Christ's Peace in Our Pain
Words by Ann Swindell
Several years ago, when our family was struggling with deep pain and sorrow after my husband was fired from his ministry job, I didn’t know how to emotionally move out of the deep pit that I was in. But the life of Mary Magdalene in the Scripture gives us a glimpse of how we can begin to move from pain to peace.
Mary Magdalene is often known as the woman from whom seven demons had been cast out (Luke 8:1-2). But she was also a faithful disciple of Christ’s, one who had ministered to Jesus and followed him as he taught and healed in his years of ministry. And she stayed faithful to Jesus all the way to his death: although others had left, she was at the cross “looking on from a distance” (see Matthew 27:55-56). She remained faithful to the end.
But Mary Magdalene’s life had become very small and narrow in a matter of hours: her entire life as she knew it—as a follower of Jesus—was over. He was dead, and her grief must have been immense. But with her future in limbo and her purpose unclear, Mary Magdalene focused on the next thing in front of her: doing what she could to serve Jesus.
He was gone, and she didn’t yet know that he would be coming back in defeat of death. But what she did know was that he deserved a burial worthy of a man of honor—and she was determined to give that to him.
The Model of Mary Magdalene
Even in her grief and pain, Mary Magdalene decided that she would serve Jesus in any way that she could. She took her friend with her and they set about doing what they were able to tangibly love him in the middle of their own sorrow: preparing burial spices for his body. “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1).
This model that Mary offers us, here in the small moment in the Scriptures, is something both beautiful and profound: serving Jesus, even in our pain, offers us peace.
I have experienced this truth in the midst of my sorrow multiple times—and sadly, because it was a truth I didn’t at first live out. In previous seasons of hardship, instead of finding ways to envelop myself in church community and with friends, I pulled away from them. I wasn’t sure how to handle my sadness around others, and I didn’t want to feel vulnerable around them. What I didn’t know then was that my choice to isolate myself in my pain brought about even more pain and sorrow—much of it that could have been avoided if I had reached out rather than pulling away.
Reaching Out Rather Than Spiraling In
Mary Magdalene shows us that grief and community—and that grief and service—are not mutually exclusive. Instead, Mary served the Lord in her grief, alongside of others. I can imagine that as she and the other woman with her prepared more burial spices, they wept together. The ointments that they fashioned would have been sprinkled with their own tears. Perhaps they talked about Jesus and his words even as they mixed and crushed and stirred. But those very actions—talking about him, remembering him, crying together—these very things were the gateway to healing and peace.
And so, after my husband was fired from his pastoral position, I realized that I needed to serve, even in my own sorrow. I did nothing huge—there were no grand gestures of service that I had to offer in that tender time. But I did choose small ways to serve: I coordinated teacher appreciation events at our daughter’s Christian school, forcing myself to remember and appreciate others who were working hard to love our children. I organized an easy fundraiser for a friend who was adopting. And I refused to isolate myself. We started attending a small group at the new church we started attending, choosing to engage with Christ’s people and refusing to isolate ourselves. These were not huge, ongoing acts of service or community—I did not have the emotional energy to start a new ministry or make a bunch of new friends. But I did what I could, and I reached out, rather than spiraling in.
Experiencing Christ’s Peace through Serving
It made a world of difference in my heart and spirit. For as I served Christ by serving others, even in small ways, my sorrow was met with peace. My soul began to rest as I was able to see, with fresh eyes, that there were many others around us who loved us and were upholding us in our own struggles—and that I could help others in theirs.
The Bible highlights this truth for us:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
As we serve others, even in the midst of our own trials, we will find ourselves enveloped in the comfort of God and upheld by the peace of God. This does not mean that we have to serve in order to experience his comfort and peace—not at all. There are some seasons where we must acknowledge that we cannot serve and should not; we need to allow the Body of Christ to serve us.
But when we are able to do so, the beautiful reality of the Kingdom of God is that serving others out of our own pain actually helps to heal that pain. Ministering to others in our own struggle actually helps bring peace to that struggle, for when we serve Christ’s people, we are serving Christ. As our Lord comforts us, we can then comfort others, and they, in turn, can help to comfort us again. It is the Body of Christ healing itself through the presence of Jesus; it is his peace at work in and through people.
Ann Swindell is the author of the new book The Path to Peace: Experiencing God's Comfort When You're Overwhelmed. She writes for The Gospel Coalition, Risen Motherhood, Deeply Rooted, and other publications. Ann is the owner of Writing with Grace and holds an MFA in creative nonfiction writing. She lives in Michigan with her pastor-husband and their two kids, and you can connect with her online at AnnSwindell.com.