The gut-wrenching anguish and the fall-to-your-knees pain of a loved one who is suffering. The mind-numbing agony of chronic pain in your body. The heart-wrenching despair of a failed relationship. Why does it have to exist? Why do we have to suffer?
As I was hearing the stories of some close friends and the issues they were dealing with, I was reminded of my own pain that I had neatly tucked into the back of my mind, hoping that it would stay on the shelf in which it was neatly placed. I slowly dusted off the memories, and I was reminded of the ordeals that I went through in my own life.
Among others on that shelf were a failed marriage, my mother passing away too soon, unfulfilled dreams, and a recent health issue with my heart. As I remembered each one, I was brought closer the very thing that most of us try to avoid at all costs – pain. We would all like to live a life that is pain-free and utopia-rich. Well, my friends, that isn’t the way it is going to be… for any of us.
Pain avoidance seems to be the most natural reaction to any of life’s difficult issues. While I don’t believe we should be looking around every corner for our next opportunity to experience pain, I don’t think we should avoid it like the plague either.
Way on a top shelf of my mind, tucked into the back corner, was a particular event when I was younger that still gives me problems today. When I was about 10, my grandfather was dying. He was at his farm home, lying in bed, in the last stages in his battle with cancer. All the other grand-kids took turns and went in to see him, but not me. There was something about death and dying that I was not interested in getting up close and personal with. It was creepy for a young kid like me. So I avoided it. When my grandmother was dying, I did the same thing.
Then came their funerals. I mean, going up and looking at a dead person? Forget it! The whole thing reeks with pain! This is something I find difficult to do to this day. I even work at a church where funerals happen on a weekly basis. I am supposed to be used to it by now, but it still is a struggle.
Whatever you don’t deal with eventually becomes your master. Because I had never adequately walked through some difficult times, it rules over me, enslaves me, and I find myself in bondage to them.
Pain, in all forms, redirects your focus inward and shrinks your world to just one thing. Yourself. We stop thinking about everyone and everything else. It is like the world collapses and bears its weight on the inside of us. If there is pain, many people employ avoidance behavior through anesthetizing themselves with their favorite drug of choice. I spent many years doing that. But there is a different way.
1 Peter 4:1-2 (MSG)
In 1 Peter 4:1-2 (MSG), it says: “Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. “
That’s it! God wants to free us from the self-centeredness that pain brings. Why? Because on the other side of pain is victory and freedom. It is easy to be deceived into thinking that we should expect a pain-free life. Especially in America, where the luxuries of life can lull you into a form of weakness that cannot handle even the most minor of irritations.
Because I have not appropriately dealt with pain management in certain areas of my life, I am weak and intolerant of it. I need some training. For me, running has provided the conditioning that I need to fight the mental battle that screams for attention.
I have been running for less than eighteen months, and I still feel like a baby runner. When I run, I usually run for thirty minutes non-stop. It took me a while to get to that point, and there are times when I still find it difficult to do. Usually, about half way through a run, my mind starts screaming at me to stop. My legs feel weak, my breathing is too labored, I am feeling light-headed, and on and on. Sometimes I stop and walk, other times I plow through and finish without stopping. I am building endurance and teaching myself to break the bondage of that weakness.
This conditioning has helped me build endurance in other areas of my life because I now have the confidence that I can overcome and persevere. Now pain becomes an opportunity to overcome and grow. To persevere and preserve my freedom that Christ intended.
Anything that you can do regularly that forces you to work through difficulty, will help you grow. It takes effort to continue to return to the very thing that brings you pain. If you take it at your pace and are persistent at it, things will change. If you are looking for instant changes, and quick fixes, you will quickly loose heart and abandon your resolve.
Your attitude toward pain can make all the difference when you are dealing with it. My attitude has changed. Instead of cowering or turning inward whenever I experience pain or suffering, I now realize that I can rise above my reservations and use fear as a steppingstone to my faith. Thus, I am learning to remain free from the paralyzing effects of it. I want to reach my God-given potential to make a difference in other people’s lives, and I cannot if my world has shrunk to only myself.
I thank God for the sacrifice and example he has given us in Jesus Christ. My eyes are focused on him and what He has done. When I am weak, he is my strength. Through Him, all things are possible!
Revelation 21:4 (NLT)
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever”