Don’t Run From Pain
Or Wish It Away
God May Be The Author
It is quite normal to find God in church but that isn’t the only place we can expect to find Him. God is a little bigger than a church service (omnipresent) and I’m sure He is active more than one hour a week so we should expect to find Him mingling in all of life and by “life” I mean everything outside of church.
Since He created life for us, and us for life, we shouldn’t be surprised to find Him tagging along when we leave church.
Church does serve an important purpose but a very limited one. It is only a classroom and offers only theory. Life offers what the classroom can’t, experience. It is the lab where we learn to apply the theory and God is involved in both places. He instructs us in one and mentors us in the other.
God Isn’t On Emergency Standby
Most people do invoke God’s presence in their daily living but more as a protector or body guard or shield. He gets called for emergencies only.
Life can be hard and we don’t like “hard.” We much prefer easy and convenient. The ideal job is one in which productivity smoothly moves along and the people we work with are always agreeable but who has a job like that.
If you have a boss, and most people with jobs do, he or she is constantly expecting performance quotas to be met. Even if you work for yourself, bill collectors are there to remind you of the same.
And if you are fortunate enough to achieve financial security – that is you don’t have to work – you find you must still work hard and smart to maintain the value of your resources, whether they be investments or savings.
You can’t really get away from it. There is constant pressure and that pressure sometimes produces pain. Jobs aren’t the only source of pain but it one common to us all.
And the question is, where is God when the pain comes? In our thinking God and pain can’t be reconciled. Pain is a problem and God is the solution.
Well, Unfortunately, God is not Vicodin or a magic wand and Life, which can sometimes be painful, is His training ground.
Jesus Is A Mentor, Coach And Friend
When you think of Jesus and what He did on the cross words like “mentor” and “coach” and “friend” should come to mind. We all have these people in our lives and none of them act like medicine cabinets. They push and nudge us toward the painful experiences – the ones we usually try to avoid – and they do it to help us become better people. All of them deal in pain in some way or another.
Jesus does these things also.
- He mentored Peter into leadership and Peter was embarrassed and shamed a few times in the process. Shouldn’t we expect that also?
- Jesus coached all of the disciples in the areas of faith and service. Some of their biggest learning moments were when Jesus pushed them to do more than they thought they could, or wanted to do. That still happens with disciples today.
- And Jesus was a friend to everyone, disciples and sinners alike.
The Pharisees actually complained about Jesus fraternizing with sinners. They avoided sinful people and defended their actions by finding fault with Jesus.
They probably didn’t realize it at the time but they were revealing something ugly about human nature. Not their nature, but human nature.
We usually befriend people who are equal to or better than we are. We like people that make us look good. We like people who don’t need help or if they do, they are in a position to pay for it.
Needy people can be inconvenient (painful).
Friendships are often based on business arrangements. They are mutually beneficial.
You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
There is nothing wrong with that but friendship, the way Jesus managed it, encouraged growth and upliftment in those He befriended.
Jesus added value to people from whom He received only appreciation.
Everyone pretty much agrees with those ideas. What we don’t agree on is how He went about adding the value. And that brings me to the topic of pain, something no one likes but all experience.
Pain Happens On Four Levels
Here is a breakdown on pain:
- Physical: Headaches, injuries, post op recovery, disabilities, etc.
- Emotional: Rejection, humiliation, insult, ridicule, loneliness, fear, depression, being misunderstood.
- Mental: trying to figure things out or trying to learn something new or trying to make myself understood.
- Spiritual: Finding a purpose.
Usually we take an avoidance-approach toward pain but the reality is . . .
Learning and growth never happen without pain. Developing the sense to know which types of pain induce growth and how to manage it is an important skill set.
Extremes are wrong in both directions. Self-inflicting pain or attempting to avoid it completely are both unbalanced approaches to life. Neither is possible nor sensible.
But painful moments, whatever the cause, from which God could protect us but doesn’t, can stimulate growth if we manage them well. The old adage, “once bitten twice shy,” is based on the premise that the pain from a bad experience protects us from that experience a second time. In other words, pain induces healthy learning.
So, Jesus is a friend not because He effects us like a pain killer but because:
- He allows us to learn without judgment from the pain we bring on ourselves.
- He encourages us to avoid unnecessary pain where possible.
- And He nudges us into situations which force us to pay attention to growth areas.
Wise parents do this with their children from a young age.
Three Sources of Pain
Now a word about where pain comes from. What brings it on. There are three sources of pain. Some pain can be avoided, some cannot.
- Circumstantial Pain: Natural (illness, loss of loved one, aging, etc.) and Situational (bullied at school, manipulated at work, we compare poorly to the abilities of other, etc.)
These are unfortunate but unavoidable sources of pain. Managing them is the only option. There is no escape.
- Self Inflicted Pain: Internalizing circumstantial pain.
We avoid this by learning how to mourn losses properly. Mourning is more cerebral than emotional. Done properly we get over and move beyond painful experiences. We might never forget the experience but we can live above it.
- Strategic Pain: Pressure intentionally caused by others to produce growth.
This happens everyday in school and Jesus employed strategic pain several times in His ministry with His disciples. He was constantly putting them in uncomfortable situations, situations they would normally have avoided.
And He did it to push them into learning.
- He took them into Samaria and even into the homes of Samaritans to force them to see the equality of all humans. No one is socially or religiously beyond the reach of the Gospel.
- He took them into Gentile territory and provoked them into racist remarks in order to show them how wrong they were.
- He foretold them about His execution, burial and resurrection to draw them out and expose their misguided thinking which in turn encouraged disbelief.
- He allowed Peter, James and John to witness a vision of Himself and Moses to correct their understanding about who the Messiah really was and the hierarchy of biblical personalities.
- He allowed thousands to follow Him out in the desert to force the disciples to minister to people even when their resources were low.
You could say that Jesus did two things with pain neither of which involved numbing it:
- He taught us how to deal with circumstantial pain properly.
- He demonstrated how to use pain strategically.
So, the conclusion is:
Jesus died to make pain worthwhile and taught that pain should be meaningful not numbed. When life gets pain, He’s right in the middle of it.
So when you see pain appearing on life’s horizon don’t run or hide. Don’t pray for it to go away. God may be the author of it. Face it deliberately. Manage it carefully.