How you’re avoiding pain without realizing it
In the aftermath of my pancreatitis, my physician tells me something shocking. While my pain was onset by a common virus, the majority of cases are caused by alcohol abuse. The women he sees in his practice, women in my community, typically get it from drinking bottles of wine a day… bottles.
My heart breaks.
As my car rounds a hill on the drive home, I see rooftop after rooftop and wonder What happens under all these roofs that drives so many women to drink? What’s happening in their lives that they want to escape?
Here’s what I know: there’s no need to numb if there’s no pain, but when there is pain, we have a choice in our reaction to it.
It all starts with a pain point.
My pancreatitis stunned me, but, in general, hurt and suffering shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that we’ll have trouble in this world. Suffering is a part of our story—not an interruption—and we can experience it for two reasons:
- We’ve made a poor choice, so we experience the natural consequence of sin, or…
- We live in a broken world, so we receive an unexpected diagnosis or face a financial hardship that’s out of our control.
Pain is simply an unavoidable fact of life.
But when there’s pain, we have two choices.
- Try to avoid it, or…
- Give it to God and let Him use it as a tool to shape us.
“We are not guaranteed growth through our trials,” Ben Stuart writes in This Changes Everything. “We must ask if we are humble enough to accept pain as a teacher.” If we are too prideful for pain to teach us, then our only other option is to avoid it.
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We avoid our pain in four different ways.
1. We numb it. We do our best not to feel what hurts, so we console ourselves with too much (or too little) food, work out in excess, or shop more than our budget allows. We need an escape.
2. We suppress it. We keep hurt at arm’s length by becoming busy and taking on position after position, or by focusing on others around us.
3. We deny it. We don’t acknowledge or accept that there’s hurt in our lives, so we strap on our game-face and refuse to admit that we’re hurting.
4. We become it. We take on all of the bitterness and pain and become sarcastic, unkind, hateful, and rude to ourselves and others. We wear our pain like a coat.
But what if we decide to invite pain to teach us rather than avoiding it? What could we learn?
We learn by letting God repurpose our pain.
In God’s hands, pain is always productive. God is clear that He can take what’s meant for harm and repurpose it for good—He can turn ashes into art.
Pain strengthens our relationship with God. Nothing in my life has brought me closer to Him than when I’m in the trenches holding on for dear life. My prayer life is never more vital than when I’m hurting.
Pain teaches humility. Suffering transforms our attitude because it removes the blinders to our unrealistic expectations and reveals the amount of control we actually have. Pain shows us our weaknesses and how prideful we are.
Pain gives us a chance to be comforted, and then, to comfort others. Every time I’ve been in pain—either physical or emotional—I’ve been comforted by God and by people He placed in my life to give comfort. Then, when others go through a similar circumstance, I’m able to offer that same comfort to them. (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)
Pain gives us a platform. Without my struggles with perfectionism, false thinking, and an obsessive need to lose baby weight (among plenty of other struggles), I wouldn’t be able to write, encourage, and love others in similar situations. What if I pushed down the pain or numbed it away? I’d have no blog posts or speaking engagements where I could testify to the gospel of grace.
When it comes to dealing with pain, the choice is ours.
Pain is a fact of life that we’d prefer wasn’t woven into our stories.
We’d prefer to avoid or get past the hurtful things as quickly as possible. And yet, we’re called to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with God at our side (Psalm 23:4). We’re not invited to skip through it, but to allow Him to repurpose it for our good and His glory.
Pain is a teacher. It conforms us into the image of Jesus. Pain is transformative, and is too important to our spiritual formation to be poured into a glass and sipped away.