God’s Presence in the Midst of Our Pain

Excerpted from ‘Start Where you Are’ (Baker Books)

Excerpted From
Start Where You Are
By Rashawn Copeland

When I was 9 years old, I was the victim of physical and sexual abuse. A high school student forced me to watch him rape another teenager. It was the most awful experience. He told me to “Sit still and be a man.” He was arrested a few days later for his heinous crime against that young woman. Years later, when my brother and I shared an apartment, gang members broke in and pistol-whipped my brother. I was struck over the head repeatedly with a baseball bat. We were both rushed to the hospital with broken bones and busted-up faces. I’ve seen a bit of the darker belly of humanity.

I’m 33 now, married to the most beautiful and supportive woman on the planet and father to three amazing children. I have more than I could have ever dreamed of! And yet I still struggle with the dark events of my past. These dark memories still rise up and disturb me on a deep level. Sometimes I wonder, Why me, God? It’s not fair. Other times I feel at peace and desire reconciliation with every person who ever hurt me. I’ll even find myself searching for them on social media. Again, the paradox of my inner self returns. I simultaneously want these men to be blessed and to be thrown in jail. Life is confusing. And the struggle to forgive isn’t the whole of it. Sometimes I’m straight-up afraid that someone else will attack me. If I’m alone at a gas station or someplace like that, I’m looking over my shoulder. I can’t help it.

Lately, however, God has given me a word that’s been helping. Through prayer, he said, Rashawn, you’ve allowed the presence of evil men to become larger than the God you profess to serve. That cut my heart deeply—because it was true. I was allowing my abusers to be larger than God in my life, even as I preached Jesus’ words, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Ouch and okay, Lord! I was allowing the fear of men to dominate my life instead of embracing the infinite goodness of the omniscient, omnipotent God.

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I’ll never know why God allowed certain people to hurt me. And I’ll never know exactly why he allowed me to hurt other people too. What I do know is that he remains good through it all. Even though some days are harder than others and the darkness looms large, I take hope from John’s Gospel. There is a light shining in the darkness that cannot be overcome by the dark (John 1:5). The people of my past certainly have haunted me, but they won’t any longer. May our confidence in God surpass any fear of humankind. I won’t fear people, only God. May we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).

Through looking back through the experiences in my own life as well as examining the Scriptures, I have discovered a few perks of pain that may benefit you. Pain:

• promotes the progress of the gospel.
• points us toward God’s presence and our purpose.
• provides opportunities for us to witness about Jesus.
• produces courage in our faith communities to vulnerably share our pain.
• proves the character of our relationships.
• provokes maturity in our lives.
• purifies the motives of our hearts.
• prepares us to see life and death in a proper perspective.

That being said, just know when you leave your pain in the loving hands of your perfect heavenly Father, it is never in vain.

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Excerpted from Start Where You Are by Rashawn Copeland. Baker Books, a Division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2020 by Rashawn Copeland. Used by permission. BakerPublishingGroup.com