“When I was younger, I always thought life would be mostly good with some hard parts. But I’m starting to realize it’s the other way around. Life is actually mostly hard, with some good parts sprinkled in.”

I nodded in agreement when I heard Annie F. Downs say this in a recent podcast interview. I think we can all relate. We grow up imagining how wonderful our lives will be. Sure, we might have some stumbles, but it will be mostly smooth sailing. As the years pass, though, we cross one hurdle and then another. No problem, we’ve got this. But then we pick up some scrapes and bruises; we break a bone or two; soon we’re hobbling along a darkened path, unsure of where to turn and wounded beyond repair.

Some days it can feel like life is a massive land mine, with hardship and heartbreak exploding all around us. This isn’t the life I signed up for, we think. Where did I go wrong? But as Mandy Arioto writes in her book Starry-Eyed, “Pain doesn’t mean that we are doing life wrong. It just means that we are doing life.”

When we find ourselves in the midst of life’s trials, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus told us this would happen: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33) To be clear, I don’t believe that God causes this hardship. His original plan for mankind can be seen in the peacefulness and wholeness that we witness in the Garden of Eden. But because of the fall, sin entered the world. And now we encounter the consequences of sin each and every day.

So, God is not the originator of these trials. But it is evident that He capitalizes on the potential within our trials to turn us toward Himself. To use C. S. Lewis’s metaphor, pain is God’s megaphone: He uses it to rouse us out of our self-reliance and learn to trust and depend on Him.

I recently heard the word blessing defined as “anything that draws us into closer relationship with God.” By this definition, our hard times are actually the greatest of blessings because it is when we are in our deepest pain that we cling most dearly to God.

December is often described as the Season of Light. This is ironic when you think about it, because December (at least here in the Northern hemisphere) is the darkest month of the year. But the inky darkness blanketing our world allows the lights of the season to shine, illuminating the black night and offering pinpoints of hope and joy. The darkness has created space for dazzling light . . . . Pain makes space for God to do His best work.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of Christ, in whom there is life and light. As we walk through our often-painful lives, we are ever cognizant of how dark this world can be, and how deeply we need the light of Christ. He is the light that shines in the darkness, illuminating our lives and paving the way for an eternity of sparkling brilliance.

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