Turning Sorrow into Strength

Life isn’t fair. Nowhere in Scripture does it indicate life will be fair. As a matter of fact, Scripture tells us that because of sin and because of the Ruler of this world, life will be very, very unfair. If life is unfair, that means if we live any length of time, we will experience sorrow and pain. Sometimes that sorrow and pain is beyond comprehension, where it feels like a mighty effort just to breathe. But since Scripture warns us that this is the way the world will be until Christ returns in victory, we must go on. For if we let sorrow and pain keep us down, if we let it overwhelm us and consume us, then we are not showing that God’s love truly transcends this life. We’re not being a good witness that our hearts are set on things above and not on things here below. And I know from personal experience that when tragedy strikes, what I’ve just stated in a very logical fashion is very hard to remember and even harder to do. But still, we must. For there is nothing in this world that compares with the promise of what is to come. Do we have the faith to believe that? If we do, that’s the secret to coping with the unfair things that come our way.

Leaving Bethel, Jacob and his clan moved on toward Ephrath. But Rachel went into labor while they were still some distance away. Her labor pains were intense. After a very hard delivery, the midwife finally exclaimed, “Don’t be afraid—you have another son!” Rachel was about to die, but with her last breath she named the baby Ben-oni (which means “son of my sorrow”). The baby’s father, however, called him Benjamin (which means “son of my right hand”). So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Jacob set up a stone monument over Rachel’s grave, and it can be seen there to this day. – Genesis 35:16-20, NLT

Jacob made no secret that Rachel was the love of his life. And truth be told, if he had not been tricked by his uncle, Laban, Jacob probably would have wed no other. Jacob had only one son with Rachel, Joseph, and Jacob believed him dead. Now, Rachel gives birth to a second son, but the childbirth was too much, and Rachel knew she was dying. That’s why she gave the baby the name Ben-oni, “son of my sorrow,” because she would not get to see him grow up, because with this child her life would end. And indeed it did. One would think, that as heartbroken as Jacob probably was, that the name would be fitting. Rachel is the one that cost him 14 years of service, but they went by like nothing because of her. While the other wives were able to have a good number of children, he and Rachel had just one, and they believed that one to be dead. Now, as she gives birth to another one, Jacob loses his beloved wife. I can’t imagine his pain.

I’ve tried. Or a better way to say this is I’ve been forced to do so. When I was in the US Air Force, one of the things that was advised was that we put together a will and letter of attorney. After all, we could never know when I might be suddenly deployed. And with deployment, there was always the possibility of my death, even if it wasn’t to a combat zone. Although the odds were slim as I was in a non-operational position in a headquarters unit, we followed the advice we were given. So we met with the lawyer and we began discussing the will. What would happen if Kimberly died first? What would we want to do? I can tell you that just the thought of that felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart. I physically ached over it. But Jacob didn’t just think about losing his helpmeet. He did lose her. And he would have to face life without her by his side. What sorrow he must have felt!

And that’s what makes what he did all the more significant. He changed the baby’s name. He changed it from son of sorrow, Ben-oni, to Benjamin. Benjamin means “son of my right” or “son of my right hand.” It is a promise of strength and power. Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand. It’s a position of significance and importance. And that means he gave the baby a name of hope and promise. Jacob wasn’t going to dwell on his pain. He wasn’t going to throw his arms up and scream at God for taking away his beloved. Instead, he was going to remember that Benjamin was a gift from the God who loved him, reached out to him, and built a relationship with him. Jacob wasn’t going to have a son with a name that reminded everyone of pain. Rather, Jacob was going to have a son that reminded everyone of the the mighty power of God. And thus we have Benjamin and not Ben-oni.

What Jacob did we need to do, too. Likely all of us are carrying around past hurts, past tragedies, past events that have cut us deep that we’ve not let go of. We don’t need to hold on to those any more. We may tell ourselves that we need to because we don’t want to forget the memory of someone special or some event in our lives. But here’s the thing: that hurt, that sorrow, that pain keeps us from experiencing the great things God has for us now. If we’re holding on to past hurts, we can’t fully see present power, as in the power of God in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Jacob understood this. He had struggled many years with trying to make it his own way, trying to be personally strong and wily and better than everyone else. But on that night when he wrestled with God, Jacob learned that he needed to cling to God, that he needed God’s power. And that’s why Ben-oni became Benjamin. What are the Ben-onis in your life? What hurt are you holding on to that God just wants you to let go of? Past failures? They matter not. Past tragedy? They can’t be undone so we need to accept them. Past rejection? God welcomes you to Himself. Past sorrow? God’s glory brings greater joy. Let go of those sorrows and let God turn them into strengths.

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