I don’t know about you, but from little on I’ve been conditioned to avoid pain…of all sorts. Don’t jump off that rock, you’ll hurt yourself. Don’t run, you’ll fall. Don’t tell someone how you feel about them, they’ll reject you. Don’t make that risky career move, you’ll fail & be poor. Do anything you can to avoid pain.
But the rule of life is we can’t completely avoid pain…at least not forever. The nature of the muscle disease I’ve been blessed with is chronic physical pain. Some days the pain is significantly more intense than others, but it’s almost always there. The past several weeks have been an intensely painful season. And while there’s not much I can do about it, one thing I can do is go to the gym. I know that if I hop on the treadmill for even 30 minutes I will feel better the next day because the pain needs to be forced out by movement.
But, the current pain, which makes me cringe just walking up to the counter at Starbucks, keeps me from actually going to the gym. Because I know that the actual workout itself will hurt, it will be significantly more painful than sitting still. It doesn’t matter that tomorrow I’ll feel better, I know the pain is going to get worse before it gets better and so I choose to stick with the hardly bearable, yet bearable, pain of sitting still.
As I was complaining to God about this situation the other day, it hit me how often I do that very same thing with the pain of life. I think that’s true for many of us. We’ll tell you we’re unhappy, miserable, etc. And we know that if we’d do the hard work to get through the pain we’d be happier on the other side. But we also now it will hurt more before it hurts less & we’re not sure our hearts & souls can take it. So, we settle for the hardly bearable, yet bearable, pain of sitting still.
I wonder how our lives might look different if we could recondition ourselves to run headfirst into pain rather than avoid it. If we actually made decisions that put us in the line of pain’s fire knowing we’d get hit but that at some point we’d find ourselves sweetly exhausted on the road to recovery.
How would your life look different if you put yourself through a little reconditioning?
Do you ever have a conversation with a friend & walk away feeling like a year of your life has just flashed before your eyes? First in rewind & then in fast forward?
Those moments leave me trying to wrap my mind around all of it, but more than that they leave my heart completely overwhelmed with gratitude. Because most of the time, God uses those conversations to help me clearly see what He has been up to in my life. He uses a friend’s encouragement to make me fully aware of the healing & growth He has been orchestrating in my life; to help me realize that He has turned scabs into scars.
I’ve had several conversations like that over the past couple of weeks, and it’s got me reflecting on this post from last July. I wanted healing, not just relief, & I think I’ve found it.
But my pastor also pointed out something else that hit hard: Jesus let Lazarus die before he raised him. He could have healed from his sickness before he died. But He didn’t. You see, while God is the ultimate healer He is also in the business of restoration. And oftentimes that means death before new life. Resurrection simply cannot occur without death. It’s impossible. (full post here)
Even though the whole idea of death before life is still hard to swallow at times it also still gives me comfort. Comfort in the death knowing that new life is on the other side.
What is the relationship between art & pain?
Gary Molander posed that question a few months back on his blog & it’s been bouncing around in my head ever since.
I believe that pain may be one of the greatest catalysts for art we will ever know. When we feel pain we are alive. And pain most often leads to brokenness. There, our hearts are exposed. And we create from a place of vulnerability & truth. A place of honesty where we get out of own way. Where our masks have been shed & we have less to protect.
We create in those moments because we can’t not create. Because we know of no other response than to paint or write or dance or sing. And the result is art that embodies brokenness & grace. Suffering & joy. Redemption & restoration. Art that cries out desperately for the Kingdom that is to come but that lives in the hope of the Kingdom that is here.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of history’s great artists also suffered much. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that artists are stereotypically “emotional” or “moody.” I think God has wired artists to feel more intensely than most & He’s given us that as a gift to propel us to create. To create art that reflects His constant work of creating beauty out of our ashes…wholeness from shattered pieces…life from pain.
Do you think there is a relationship between art & pain?
Pain. A word that has as many connotations as there are people. And a word that I think often gets a bad rap.
Physical pain has been a very real, very constant presence in my life over the last five and a half years. But I’ve learned to live with it. I know what I can do to ease the pain until it passes knowing that tomorrow will be better. And I can press on without it consuming me.
But physical pain is nothing compared to emotional pain. I’m learning lately that the more layers you peel back of yourself, the more masks you shed, the more vulnerable you are, the more you risk in relationships & interactions with others, the more pain you are inviting in. It’s only natural. Not until your heart is exposed & open can it be hurt.
But I would also argue that not until your heart is exposed & open can it really truly feel. And if it can’t truly feel it can’t truly be alive. To be alive is to feel. To hurt is to be alive.
I’m learning that out of pain often comes deep joy. A joy that is chosen based on facts not fleeting feelings. A joy that is founded on the Unchanging. A joy that is unexplainable…that leads to an equally unexplainable peace.
I’m beginning to think I’m willing to endure the pain if it means being alive. If it means having an unspeakable unending joy. Because I want a heart that is open. A heart that can feel. A heart that’s alive. One that breaks for the broken. Hurts for the hurting. Rejoices with the celebrating. And one that can love, deeply & well.
These two thoughts have been rolling around in my head as I’ve been pondering this whole idea of pain:
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It’s his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. – C.S. Lewis
You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy – John Calvin
What’s your take on pain? Is it a welcomed presence in your life?
I’ve gone back and forth on this post for several weeks. Written. Rewritten. Completely started over. Something about saying that church is irrelevant just hasn’t sat quite right with me.
But then I realized that perhaps it was the reasons I had claimed church was irrelevant that weren’t sitting quite right with me. A conviction that the reasons I had written about shouldn’t make church irrelevant.
Thinking back on the last 5 years of my life I finally admitted to myself that church is irrelevant for me because oftentimes it seems to brush aside pain. It wants to overlook our weakness in suffering. Yes, it’s tempting to preach a Gospel that will cure all pain & suffering but it’s false.
Pain & suffering are a fact of life. In fact God makes it pretty clear in Scripture that we will experience them here on earth. Sure they seem to set up camp more in the lives of some than others, but they leave a mark on every single one of our lives in some way. Yet despite that, something in our human nature wants to hide them…to pretend they don’t exist.
And when a church tries to claim that faith will take away all pain that’s when it becomes irrelevant for me. Because I know otherwise. I’ve experienced otherwise. It took years of physical pain & suffering to really drive this home for me but I get it now…at least a little bit. I know that talking about pain and weakness is uncomfortable. I know it can hurt to see others in pain. But my prayer is that as a Church we can get past that. Because if we don’t I think there’s a lot of hurting people in the world that are going to see church as irrelevant for their lives.
What, if anything, makes church irrelevant for you?
Photo Credit: Sarah Jensen