This was originally written in early December and I did not feel ready for it to be posted right around Christmas. Today, however, in the midst of an intense Ontario blizzard, it feels quite appropriate.
A few weeks ago as I walked out the office door, I was blasted by the early winter wind and snow that I had been watching outside all day. It was painfully cold against my warm cheeks, and I hunkered down as much as I could into my coat and scarf for the walk across the parking lot. However, at the same time I was struck by the beauty of the winter landscape, the large white flakes falling down relentlessly. As cold as I was, I also appreciated it. I thought, “How can something be so painful and so beautiful at the same time?”
It seems that pain and beauty are often paired together. Specifically, I am talking about life experience. Sometimes the most beautiful and deeply moving experiences we encounter are also some of the most painful.
One example that comes to my mind is hiking in the mountains. When I lived in Red Deer, AB, Kevin and I enjoyed exploring the Rockies on day hikes, and on one opportunity a multi-day overnight hiking trip. There is no doubt I experienced both pain and beauty in these hiking experiences. My legs and lungs would be burning to the point where I did not think I could go on, when suddenly we would reach a lookout that revealed the most spectacular view. Rugged, ancient rocks run through with streams and waterfalls. Thousands of trees lining the mountain sides, dense at the base and gradually thinning out until past the tree line all you see is the majestic snowy peaks. Sun and clouds painting light and shadows on the mountains beneath. These views could only be viewed after the physically exhausting hike up to the heights. And perhaps they could only really be appreciated at that deeper level after the hike as well. Pain deepening beauty.
Another example is giving birth. I am not sure if a person can experience anything more painful or anything more beautiful than this. Even just the thought of it makes my eyes well up with the memory of both elements of the experience. Physically and emotionally giving birth rips you apart, leaving you completely spent. It empties you of not only the babe inside, but also momentarily of all control, energy and modesty. Yet in the same moment giving birth opens up a whole new experience of beauty. This little helpless baby opens the floodgates of a love like no other. Looking into this little face for the first time makes your world shift and your heart rearrange. It is sacred in its beauty. And only made possible through the pain of carrying and delivering this child.
Pain and Beauty. Think about the relationships in your life. Think about any struggle or challenge you have faced and overcome. Think about any time of waiting you have had to endure. Think about how God has worked to bring about growth and transformation in your life. I expect that you can identify both the beauty and the pain as you think through these things.
The ultimate example is God’s story of redemption. Both the very act of redemption accomplished by Jesus, and the acceptance of that redemption in an individuals life are extremely painful and extremely beautiful. The Bible says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross…” (Heb 12:2). Jesus knew that the pain he would endure was worth it because of the beautiful gift of grace that would be available to each and every person afterwards. His sacrifice was no doubt horribly painful, and yet amazingly beautiful because of His love and willingness to die for us. As for us, accepting this gift of grace from Jesus often means walking through our own pain. The pain of seeing ourselves for who we really are – sinful, selfish, unable to save ourselves. The pain of relinquishing control of our lives, and putting it in the hands of a much more capable Master. The pain of realizing that Jesus’ pain on the cross was for us. Yet what beauty will be possible because of this pain – a personal relationship with Creator God, a soul fully healed and restored, a heart filled with peace, joy and hope, a life reoriented around God’s love.
Often we fear pain and avoid it at all costs. But are we missing out on some of the deepest and most beautiful moments at the same time?