The Process of Pain
How do you handle pain? Suffering? Heartbreak? A family member dies, a spouse has an affair, a friend is sexually or physically abused – what’s your process for dealing with that? Think about it.
Where do you run? How do you cope? What do you hold on to? Netflix? Your horoscope? Your ex?
I have a friend who is an emotional rollercoaster. His life is going through a lot of changes. But a common theme is always present. Whenever he’s going through something, I’m his encouragement hotline. When life’s good, I don’t hear from him much. This cycle has been going on for years. What’s crazy though, is he knows what he needs to do. He knows what I’m going to tell him. But you know what his problem is? He has weak faith. His emotions get the best of him. Every time he goes through suffering he turns the wrong way, even though he consciously knows what’s right. Why? He has weak faith! It’s easier for him to believe in the temporary relief of our culture’s lies than in Jesus’ eternal promises. Did you catch that? In other words, the first time his muscles got sore he quit going to the gym. Going through a breakup? Go hook up with someone. Yes there’s an app for that. Stressed out? Let’s party. That’s what our culture will tell you.
How many people do you know turn to alcohol when suffering comes? They would rather temporarily numb their mind than have sore emotional muscles that eventually make them stronger. These people usually don’t learn from their past, and stay in a painful cycle that doesn’t lead to growth or healing. My good friend Jeremy Smith always says “We all want peace, but we don’t do things that lead to peace.” Simple yet profound. We want the product without going through the process, but that doesn’t lead to character development. Watch any reality show and the more nuts they go the more of a meltdown you can expect. Reality TV is not reality by the way. 83 percent of the Bachelor couples don’t stay together. I think that means you have a better chance of being struck by lightning. Can you imagine their first year of marriage when they aren’t sitting at the beach sipping cocktails on a secluded island wrapped in a $100k network budget? Life hits hard.
So what does the Bible instruct us to do with pain? We’ve all heard “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” There’s some truth to that statement – but James takes it a step further. James says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4. James is crazy. I probably wouldn’t be friends with someone who told me that. He just told us to get excited when we hurt. That goes against our innate nature and everything our culture tells us. Isn’t the American Dream all about living comfortably?
I love what Bob Goff has to say about faith. You should read his book Love Does by the way. Bob says that “faith is simple, but it’s not easy.”
Faith is staying steady on course when your emotions are giving you a million different directions.
Have you ever heard of General Adaption Syndrome? It’s a term used to describe the body’s short term and long term reactions to stress. Hans Selye is an Austrian-born physician who originally described it. There are 3 stages of GAS, the first is the alarm reaction – the immediate reaction to a stressor. It’s a fight or flight response. This initial response can also decrease our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness during this stage. There’s a reason Paul tells us to think of “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, or excellent.” (Philippians 4:8-9) The 2nd stage is Resistance, or even Adaptation. During this phase, if the stress continues the body eventually adapts and gets stronger. The 3rd stage is the stage of Exhaustion. This happens when the stress has continued for some time, which can lead to heart attacks or severe infection due to reduced immunity. Basically your body really breaks down when you don’t adapt or endure. However, Dr. Selye did not regard stress as all bad. He actually pointed out that stress is not only part of life, but can result from intense joy or pleasure.
Pain is stress. But there’s stress before every big payoff. In athlete training you stress your muscles in order to get stronger. In life you can guarantee pain and emotional stress up until the day you die. It’s going to happen, so how will you deal with it?
Don’t give up. Don’t make a permanent decision based on your temporary feelings. You know the right thing to do. Learn when to push through, but also learn when to rest. Endure. Persevere. Your character is being developed.
2nd Corinthians 4:17