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Letting Pain Speak

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We as a society hate pain.  We do everything we can to numb it as soon as it comes up.  In many ways we are products of hedonistic and enlightenment philosophy which says that pain is bad, and all of our decisions should be framed by causing the least pain and cultivating the most comfort or happiness. Think about it.  How often is a major decision made based on causing the most perceivable pleasure and least amount of pain.

Granted, there is an understandable element of survival that drives these decisions.  It goes against our will to survive if we do not listen to a pain trigger, examine its cause and seek to alleviate it.  Yet, the main issue problem is not that we are quick to notice the cause and address it, but that we seek to quickly turn off the signal.  As examined in my previous post, merely turning off the warning light does not deal with the issue.  It is because of this that many of us do not know how to really deal with pain.  We numb it.  We address the symptom, while the underlying cause corrodes within.

The only way to deal with pain is to go through it.  If we sidestep it or constantly numb it, we will never see what the underlying cause for the pain is.  Pain is a signal.  It exists to tell us that something is hurting us and it is this cause, not the pain itself, which needs to be addressed if the pain will ever go away.  Now, we must remember the state of depravity in which we live.  In our fallen world, pain is invariably a way of life.  So many things can cause us suffering and even if we examine every cause and address every symptom, pain will never go completely away.  Yet, there is a purpose in suffering.

What happens when we let suffering affect us?  What if we actually sit in the pain and let it speak.  Suffering in not a sign of weakness but can actually be redemptive if we let God work in it and not seek to numb it and move on.  Consider the author of Hebrews.  He writes that Christ was “proven perfect through suffering.” Jesus suffered much, the betrayal by one of his 12, denied by one of his three closest friends; not once, but three times.  He saw numerous people ask for a sign of his power, receive it, then still refuse to acknowledge him as Lord.  Furthermore, he endured the cross despite numerous temptations to circumvent it.  Jesus knows suffering well.  This proves that suffering is not an inherent sign of weakness but in fact has an element of proving.  Our God, as Christ, endured the cross for the glory to be revealed in the resurrection.

Gold cannot be refined without being broken down and heated.  So too, a human cannot be refined without an element of suffering.  We too need to be broken down, have the heat applied and our impurities rise to the surface so they can be skimmed off.  I admit that this is difficult.  It can be downright brutal to go through this, which is why so many of us seek to turn off the flame.  Yet we wonder why we make no progress.  If we desire to be refined, we must first understand that it takes fire. It takes hammering, melting, heating, milling, being broken down, and being rebuilt many times.  If we endure this process, we will be stronger and closer to God through it.  The promise for the Christian is not for a life without suffering, but for something greater, worth the suffering.

So what do we say about this?  “Should we seek out pain so that we may be refined?” By no means! Instead, we should enter into every trial with the hope of refinement and redemption.  Enough trials will arise without us seeking them out.

“Should we never seek to help others because helping is just a form of numbing?”  No, for we need each other to come alongside us as we suffer for some trials are not meant to be endured alone.  This is how our Lord intercedes for us to the Father, so too should we intercede for others.  We should not seek to numb others pain and suffering by glossing over it or offering whatever our selected “painkiller” would be.  Yet in a society which silences pain, perhaps it is time to let it speak.  Look for the redemptive thread.  See how the Lord can use even our suffering to bring about something greater.


Warning Lights Part 1

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This past weekend was crazy and stressful.  I experienced the death of my grandmother, and had been asked to perform the funeral.  It was a tremendous honor to be able to do this for my family and in my times of preparation, I realized that we as a culture do not have many resources for dealing with deep emotions, or even a good understanding of what emotions mean.

One goes through a myriad of emotions when dealing with death.  There is the innate sense of loneliness one feels when the reality sets in: this person is gone.  It can happen any time, especially after we feel like we have “gotten over it” or “moved on.”  Seeing their bed empty or the coffee cup they always used can bring back a flood of sadness when we least expect it.  This loneliness is often coupled with many other emotions.  We all feel sadness that life must invariably end.  We regret not spending more time with the person or getting to know them, and often this leads to guilt.  Yet not all emotions surrounding death are negative.  In the case of my grandmother, who had suffered from a degenerative disease for several years before she passed, there was a sense of relief and peace that she struggles no more.  Yet, I felt a sense of guilt that I was not sad, or at least I wasn’t as sad as I should be.

You see these emotions are normal.  As all emotions, they can be best thought of as similar to the warning lights on the dashboard of a car.  For those who have both normally functioning emotions and those of us with chemical differences, emotions are just feelings.  They signal something deeper and often we need help to discover what is setting it off.  When the “Check Engine” light pops up on the dashboard, most of us will have no idea what is wrong.  The same is true with many emotions.  If we just sit in our emotion and do not try to figure out the root cause, then it is like driving around with the “Check Engine” light.  Eventually something will break.

In the case of funerals, the roots of our emotions are fairly easy to spot.  A loved one died, so I feel sad.  Pretty straightforward.  This would be like checking the engine to find out you are low on oil.  Simple problem, simple solution.  Sometimes though, they are not as easy and require some thought and maybe the help of a trained professional.  For example, in times of grief we may feel angry or numb.  The roots are not as easy to spot and could stem from really anything.  This is akin to checking the engine only to find that there is nothing physically wrong, and one would have to take apart the engine to discover the reason for the warning light.

Yet, why do we sit with our emotions flashing and signaling deep problems without seeking out someone to help?  I suppose it is the same reason why many of us drive around with defective vehicles and glowing “Check Engine” lights.  It seems easier.  We can just put a piece of tape over the light so now we don’t have to see it anymore.  We can mask our emotions with polite conversation and platitudes or self medicate with drugs and other addictions.  Eventually the tape will fall off, or the underlying issue requiring the warning light will turn into a much more serious problem.

We may not all need professional assistance, but each and every one of us must be willing to dig deeper and not just let our emotions be when they could be signaling a serious problem.  Instead of covering up the light, perhaps we should actually check the engine.  (In my next article, I will further develop this foundation to those of us who may not have an easily identifiable cause for our emotions, those with central nervous system disorders.)