice, I announced to the attic, “Aye! We have all the space we need, lads!”

I want to encourage you to take advantage of every painful emotion that hits you. What if you began to harness the pain? Instead of it holding you captive, what if your pain becomes a stepping stone into freedom, confidence and courage? What if you pushed through every pressure, threat and discomfort into a deeper conviction that God is with you?

Here's a few questions you can begin to entertain next time you find yourself with shallow breath…

  1. What am I feeling right now?
  2. Why am I feeling that? What's happening?
  3. What am I believing right now? (I'm not going to make it, I'm all alone, This can't get better, etc)


Allow these questions to be a conversation with God. Tell him how you feel, tell him what feels true. Then, when you're ready, ask Him what He wants to say to you in this. Is there a belief He wants to challenge? Is He drawing your attention to a certain scripture, or perhaps reminding you of something someone said recently? Sometimes He'll remind me a of a song lyric or a quote from a movie, and suddenly I'm aware of the Holy Spirit speaking directly to my heart.

   May your emotional pain provide breakthrough for you today.

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