by Ashley Opliger
“Finding purpose in pain”—it’s a phrase we’re familiar with, especially when we’re in the throes of grief. As our tears fall, we don’t want our season of sadness to be wasted. No one wants their heartbreak to be in vain. We long to see something beautiful resurrect from the ashes of our anguish, so we seek to balance the scale of our suffering by finding purpose.
If only we could make the positives of our sorrows outweigh the negatives, then maybe our misery would be worth it. Since the pain in our lives is oftentimes unavoidable, at least we can control how we will respond to it. Grief feels messy and out-of-control, and finding purpose brings us a sense of stability. It gives us the opportunity to validate our grief.
But how do we find this purpose and why should we?
The concept of “finding purpose in pain” is one that I am familiar with and speak about often. It has been a driving force in my healing journey ever since I lost my daughter, Bridget Faith, in 2014. After her stillbirth, my husband and I started a nonprofit in her memory called Bridget’s Cradles.
My mom, Teresa, had knit a little mint green cradle for us to hold Bridget in on the day she was born. Weighing only 13 ounces, Bridget was so tiny yet so wonderfully made. The cradle brought us great peace, and we knew we wanted to comfort other families in the same way. So we started the ministry in Bridget’s empty nursery and began donating cradles to our local hospital.
Seven years later, with God’s guidance, we are now providing knit and crocheted cradles to over 1,100 hospitals in all 50 states for families to hold their precious babies who are born into Heaven in the second trimester of pregnancy. We also moved into our own headquarters, where we host Christ-centered support groups and volunteer events.
In addition, we orchestrate an annual remembrance event for bereaved families on October 15th, Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, called Wave of Light. And lastly, I have the honor of hosting a podcast called the Cradled in Hope Podcast to share gospel truth with grieving moms.
I have undeniably found “purpose” in my pain. But, even with the tremendous impact that I have witnessed come from my daughter’s life, I have yet to “tip the scales” of my grief, so to speak. If I were solely driven to find purpose to outweigh the magnitude of my loss–Bridget’s life–I would never be able to attain this balance. Her life was too valuable. My loss too great.
You see, I have learned that seeking purpose from pain isn’t about trying to seek justice for our loss, but rather it is an expression of gratitude to the One who gives us purpose in the first place: Jesus. For our pain’s purpose, beyond any earthly accomplishment or endeavor, is to share in His sufferings and become more like Christ (1 Peter 4:13, 1 Peter 2:21, 1 John 2:6). Suffering helps us to be sanctified in His image and gives us eternal perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17).
We shouldn’t seek validity in our own purpose but in God’s redeeming work on the Cross. His gift of salvation is the ultimate redemption that our hearts long for on this earth. Our good works, no matter how many or how great, could ever earn His love or balance the weight of our sorrows.
I didn’t need to start a nonprofit or host a podcast to find favor with Him or to prove my love for my daughter. Though these undertakings are good, they do not make me worthy before Him nor do they define me as a grieving mother. No amount of striving is required to please Him or honor our loved one in Heaven. Our efforts are not necessary to prove the validity or severity of our grief–to God or to others.
However, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), and our motive for doing good deeds should be to glorify Him out of a grateful heart. We are called and commanded to serve others as followers of Christ! It is our job to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus entrusted us with: to make disciples and make Him known to all the nations (Matthew 28:16-20).
Therefore, finding purpose isn’t wrong! It’s a noble pursuit, but if we are on the quest solely to attain it for ourselves (to fulfill a need within us or to satisfy our grief), we will miss our purpose entirely! When you serve the Lord Jesus Christ for His glory is when you will ultimately find your life’s purpose:
Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. -Matthew 16:24-25 NIV
Leading Bridget’s Cradles isn’t a “project” for me to honor my daughter or my grief. Starting the ministry was an act of obedience to the calling God has given me to share the Gospel with grieving families. Finding purpose is the byproduct of loving God with all your heart, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). When we love God, we have a heart for serving others. Our works are done out of the overflow of our gratitude for what He has already done for us. Our eyes should be fixed on Jesus and His glory, not our own.
So if you are on the quest for the desirable and seemingly-unattainable “Holy Grail of Grief” (finding purpose in your pain), let me point you in the right direction: you will find it when you find Jesus! He is your ultimate purpose!
He will show you the way and direct your steps. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. As you hold His hand and let Him guide you, He will reveal His plan in His good and perfect timing. It may not come right away. It may take months or even years to see how He is working in your grief. And, you may not see it all on this side of eternity. The full weight of our pain can’t and won’t be redeemed until we’re in Heaven and sin and death are no more.
Sister in Christ, if you are struggling in your grief and longing to see good come from it, may I extend grace your way? You can let yourself off the hook and exhale the pressure you’ve placed on yourself. You are loved by God simply because you are His, and He is close to your broken heart (Psalm 34:18). He will lead the way as you draw near to Him and seek His face. You need only be still and listen to His voice. Your obedience and availability is all that He needs to be able to do a work through you for His Kingdom. What greater purpose could one have than this!
Jesus, help us surrender our suffering to You so that You can do a work in us. We want to know and love You deeper. Renew our minds and heal our hearts so that we can seek You with all that we are. We long to bring You glory out of the depths of our despair. We cry out to You in our grief and praise You for who You are and what You’ve done for us. Walk with us in our grief and help us carry out Your good and perfect will. Amen.
Ashley Opliger is President and Executive Director of Bridget’s Cradles 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas. Bridget’s Cradles donates knit cradles to hold stillborn babies to over 1,100 hospitals in all 50 states. She’s host of Cradled in Hope Podcast and shares gospel-truth with grieving moms. Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons, Branton and Brenner. She’s a fully-devoted follower of Christ who desires for women to walk with Jesus through every season of their lives.
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