When Pelicans Can’t Fly: God’s Comfort in Our Pain


I have always had a soft spot in my heart for animals. I’ve been known to pull off the road to move a turtle out of harm’s way, and I’ve taken home one too many little rodents after stopping by the pet store. My husband fears what might end up tagging along home with me every time I say, “Just running out to grab some dog food.”

While on vacation, we took an evening stroll on the beach and I noticed a pelican in front of us standing strangely still. As we got closer, it became apparent that the bird was hurt due to a fishing hook caught in its wing. True to my nature, my heart went out to the creature who was clearly helpless in his plight and fearful because of our close proximity. I wanted so badly to fix the injured wing so it could soar again, but there was little I could do, and the bird was incapable of helping itself.

Unable and Helpless

I thought of this pelican a few times since returning home. Its presence was a vivid picture of my own inability to fix the brokenness I feel internally and that I see in the world around me. There have been times when personal suffering has felt paralyzing because no matter what direction I move, the pain still lingers. And as I watch headlines that blare agony, disillusionment, and death, I again feel unable and helpless.

Paul was a man who knew suffering, and we see just a glimpse of the extent to which he suffered in his second letter to the Corinthians. Written after experiencing severe affliction, Paul says,

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8, 9).

His words, “so burdened beyond our strength,” resonate with many today. Whether it’s a lost job with no prospect of employment, a marriage that is hanging on by a thread, deep anxiety over the current pandemic, or a sense of depletion in parenting, there are people who feel utterly weighed down. Like the pelican, the prospect of flying again, of moving forward and going about the work to which we’ve been called, can feel beyond our ability. Paul felt similarly in his own affliction. And yet, this suffering did not break him, but it did something else. It did something great. The suffering, Paul continues, “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (vs 8).

Relying on the God of All Comfort

One of the greatest comforts for believers is the incarnation of Jesus. He lived as a human, so He knows suffering, He understands pain, and He experienced agonizing death. But what is an even greater comfort is His resurrection. In this single act Jesus defeated death. He conquered our greatest fear, eternal separation from God. We now have hope forever in the presence of God.

The world offers many remedies to lighten our burdens, including finding your inner strength. But the reality is, like the bird on the beach, we are not able to do this on our own, and no other person has the power to provide lasting comfort for all of our grief. The great news is that our precious Savior, the resurrected Lord, is able. Suffering forces us to cling to God who takes the burden from us and places it on Himself. The comfort that God provides is not dependent on physical health or easy circumstances, but it is steadfast and unshakable even in the face of difficulty. While the world says, “Figure it on your own,” Jesus says, “Give it to me.”

Often, we’re not willing to be honest with God about the depth of our hurt, but as our creator, He knows our fears and longings better than we do. It takes a certain kind of spiritual discipline to wean our trust off our own ability and relying instead on the God of all comfort. It may mean increasing our time in prayer and being honest with the words we offer to Jesus. It may mean asking a friend to hold us accountable to spend daily time in the Bible. In these days of quarantine, many Bible studies are no longer able to meet in person, but instead of putting our Bible to the side, we can find a group that is meeting online or search for a reading plan that will help us stay grounded in the Scripture. God’s words breathe life into our apathies, and the Spirit helps us to recall God’s comforting words when we need them most.

Relaying God’s Comfort to Others

And when we find comfort in the arms of Jesus, we do so in order “that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (vs 4). In many ways, this goes against our nature. When we suffer, we want others to comfort and console us; we don’t want to reach out to those around us. It seems almost contrary to help others when we are in need. If left to our own devices, we would tend to our wounds without ever looking up.

But God comforts in part to prepare us for comforting others. My sister, who has been afflicted with many trials in her life, is a great example to me of what this looks like. Losing both parents, facing cancer and the side effects of treatment, living through a miscarriage, osteoporosis, and numerous other health diagnosis, she has every reason, humanly speaking, to merely tend to her wounds. And yet, in the midst of her own pain, she regularly shares with others how the Lord sustains and helps her. By God’s grace, she provides comfort to those whose pain is consuming.

As I watched the bird that evening fight away help because of its fear and confusion, I wanted it to just stay calm. Just relent, I thought to myself. But oh, how often I fight to control my own surroundings when faced with trials. Just relent, says the Lord, the God of all comfort: Come to me, all ye who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When you have experienced his comfort and peace, don’t keep it yourself. There are others entangled and distressed. They too need the helping hand of our comforting Savior.

About the Author:

Katie Polski

Katie is wife to Chris, a PCA pastor at Trinity church in Kirkwood, MO, and together they have three children, Ella, J-Rod, and Lily. Katie works as the music director at Trinity and serves on the Women’s Ministry Committee. She also spends much of her time writing, playing piano, leading women’s Bible studies, and speaking to women’s groups about the joy she has found in Christ. Katie graduated from Covenant College with a BA in English Education and has served on the board of Covenant. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Theology from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. For more information, as well as various blog entries, you can visit her website at www.katiepolski.com

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