“If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart.”
― Oswald Chambers
“I’m going through hell.”
Given the feedback I’ve received over the past few days since publishing Angry Conversations with God, it sounds like that statement rings true for many people. Many of us feel like we have first class tickets to our own private tour of hell. Many of us are “going through hell.”
Allegedly, Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And that’s great if you are actually going through. But what happens when you’re not “going through”?
What happens if you’ve stopped in hell? What happens if your plane has crashed into hell? What if hell is not a pit stop but a layover? What happens if you’re stuck or you’ve lost your way in the abyss? What then? What do you do when you are trapped in hell? What if hell is not part of the journey but the destination itself?
What happens when hell becomes home? What can one do when one is in earthly hell?
Might I respectfully submit some suggestions?
We can read Scripture.
Elizabeth was a happy teenager raised in a loving, Christian home in Southeast Asia where she was taught to memorize Scripture. All of that changed when a family member sold her into sex slavery on the promise of a “well-paying job.” Her virginity was stripped from her — by a Westerner — for a mere $500. Day after painful day, night after long night, she was raped and abused. But, stemming from her strong Christian faith and upbringing, Elisabeth had scribbled Bible verses all over the walls of her room — a cell — at the brothel. She etched Psalms 27:1-3 over her bed. I could imagine that while she was on her back being violated, with each painful thrust ripping through her body, she could see and read, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”
We can create art.
After his four-year-old son fell several stories to his untimely death, Eric Clapton grieved by writing and singing, “Tears in Heaven.” The song went on to gain multi-platinum status. C.S. Lewis came to grips with his grief on account of the passing of his wife by anonymously penning A Grief Observed. Adele’s heartbreak led her to write “Someone Like You.” After being rejected by his (White) father’s family, Bob Marley sang about his pain, comparing himself to Jesus, in his song “Cornerstone.”
Frida Kahlo contracted polio at the age of six, which caused her right leg to be much skinnier than her left and caused her to limp. When she was 18-years-old, the bus she was riding collided with a streetcar. As a result of the collision, Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which went into her hip, and, by some accounts exited her vagina… She suffered several serious injuries as a result. Her spinal column, pelvis, collarbone and ribs were broken, her right leg was shattered and foot crushed. It was only during her recovery, while bedridden, that she started painting. Painting was her catharsis while bedridden, and through her multiple miscarriages, and during the adultery of her husband, famed painter Diego Rivera. Complications from a surgery years later to fix her spine caused her to contract gangrene in her left leg, which later had to be amputated. Frida was sustained by creating art.
Among her many paintings, her most common subject was herself. “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” Although her style is described as surrealist, Frida stated, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
The hell of the hymn writers of old inspired the legacy of songs that we still sing today. Space does not permit me to go into detail, but just ask Horatio Spafford, or Thomas Dorsey, or George Matheson, or F.M. Lehman, or William Cowper, or Charlotte Elliot, or Elizabeth Prentiss among many others (if you are interested in the history and origin of our most famous hymns, a good book to read would be Then Sings My Soul, Volumes 1 to 4.)
I heard a pastor tell the story of a young woman who sang at a church. One person in the congregation turned to the person beside him and said, “Wow! What a great singer!” The other person replied, “Yes. And she will sing even better when her heart is broken.”
I will admit that I write better when I’m broken.
Paul and Silas sang at the midnight hour. The African slaves, clad in their much-destested Ebony sun scorched (sun kissed?) skin, sang while working on the plantation.
If you’re hurting, you can transform your pain into art. In fact, it may actually make your art better. It might even make you better. It is said, “What’s bad for your heart is good for your art.” I would add that art might just be the cure for the heart.
We can minister to others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Amplified Bible (AMP)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercy) and the God [Who is the Source] of every comfort (consolation and encouragement),
4 Who comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted (consoled and encouraged) by God.
5 For just as Christ’s [[a]own] sufferings fall to our lot [b][as they overflow upon His disciples, and we share and experience them] abundantly, so through Christ comfort (consolation and encouragement) is also [shared and experienced] abundantly by us.
The kidnapping and murder of John Walsh’s son led to the creation of America’s Most Wanted, with Walsh serving as host for decades. The murder of her fiancé inspired Nancy Grace to go to law school and become a prosecutor.
The writer of one of the best-selling devotional series of all time (among them the NYT bestseller Jesus Calling), Sarah Young, suffers from complications with Lyme disease. Speaking of her devotional book Jesus Today, Young says the book probably would not have been written were it not for her illness.
Thus, the key is to recycle our pain. Minister to others in your misery. That’s what Joseph did. Joseph began the first recorded instance of prison ministry (Gen. 39: 20 – 23). Comfort others in your discomfort. That’s what Paul did. Roman jails were not palaces. They were squalid. They were dank. They were dark. Yet from the filthy and foul prison arose the bulk of the New Testament. If Paul hadn’t had so much time to himself, we wouldn’t have all of the epistles and letters we have today. I heard Pastor Seth Yelorda say something during one of his sermons at an Ontario Camp Meeting that has stayed with me ever since: “Sometimes God keeps you somewhere in order to get something out of you.”
Like Martin Luther King Jr. penned in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
“Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”
Don’t waste your pain.
Pastor Rick Warren, whose son had committed suicide, once said that, “Our deepest life message often comes out of our deepest pain… [S]adly, most people squander their suffering, don’t profit from their problems, never learn from their losses and are unable to advance from their adversity or gain from their pain.”
Don’t waste your pain. Hell is hot. Don’t let the heat be in vain. Hell creates pressure. Don’t let the pressure be for naught.
Pain has potential. Don’t waste the precious material of pain. It infuses work with passion. It stirs the viewer/recipient of our work beyond just a visceral reaction. It makes them feel. And I’ve realized that the art and the acts that have the most impact are the things that have caused people to feel. It’s those things with which people resonate the most that have the most influence.
Pain is the thread of mutuality in this web of human suffering. It leads us to purpose. When passion intersects with purpose, pain sweetens the pot. Your pain and passion point to your purpose.
It is my hope that these suggestions will help us go through and help others go through hell — or at the very least endure.