What do you do with Pain?

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

I went to a funeral last week, and I have been turning it over and over in my mind ever since. I didn't know the man well, only as an acquaintance. But I know his little daughter. He was young, and it was awful, as you can imagine, and my heart absolutely breaks for the young family he leaves behind. Their sorrow is great. And I have no power to fix it. I have been crying all week, every time I think of them. Not pretty.

And yesterday I spoke with a friend, and she related that a few of her daughter's friends are breaking down under the stress they are experiencing, in school and at home. There are so many pressures with which they are dealing. So many kids (and adults) are in the same boat. I know this isn't specific to my neighborhood, in my community. It is a pervasive problem. Depression and anxiety and trouble are rampant. There is just so much hard. So. Much. And so much you cannot change. And that can be a crushing feeling.

Life is hard. One instant everything is going fine, and then the next moment you are in free-fall and can't catch your breath. It happens to everyone at some time or another. We want that feeling to go away as fast as possible (ok...well I feel that way, anyway). What is worse than dealing with our own trouble is watching someone you love go through something. Watching your children go through it. We think if we could pave the bumpy roads for our kids, then we can set them up for success later in life. If we can keep them from pain, then they will be better off, right?

I heard once about a young girl who had nerve damage that was so severe, she could not feel pain. She had no sensation of physical pain whatsoever--she could have a compound fracture and not feel it at all. Her parents were constantly terrified that she would become injured--she could cut herself and bleed to death, never feeling a thing. They wanted desperately for her to be able to sense pain.

Think of that. What if pain can serve some greater purpose? Pain is sometimes like having a guardrail. It can keep you from further danger, as in the case of the young girl. Pain like that we can wrap our heads around, even if we don't like to. We can all easily understand the self-induced kind of pain, in which you have made a mess due to some bad decisions, and now you are reaping the consequences. Sometimes it is useful. Pain can be a powerful teacher. But lots of times, pain doesn't make sense. It doesn't have an origin in natural consequences. It just comes. In those situations, we founder.

C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia series (and a lot of other wonderful books), was an atheist who became a Christian after World War I. He once wrote, "Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

That is a challenging statement. It sounds bizarre. I know. If you are reading this quote for the first time ever, or you have never heard this kind of thing before, don't give up on me yet. Keep reading to the end. I know this is a lot to unpack in my humble little blog.

So what does it all mean?

When everything is running smoothly, we tend to take credit for the successes. When everything is in turmoil, we look for someone to rescue us, and sometimes someone to blame. Most of us aren't looking for God when we live in ease. I know that personally, because it took intense pain in my life to get me to the point where there was no place left to look for help but UP. And when you look up for help, God is waiting for you. He was with you all along, and has been waiting patiently for you to ask him to step in. Just so you know, if you have always just pictured God floating on a cloud in heaven and kept him there, he waits to be invited into your life.

"I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Jesus, quoted in John 16:33

"God works ALL things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose." Paul, in his letter to the Romans, 8:28 (emphasis mine)

The Bible has a lot to say on these things, but for now we'll just peek at these two verses. Here is the breakdown: Trouble and pain are inescapable. This is devastating truth. No one leaves this life without battle scars. No one. Even the person you watch who appears to have a Golden Existence (online OR off), she will go through some serious stuff. Everyone does.

In these verses, you catch a glimpse of what God promises. You will have pain, but it will not be wasted. He is in the business of making beauty out of ashes. Are you still with me? He can make something beautiful out of what feels like wretched, pointless, useless, awful pain. If you have stuck with me this far and this is all new to you, I know it sounds crazy. But it is true. He can use the most devastating thing(s) in your life to bring something beautiful. It does not mean it won't still hurt. It still hurts.

For a caterpillar to become a butterfly, there is a lot of gruesome change. It is a necessary preparation. There is struggle breaking from the chrysalis, but without it, the butterfly isn't able to spread its wings. But the final product is beautiful, graceful, and prepared to soar.

Jesus was called a "man of sorrows." He is God who stepped into history to walk on the earth in this life with us, and he fully understands how hard are our troubles. He didn't have a home. He cried when his close friend died. When he needed them most, his other friends denied even knowing him. He was tortured and killed for a crime he did not commit. He isn't the king on a throne who cannot relate to the common man. He gets it. Completely.

We can bear a lot of pain when we must, when we know that there is significant purpose behind it (hello, childbirth). But even when we cannot see purpose and none of it makes sense, just know--your heartbreak doesn't have to end at heartbreak. There will be more to the story, if you give it over to God and invite him into your life. Maybe you can take from this a different frame of reference, and you can be assured that God will never waste your tears. He can work all things for good.

"Cast your cares on him because he cares for you." Peter, referring to Jesus. 1 Peter 5:7

I recognize this is not a sufficient explanation for the pain people suffer. I just want you to know that there is hope in spite of our worst troubles and anxieties. If you are in the place where the world feels like it is closing in around you, try calling out to Jesus. He is close to the brokenhearted, even when the brokenhearted do not sense him. He is there, waiting.

xo, Ann Marie

PS: Just to clarify: Does this mean you should stop taking pain medication? No. Should you stop taking anti-anxiety/depression meds? No. These are wonderful medical advances we can embrace. Is meeting with counselors or psychiatrists a good idea? Yes! They are professionals who can help you build up healthy coping skills and give you a safe place to talk. But I know for certain that Jesus is the Answer, the umbrella over all the other medical/counseling/coping answers you can find.

This is just my response to what I have witnessed this week. Excellent books have been written on this topic that you may want to check out. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to talk more.

For Further Reading:

The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis

Why Suffering? Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale

If God is Good, Randy Alcorn

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