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  • Holly Eaton

The Refiner's Fire: Overcoming Intense Emotional Pain


Have you ever experienced such a traumatic event that it didn't seem possible that you could go on with your life? Have you ever had your feelings completely overtake you for months, maybe years on end? Have your circumstances ever been so awful that your emotional ache became physical and you had no hope for a future that would be anything better than painful survival, at best?

In times like that, I believe people make a definitive choice to either blame God, turn from Him and live as if they're independent; OR they throw themselves on the mercy of God and hang onto Him as if their lives depend on it (which they do.) I experienced 6 years of excruciating circumstances. I chose the latter approach simply because I couldn't survive the pain on my own. I knew I wouldn't make it through the trauma if God didn't provide everything it took to get me to some unimaginable "other side." So, I pressed into Him relentlessly. I cooperated with Him, and He transformed me like gold in a refiner's fire.

I was keenly aware of my powerlessness. There were months where depression threatened to destroy me, as I was tempted to take my own life. During those dark days and endless nights, God drew closer to me than my own breath, creatively communicating with me, putting movies in my head, revealing things I had no way of knowing. He spoke through my pastor's sermons, my counselor, my faithful friends, and through songs on the radio and random conversations. He nudged people who were unaware of my circumstances to pray for me. God talked to me directly, sometimes consoling, other times confronting me. He found a thousand ways to reassure me of His love and acceptance when I felt so very unloved and so rejected. He whispered truth that set me free every day, truth that gave me the strength to continue living. I became desperately dependent upon God. "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." (Ref: War and Peace, by Tolstoy) It was a time that profoundly changed me.

All the while, I pleaded with the Lord to interfere with the free will of others so that the problems would resolve. I knew that God doesn't violate His own character or anyone's autonomy, but I was desperate. In Deuteronomy 30:19, we read, " ...I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life..." Unfortunately, many people choose death. And it affects the rest of us, sometimes profoundly.

Thankfully, He doesn't waste our pain. I read Romans 8:28, and I KNOW experientially that it's true! God really DOES work all the terrible things of our lives for good, for those of us who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

God adores us. He loves to over-redeem the very thing that the enemy uses in an attempt to destroy us.

James 1:2-5 tells us to "Count it all joy... whenever you face trials... for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (NIV) I know that if God had spared me all that pain, I wouldn't be the woman I am today, with such an intimate dependence upon my Lord or the empathy I have for the pain of others. Because He has called me to a counseling ministry, He continues to give me wisdom for clients. He made so much scripture relevant to me in the "the worst of times."

So you know what? I actually look back with gratitude. After Job's awful suffering and God's revelation to him, Job said, "Before I had heard of you by the hearing of my ear, but now my eyes see you..." (Job 42:5 ESV) I get that. Both Job and I were brought to our knees, and God revealed Himself to us. Priceless treasure from extraordinary pain. He is available to do the same for you. Pursue Him.

When I read 2 Corinthians 12:9, "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness,'" I can remember actually experiencing the miracle of that truth in the middle of my agony. I understand, now, what it means to "pray without ceasing" only because ongoing prayer became my primary survival skill. It saddens me to realize that (now that my life is enjoyable) I no longer consistently remember to practice that continuous communication and dependence upon God. But when I intentionally focus on Him, He still interacts with me. And He wants to do this with you, too!

I am eternally grateful for all the ways God uses past pain for good. Back then I could barely picture surviving, let alone thriving. I could never have pictured being this happy in a future that I couldn't see. Suicidal temptations blind us to hope and future. It's a permanent "solution" to a temporary problem. What feels absolutely real is very often not actually true at all. I'm so glad that God put people or thoughts in my path, and that I didn't cooperate with the enemy and give into that strong temptation to self-destruct.

I want to encourage you who are going through difficulties, and you who are discouraged, overwhelmed, grieving, or despairing, Proverbs 3:5-6 is a promise: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight."

  • Trust the Lord, because He truly is trustworthy. (Father knows best.)

  • Believe His Word, because it is the absolute Truth.

  • Depend on Him and cooperate with Him, because He adores you and wants nothing less than His absolute best for you.

  • Pursue an ongoing, intimate relationship with the living God, expressed in the context of daily, vulnerable communication with Him, because it works.

  • Obey Him even when it doesn't fit into your agenda, because He designed and created you and your world, and His rules are about keeping you safe in it.

Do this, and the rest of life will become easier. Eventually, it really will. God promised in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (ESV) And when God makes a promise, He obligates Himself to us. You can stake your life on it.

I would love to connect with you. You're invited to contact me at holly.eaton@ptlb.com.

If you or someone you know would like to set up a counseling appointment, please call me at 612-239-4178. Leave a message, and I will attempt to get back to you within 24 hrs.

Holly Eaton

Clinical Christian Counselor

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