This post is my first on a series of gifts that we generally don’t want, and I am starting with pain. I don’t suggest that all pain is a gift. In fact, too much pain, whether physical, emotional, or mental, can harm or even kill you. But life without pain would prove dangerous indeed. Pain acts as a warning, an instructor, and even as a chastening, and most humans need all three.
Pain as a Warning:
If our bodies felt no pain whatsoever, we would be at severe risk. That is how leprosy endangers its victims. Because their nerves are deadened, they cannot feel injuries and infections. In the end, they lose their extremities to untreated damage. If they were able to feel the soreness due to those injuries, then they could take care of their hands and feet. Our bodies are made to feel heat and cold, to navigate our world safely. Without pain, we would not survive.
But emotional hurt is a warning too. So many young people have come to me for relationship advice. They enter into relationships and the drama is automatic. Jealousy and controlling behaviors surface or they bounce up and down on what I call the insecurity teeter-totter. Relationships aren’t always easy, but at least in the beginning, they should be good.
If you are in a new relationship or one that is not resolving easily, pause before you press the marriage button. If a relationship is agonizing before marriage, it will only get worse after marriage. Perhaps exceptions to this law exist. But while I believe that God can fix just about anything, He won’t change people without their participation. This applies to friendships as well. Heed the pain as a warning. It is trying to tell you something.
Pain as an Instructor:
Discerning right from wrong comes with pain as a teacher. At first, we obey commands because we are afraid of getting caught. We fear the discomfort of a spanking, whether literal or metaphorical. After all, punishment still exists for adults. Incarceration, legal fees, and humiliation are far worse than the punishments we suffered as children.
But where the learning comes in is when others harm us. We ache from betrayals or suffer anguish from abuse. If we hear the lesson that pain is trying to impart, we develop a true conscience. A false conscience is just a fear of pain. We don’t want to get caught because others will know we aren’t the good people we pretend to be. We fear the retribution. And honestly, this isn’t terrible. The streets are safer because of a rule of law.
But a true conscience cares about the hurt of others. We refrain from wrongdoing because of the sorrow it will cause those we care about. We avoid harming others because we know what it feels like. Pain has taught us well.
Pain as a Purifier:
Any kind of suffering carries the possibility of redemption. I am not suggesting that pain, in and of itself, makes us better people. And yet, it is through Christ’s suffering on the cross that I am redeemed. I think of the Civil Rights Movement. Because the followers of Martin Luther King, Jr. were willing to face the pain that peaceful protest would bring, they helped purify society and a government from the evils of institutional racism.
Facing our pain and addressing the causes always brings about growth. We go through financial difficulties and learn to manage money. If we are careless with our bodies or with equipment, pain brings us right back in to following directions or addressing health issues.
But more importantly, pain challenges us to be brave. Those who suffer from chronic pain must face the rigors of everyday life. Just as heartbreaking are those who have loved and lost. Will they gain the courage to face a new life, bereft of their loved one? Facing our pain is the test that confronts all of us on a daily basis. Will we stand up to our pain and choose to live anyway? Or will we give in to self-pity and self-loathing, indulging ourselves in order to pretend that pain is not knocking at our door?
The Heart of Pain:
Jesus told us to love our enemies. He Himself had great compassion for others. And what is compassion but the willingness to feel the pain of others? Empathy helps shoulder the suffering, taking on itself the burden of another’s pain. In fact, as joyful as love can be, on this earth, love comes tear-stained and tender. Compassion feeds the poor, cares for the widow, and takes in the orphan. Compassion is the acknowledgment that each of us has a great capacity for suffering.
The gift of pain is that it can be a great revealer of love. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends, says the Bible. And so it is that we know that God loves us because He did lay His great, omniscient, omnipotent life down for our small little lives.
I don’t wish anyone pain, having had my fill of my own. But I wish for myself and for others the victories to be had over and through our pain. And in the end, our sufferings will not go unnoticed or be without fruit because God Himself has so decreed. Let us share in His suffering so we may share in His joy. Pain is often the price we pay for love. Is it worth it? Jesus thought so.