Have you ever experienced a “darker shade of grace”? Gem Fadling invites us into discovery, even when it hurts.
A Darker Shade of Grace
By Gem Fadling
Throbbing, pounding, jabbing. This was unlike any pain I had ever experienced. Nerve pain is a unique form of agony. I had encountered severe pain before. I had recovered from three cesarean sections. But this. This pain was different. Uncontrollable pulsing of nerve signals from my glutes all the way down my left leg to my heel.
I crawled to the bathroom. My world shrunk to the size of my bedroom. I walked at the pace of a very old woman. For weeks I endured physical therapy that moved the pain needle ever so slowly toward healing.
Early on, before my diagnosis of a disc extrusion, and while the pain was nearing its height, my husband was driving me to the location of an MRI test. As I lay in the back seat of our minivan, I chose a worship playlist on my phone and placed the earbuds in my ears. I turned the volume up quite loud, trying to drown out the pulsing nerve.
The chorus of Everything by Tim Hughes roared within me reminding me that Christ was my hope and my everything.
Right in the center of the pounding pain, gently and surprisingly, I experienced, for about three seconds, what I can only describe as the overwhelming presence of God. It wasn’t loud. It was quiet, but pervasive. It wasn’t the first time in my life I had sensed God’s presence, but it was the first time I had ever encountered it while at the same time experiencing such brutal physical pain. This combination of love, presence and pain was a life marking moment.
This was a darker shade of grace. Pain and love mingled and became presence. This is not a holy math problem that we can construct on our own. It felt as though my DNA was altered so that a new level knowing God’s love and presence was born. Presence is sheer gift and is to be received.
It wasn’t until after I recovered that I took time to really ponder that moment. And as the years passed, I refer to those three seconds as a major turning point in my soul. After further reflection I noted two important fruits of that experience.
First, my eyes were opened afresh to the suffering of others. I had no idea that kind of pain existed. But having felt it for myself, I realized that others had suffered even worse pain, and my heart broke for them. Whether physical, emotional, or relational, people are experiencing severe pain. Compassion arose as well as a new gift of grace. I began to look underneath the surface of people’s reactions. Many people are on the last inch of their ever-fraying rope. I am learning to be present and caring in the midst.
Second, my trust (especially when I have no felt sense of it) is anchored in a bedrock of knowing. Deep inside of me the presence I experienced branded itself onto my soul. It is that unshakeable, immovable house on the rock that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7:24-25. And it is sheer gift. I didn’t know to ask for it or how to make it happen. Again, grace.
Would I ever want to experience that level of pain again? Absolutely not. But would I change that experience and lose those three seconds of presence that changed me forever? Absolutely not.
This is a darker shade of grace. Presence mingled with pain. God with us in every circumstance. And as mysterious as this may be, we can remain open, aware, and willing to meet God in all the shades of his grace.
Gem Fadling, CLC, is a founding partner of Unhurried Living, Inc., a non-profit that trains people to rest deeper, live fuller, and lead better. She is a certified life coach and a trained spiritual director who coaches women at the intersection of spiritual leadership and soul care. Gem is the host of the I Can Do That! Podcast and the coauthor of What Does Your Soul Love?: Eight Questions That Reveal God’s Work in You. Her latest book is entitled Hold That Thought: Sorting Through the Voices in Our Heads.