God Holds Us in Our Pain (Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner)
August 31, 2017
This month marks twenty years since our beloved son Paul was born and I am reposting this article from 2014 about him and the song "Held." I am reminded once again that God's ways are not our ways, but we can trust that he will ultimately use all the sorrows in our lives for our joy and for his glory.
Burying my precious baby was devastating. I had no idea how to cope with his sudden unexpected death. True, Paul had been born with a heart problem, but he had survived the critical surgery at birth and was thriving. He’d come home from the hospital at three weeks old, and after a slow start, began gaining weight.
With his winsome smile, easy disposition, and mop of curly dark hair, he delighted us all. He was healthy and beautiful. Even the physician filling in for Paul’s regular cardiologist was so impressed with his progress that he impulsively eliminated most of his heart medications. Paul didn’t need them anymore. He was fine. At first, I was encouraged by the good news. But two days later, Paul was dead. He was only two months old.
I struggled to accept what had happened. That a doctor’s foolish mistake took my baby’s life. As I watched them lower Paul’s tiny casket, I buried my dreams for him. How could his life glorify God? I felt nothing good could come from his pointless death.
But God in His wisdom knew differently. He uses everything in our lives as we submit to Him. He can turn the broken and marred and ugly into something beautiful. And He did that with Paul’s death.
Months later, I shared the story of Paul’s life and death with a new friend. That friend, Christa Wells, is a recording artist who subsequently wrote the song “Held,” which begins with the story of Paul. The opening lyrics are raw:
“Two months is too little, they let him go. They had no sudden healing. To think that Providence would take a child from his mother while she prays is appalling.”
The chorus provides the response,
“This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life, and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was, when everything fell, we’d be held.”
The words of the chorus echo my experience. God loves us. He holds us in our pain. And because of his love and compassion, we can go through anything, knowing he’ll never leave us. We will always be held by him.
“Held” was recorded by Natalie Grant in 2006, and won numerous awards and touched countless lives. As I read messages from people who felt God’s comfort in their pain because of the song, I saw how Paul’s short life brought God glory. But none of the letters impacted me as much as seeing how it changed someone firsthand.
It had been a miserable rainy day and I was feeling sorry for myself, running behind on errands because of the stormy weather. Partially drenched, I ducked into a bagel shop to grab a quick lunch. It wasn’t busy, but the guy making my sandwich seemed interminably slow.
‘Couldn’t he go a little faster,’ I wondered, as I sighed impatiently. He was almost finished, just tearing the final leaf of lettuce, when “Held” came on the radio. As I heard the familiar chords, I felt my tension and irritation roll away. Thankful for the delay, I smiled and leaned against the counter to enjoy the moment, unhurried. Something healing had come out of my brokenness, and it was still healing me.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t notice that the young man making my sandwich had stopped. When I looked up, he was crying. Our eyes met and he apologetically mumbled, “I’m sorry. Are you in a hurry? Do you mind if I stop for a minute and listen to this song? You see, my mom died a few months ago, and this song "Held" is the only thing that got me through. It has meant so much to my whole family.”
I cringed at my prior impatience. Pulling myself together, I nodded and whispered, “Please do. Take as much time as you want. I love this song too.”
Time stopped as this stranger and I shared a sacred moment together. I stood in silence as he took in the song, mouthing the familiar words, as I recited them in my head. When the song was over, tears were streaming down my face as well. Tears of hope. And redemption.
I knew that the song had touched thousands of people, but I’d never seen it firsthand. I had never witnessed its healing impact on broken people. I had never fully understood the way God was using it to comfort others. I’ll never forget that day. Seeing purpose in my suffering was more redemptive than I ever imagined. Though it didn’t take away the pain, it did take away its sharp sting. Knowing that God was using my loss made it easier to endure. It helped me see how God uses all of our suffering for our joy and his glory.
None of my other trials have been memorialized with a song, but God has brought meaning to them all. With each loss, he has pulled me closer to himself, held me tightly and shown me the depth of his comfort. The deeper the sorrow, the more profoundly he draws near.
He has also met me as I talk to others who have experienced their own suffering. I’m often tempted to shy away from sharing because I don’t want to relive the agony. It’s often less painful to stay on the surface with struggling people. It’s easier to remain detached. But inevitably when I do that, I leave emptier and more burdened.
I know how much it meant to me to talk to others who had walked similar paths. They were able to offer advice and insight; they understood the unique sorrows of my particular trial and they provided evidence that healing was indeed possible. In the pit, sometimes I doubted that. I wondered if I’d ever make it through. I questioned if the aching would ever stop. I wasn’t sure if I would ever laugh again. Just talking to them gave me hope for the future.
God uses us to comfort one another with the comfort that we ourselves have received from God. It is both a privilege and a responsibility. And as we tell others of God’s faithfulness in the midst of trial, it reminds us afresh that God will never forsake us. Though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will never walk alone.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.