My Pain, Our Gain

 
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“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

Pre-dental school: I thought I was King Midas. In my eyes, everything I touched turned into gold. Trumpet? First chair without practice. Rap? Comedy? The next Childish Gambino. School? Never studied - got into Northwestern. I thought I was too good to prepare. Even after Christ saved me, this attitude persisted. I could out-preach, out-serve, out-think other servants with no effort. I took pride in my efficiency, knowledge, and leadership skills. #PastorMidasBaby

Then I entered UCLA School of Dentistry. I expected an easy ride like everything else. King Midas, baby! But yikes. Real yikes. For the first time, my God-given abilities couldn’t overcome my life-long immaturity and lack of self-discipline. My study habits were in need of a complete overhaul. My hands weren’t accustomed to drilling or model-work. I couldn’t out-study or out-work my kind, disciplined, intelligent classmates. For my first two years, I failed class after class, always behind on lab projects and remake exams. I had humiliating meetings with faculty to address my poor performance. Anxiety and disappointment became daily companions.

My deepest fear was God didn’t want to use me anymore. Why would He use a dental school dropout? I felt like a warning sign. “Daniel’s so funny, but he’s so stupid. Don’t be a Daniel.” My fear eventually transformed into entitled anger. I felt cheated and disenchanted with God and the church. I questioned why He placed me in UCLA. For a while, following God didn’t feel worth it. Life felt like a joke.

Yet, by His great kindness, the Holy Spirit slowly captured my heart again. Moment by moment, verse by verse, He drew me back into His love. Piece by piece, I rebuilt my grades and hand skills and started to work hard in the clinic. My relationship with Jesus grew personal again. Throughout this process, I’ve taken great comfort in the story of Simon Peter, Jesus’ most vocal disciple and a man familiar with self-loathing failure. One particular moment I’ve always loved is how Jesus addresses Peter in Luke 22:31. Here, Jesus shared a great encouragement about Peter’s life before the eventual betrayal. Peter didn’t know it at first, but he would soon learn how Jesus viewed the least in the kingdom. It provided great insight into my own life as well.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.”

During the trials of school, I oscillated between paralyzing depression and desperate cries to God. Yet, this process was necessary so that I, like Peter, could discover the reality of spiritual warfare. All Christians face two dragons warring against our pursuit of Jesus: ourselves and Satan. Our innate sinfulness hinders us from selflessly serving God and others. On top of that, Satan literally fights against us. He craves to destroy you and me. Opening my eyes to this truth, the Spirit began to train my heart so it would remain fixed on God. When patients criticize me, when clinic directors correct me, when things don’t go my way, I realized these moments are battles in a spiritual war. It is a war to love God and his people in all circumstances. It is a war to remember Christ loves me. With His Word and intimate, real prayers, I fight to to gaze upon Christ and to believe in His promises. We need God in a life filled with warzones at the workplace and in our homes.

“But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”

If I were Peter, I would’ve been freaked out to hear Satan personally wants to kill me. Yet, Jesus then shares an amazing secret: Jesus was specifically praying for Peter. If life is a war, then this should bring us great peace and hope that Jesus fully knows the depths of our sin yet takes the time to pray for us. That’s how much He loves us! He came to this world to pray for and to save unfaithful sinners. He takes responsibility over our lives, knowing we need Him. He promises to always be with us, to have a room prepared for us in His home. I might not graduate from dental school or amount to anything on this earth. But I know there is a God who sent His only Son to take my place on the cross. There is a Jesus who overcame the world on our behalf and personally upholds our faith. His love fuels me when people despise or reject me at the dental clinic. It anchors my soul when I’m confused or afraid about the future. It gives me courage to hope in His Gospel.

“And when you turned again strengthen your brothers.”

Finally, there is purpose to our suffering: not only did Jesus pray for unfailing faith, but he also prayed Peter would strengthen his brothers upon his return. Personally, I’ve glimpsed this aspect of God’s plan through the school process: my hardship has become a window for classmates to see the Holy Spirit within me. Other students who felt isolated and scared of failing classes, began to ask me how I coped with my suffering. Certain people I only greeted in hallways admitted their own academic and personal problems in whispers. Classmates come up to ask what kept me going under the stress and hopelessness. In these moments, I get to share the gospel of Jesus Christ who loves us. We talk about the hope of His resurrection and a salvation earned by grace through faith, not works. We empathize with one another, laugh about our struggles through tears, and encourage one another to keep working. It is those moments with friends I cherish most through my workplace and late hours in the lab. In those moments I see Christ so clearly.

Our workplaces, churches, and homes are battlefields with purpose. As I study, practice, struggle to become a great dentist, I must fight to rejoice in His name. We Christians can struggle through this life, knowing our suffering has purpose. By His grace, we go through pains so His people may gain. Our lives can become beacons of God’s love for broken, hurting people. Ultimately, we take hope in this – Jesus loves us, prays for us, and desires to use us. Our lives, with all its warts and scars, glorify God so others may be comforted by His love. He turns our ashes into beauty. And that makes the struggle worth it.

 

Daniel Lee has a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Northwestern University and is currently a student at UCLA School of Dentistry. Daniel lives in Torrance, CA.

 
 
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