“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl

I absolutely love the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Without giving much away, Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who lived through World War II. He was taken prisoner and spent years in Nazi war camps. While in the camps, he took note of how the impossible circumstances were impacting his fellow prisoners, and developed theories as to why some lived and some died.

Sunday morning, Casey reminded us that sometimes God signs off on our suffering in order to grow us, change us and, most importantly, to remind us of his grace and his presence with us. Some suffering is circumstantial, and we know that an end is in sight. Other suffering can be described as our “thorn in the flesh,” that chronic area of weakness that seems to be a constant stumbling block. In either case, Frankl’s words ring true. There is opportunity for growth and freedom.

We have to choose, though. We all have a “thing” that we turn to when we are in pain — drugs, alcohol, food, sex, Amazon, Candy Crush. When pain hits, we seek comfort and distraction. It is a natural human response. Frankl reminds us, though: between that moment when the pain hits and the moment we respond, there is an opportunity to choose how we will respond. Will I choose to seek comfort in earthly things, or will I accept the opportunity to lean into God’s strength, to make healthier choices, to find healing, to grow and, ultimately, to allow God to use my pain for his glory?

Freedom may look like the removal of the thorn, or God miraculously changing our circumstances, and he is capable of both of these things. But, more often, freedom comes from sitting in the hard moments and leaning into God’s strength. It comes in those moments of growth.

Pain is not our enemy. Viktor Frankl took what could have killed him and turned it into something that has greatly impacted the world of psychology and psychotherapy as we know it. We have an advantage over Frankl: we have Jesus! He doesn’t waste our pain. He wants to use it both for our good and for the good of others, if we will let him.

I hope you’ll take some time to sit with the following verses today. Perhaps God wants to encourage you through them:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
— Joshua 1:9

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for god, for those who are called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:28

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9

Likewise the Sprit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
— Romans 8:26

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
— James 4:6

Here’s the bottom line: God is near, and he is gracious. Difficult days are a guarantee, but as believers we get to choose how we respond. My prayer is that we choose to respond by leaning into the truths of Scripture and watching how God comforts, strengthens and changes us in the process.