Keith, you have said that it’s better not to run from pain but to embrace it. But I don’t get it. What on earth can be good about pain?
You’re sure not alone with that question. Have you noticed how many commercials on television are about ways to quiet our pain? Yet I believe that pain plays an important—even essential—role in our spiritual growth process.
The first time I can remember hearing anything good about pain was one day when I was about eight years old. My mother and I were sitting at the breakfast table. I was not in school that day because my friend Jimmy had thrown a pampas grass spear at me during a mock battle and had struck me between my right eye and right eyebrow—miraculously missing putting out my eye, which was now almost swollen shut and hurting like crazy.
“Why would God invent something as awful as pain?” I asked, wishing mine would go away.
Mother raised her eyebrows and looked out the window behind me a few seconds. Then she said, “Well, feelings like pain are God’s way of sending helpful, even life-saving, messages to us about dangerous or harmful things we’re doing that we might not notice until it was too late.”
I scrunched up my face and asked, “What do you mean?”
She continued, “You might say that pain is like a fire alarm system God’s given us to help us pinpoint the exact place where our personal fires, our injuries or sicknesses, are. And if we don’t pay attention, the pain usually gets louder until we do. And God uses all kind of pain to show us where we need to change our live if we pay attention. So pain can be a life-saving friend.”
“How could pain actually save my life?”
“Well, imagine that early one morning you were running barefoot down the beach alone and you stepped on a jagged piece of glass bottle half buried in the sand, and it cut your foot, maybe nicked a large vein. If it weren’t for pain, you might bleed to death if you didn’t happen to look back and see that you were leaving a trail of blood in your footprints. Pain is one way you learn to take care of yourself.”
I thought about that for a few minutes, wondering if there was anything connected to the pain of my swollen eye that I could learn that would be a life-saver. Then I asked, “You mean like my deciding not to play spear-fighting chieftains anymore?”
Mother smiled and nodded her head. “That seems like a pretty smart change to me.”
Lord, thank you that so many kinds of pain contain a message to teach me about how to live my life. Help me not to numb it, or avoid it, but to examine it squarely and seek the life-meaning behind it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
“Distress that drives us to God…turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.” Cor. 7:10, The Message
“How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness, that humiliation goes before resurrection, that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.” Bill Wilson, Christmas Letter, 1944