Why Pain Matters
Updated: Feb 4
A dear friend of mine died last week. Another friend lost their first baby. Someone close to me told me, agonizing tears in their eyes, of an addiction they have been struggling with for years without telling a soul. What is it about pain that makes us so cognizant of what really matters? Why do we seem to need pain to be able to re-remember the important things in life?
"Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." -CS Lewis
This is not a philosophy paper, nor is it a theological sermon. So we won’t dive into the nature of pain or why it exists in a world with a good God.
The point is. It does exist.
I think, what we do with pain is incredibly important.
I’m going to make a huge assumption of you. I’m going to assume that at some point in your life, you’ve been in pain. I’m not talking about physical pain. I’m talking soul ache, weight of a stone in your chest, uncontrollable shaking, waves of grief pain.
I’ve been here. Recently. It's excruciating. If you’ve been here too, I’m truly sorry. If you’ve never been in this pain before, I envy you. But though I hate to be the bearer of unfortunate news...I have to tell you, it is coming. No one gets through this life unscathed by pain’s violent touch. So this is for you, too.
So, the question remains. What do we do with pain? Because what we do with it matters.
Do we bury it? Store it away for it to be “dealt” with later, out of sight.
Do we project it? Pretend that we’re not hurt, then reflect that same pain unwittingly on others in our radius of destruction?
Do we drown in it? Dive into the depths, grasping as we go to all the other half-healed wounds, till it all comes crashing down around us. Wallow in our grief, self-pity, and regret, ignoring like a selfish martyr the chances we could come up for air.
Pain. Sometimes pain is self-inflicted. Addiction, bad habits, laziness, regret. Sometimes it is family issues passed on from parents or siblings, unwanted hand-me-downs that we never asked for. Other times pain is completely external, thrust upon us by the proverbial universe. Unexpected tragedy, death, sickness, poverty, depression. Sometimes it's transition from an easy season to a desert season, learning how to grow amidst rocks when all you’ve known is fertile soil. Sometimes pain is finding your voice in the unknown. Pain has so many faces.
In any case, once pain arrives uninvited in your life, it is left for you to deal with. You can sort through it, stick on a shelf, throw it at innocent bystanders, or let it swallow you whole. You can call it your oppressor, call it nothing. It is neither.
"Pain demands to be felt." -John Green
In other words, it can’t stay on the shelf of life forever.
This is not a therapy session, I will not presume to tell you exactly how you should process your pain. That’s a counselor’s or a pastor’s role.
I will tell you this. Pain tells you three lies.
Pain tells you that you are a victim. You can believe it, swallow it, and surrender. But know that it’s a choice to do that. You can fight back. You can overcome.
Pain tells you that you are alone. That no one has ever felt like you feel now, and that no one would understand. Friend, you are never, ever alone.
And pain tells you that this way you’re feeling will never end. Crippling, debilitating despair is a sulfur smoke that comes from the pit of hell. The breeze of heaven will brush your skin once more, and you will feel joy again.
So. You have a wound.
You know what your pain is, and deep down, you know it can be healed. Maybe if you’re honest, you even know how to heal it. If you don’t know how to heal it, you probably know who to ask to help you. Ask them. You need to be healed to move forward. You cannot go on with this ghost at your back, haunting you forever.
Go on, you need to do it.
We’ve established you have a wound. Now, you’ve addressed the wound, the doctor washed it out, stitched it. Maybe it still burns when you touch it, but at least now you know it's healing. And once you heal, you can begin your walk forward in freedom.
(this is the long pause, the dissonance in the chord the orchestra plays, when all the world holds its breath to see if you will pick yourself up from the ground and stand)
You can see that wound as a limp you will walk with the rest of your life. OR. You can use that wound to propel you into a more whole life than before.
As excruciating a teacher and searing a lesson, pain is useful.
“You can let your pain cripple you or launch you.” -Matt Nelson
What a comfort it is to know that, as excruciating as pain is, it can be used to propel us into something productive. You can scrape off the pain from your skin, and leave it on the ground be
hind you. But I’m here to tell you that s*** is fertilizer. The pain is already off of you, it holds no power. But is it not redemptive that what you ripped off of you has some kind of purpose? You did not suffer and scrape for nothing. Plant something. Give meaning to the meaninglessness, speak life over your darkness.
Maybe it is a little utilitarian, but isn’t it completely satisfying to turn from something that was meant to weaken you and instead, come away all the stronger for it? Broken bones, when they mend, are even stronger than before, in the exact spot they were broken. Resilience amidst adversity creates more souls of substance, it gives us a backbone.
For those who were hurt by a specific person: is that not the best revenge, to climb out, victorious over the grave that was meant for you? To run onward, not even turning back to see the inflictor of your griefs, rocks in their hand? Forgive them, yes, but know you can leave your head held high, victorious over that trauma.
To quote the ever-wise Dumbledore,
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Your experiences, good and bad, make you uniquely situated to make a difference in this world. To make the world better. In a unique way, your childhood wound hurt you, you have a chance to remedy that in the life of another innocent child going through your same childhood. If you wish you had someone in your life as a child that could lessen your grief, give the gift of being that person to that child.
Maybe you walked through the last days of life with a family member and felt absolutely alone. Now, knowing the weight of that grief, you can help a friend go through the same situation with their family member.
Maybe you’ve dealt with shame and feel you didn’t have anyone you could trust with your secret. Be the person that someone else can trust, so they don’t have to walk through shame with the added burden of loneliness too.
In the way of life advice, I have yet to find better words than this:
“The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” -Frederick Buechner
Find out what makes your smile lines grow deeper, and what in this world moves you to tears. If you find that they overlap, do that thing. And you will have a meaningful life.
And I’ll tell you a secret…are you ready?
“Few things are as encouraging as the realization that things can be different, and that we have a role in making them so." -Daniel Taylor
I think that sentence is the single most inspiring sentence in the English language. Just think of the implications of that truth! Things as we know them can be different. They truly can. Restoration is actually possible.
Most growth comes from unseen places.
My least favorite season is spring. The winter seems to drag on and on, finally, the snow melts...and then we meet March. What an anticlimactic beginning, right? The snow is gone, but the ground is still brown, barren, lifeless. It seems the world has forgotten the color green. The sky is wrapped in a blanket of clouds, hiding the sun prisoner. Everywhere you look is muted sepia tones; gray and brown.
But this quiet hibernation is when seeds are doing the hardest work of pushing through the cold lifeless earth, towards the elusive sky above. No evidence of change happens until the brilliant green stem pushes, up and out, into the fresh clear air. That morning, we step outside, see green all around, and wonder why we ever doubted that Spring would come.
Pain is the grey, the brown, the cold March of the year. It’s not enjoyable, but it's absolutely necessary for the brilliant greens and golds we celebrate in August.
Dead things do come back to life. We see it every April. And Spring will come again.
I’ll leave you with a song to listen to. May it stir within you hope that has been lying dormant within your soul. May it awaken once more.
“If you’re lost and lonely, go and figure out why
Take a trip to your dark side, have a good cry/
If your face is down, take a look around, do your fingers move, do your lungs inflate?
Are you tired, are you weary of the hidden hate you’ve been holding/
Leave what’s heavy.
What’s heavy behind”