The old adage “Pain is inevitable” is often repeated, and as we look around us and listen to our own lives, there is certainly strong evidence to support this claim. A colleague is recovering from brain surgery, the mother of a student had spinal cord surgery day before yesterday, my wife is recovering from a broken toe, and our son from a sprained ankle.
Yet physical pain only tells a part of the pain story – a friend is grieving the estranged relationship between her and her young adult daughter, another is mourning the dream job that he didn’t get, another is in shock over the news that her husband may have only a short time to live, a student is struggling with ongoing wounds of sexual abuse, while another friend wonders if he will ever find ministry a position again after the turmoil that plagued his last post.
Dealing with pain as well as Dealing with Disappointment is inescapable. If we choose to live an active life involving others, relational pain will result. If enough years rack up, physical pain will come. If we choose a life of isolation and reclusiveness, the pain of loneliness will find us. If we serve others as their leader, the pain of rejection and misunderstanding will be ours. So if pain is ever present in those around us and an always-looming possibility in our own lives, what are we to do? If pain can’t be avoided, how are we to deal with it constructively? These questions are certainly worth exploring.
Assessing Pain’s Sources
Acknowledging our pain is a first step toward eventual healing. Carefully considering relationships and recognizing both the pain and the joy that they bring allows us the potential of doing our part to help the pain to heal or to move toward a place where the pain may hurt less. Even when dealing with physical pain, the source of the pain may not be the origin of the real problem. Finding the true source of pain – past rejection, unacknowledged abuse, subtle slights, and misinterpreted motives – helps us to get the help we need to start the journey toward wholeness.
Acknowledging Our Situation
Denying that you are hurting is not going to help you get well. Whether the pain be physical, spiritual, or emotional, covering up our pain with positivity, soothing it with dysfunctional habits, or calming it with retaliation will not take the pain away, although it may send it to other areas of our lives and inflict it on others. Once we admit our physical symptoms may point toward greater problems, our physician can offer helpful suggestions, and when we concede that our pain is too intense to endure on our own, others can help us move toward recovery.
Pain is inevitable, and each of us will have our portion of it at some point. Although healing takes time and patience, healing is possible — in most cases healing is easier than we might expect. Just as the therapy that can be required after surgery is tedious and painful, the new perspective that eventually results is worth the deeper pain of the surgery and therapy. Being healthy is always good, and when we find ourselves openly embracing unhealthy habits, relationships, dreams, and possibilities, we must listen to the voices inside our heads and those caring friends who offer us insight.
Offering a Healthier Response
A counselor friend of mine often talks about how difficult and lengthy recovery from significant trauma can take – sometimes weeks, months, or years. Sometimes we get lulled into thinking that our pain is ours and there is no other way for us but a painful path. I have even known some people, as have you, who were defined by their pain. In other words, the pain of the past was allowed to become the defining moment of their lives, the place that they often visit and the place from which everything else was expressed. Pain does not have the final word in our lives unless we allow it such unleashed power.
Stepping into Pain
Since pain is inevitable and different types of pain will be ours with which to contend, we must learn to offer healthier responses to pain – we must learn to function healthfully in the middle of our own pain and the pain of others. For instance, we can choose whether we allow the same people and the same circumstances to hurt us over and over. We can choose to ignore physical and emotional situations that point toward deeper root causes. We can choose to embrace habits that give us strength and energy even when those around us choose destructive paths. We can choose to take time away and limit the work that we accept even when others continue their work-addicted behaviors.
Learning from Pain
Ultimately, pain can be our teacher, and many of the most important lessons in life are learned through pain. While some people are geared to learn from the mistakes of those around them, others seem to have to experience pain themselves before they truly learn. Both options can be good teachers; however, the latter leaves us with far more scars and bruises along the way. In talking with people whom I consider wise, I have learned that many of their most impactful lessons were learned in the middle of intensely painful situations and experiences.
There is life in and beyond pain, and it is ours to choose. What are your sources of pain? What pain is yours that you’ve learned to numb and not feel? What pain has plagued you for months, years, or decades that you are not acknowledging? What physical or emotional pain needs the diagnosis and attention of a professional health care provider? What pain are you experiencing that simply needs time away in a different climate and atmosphere to heal?
Serving others well requires us to be in the best condition – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – that we can muster. Investing large sums of energy in personal pain management when it can be avoided is always a poor waste of our time and vigor – time that could be better invested in those we love and those who love us.