By: Jamie Klemashevich
When I was a child, I hated shots. Everyone did, but I really did. Clawing at the wall like a rabid animal in the futile hope that I could fight my way out of the situation kind of hatred. The doctors tried “framing” it in gentler ways. “You’re just going to feel a little stick.” “It’s just going to feel like you’re getting poked with a twig.” Nope. It felt like a sharp needle was jabbing into my sensitive arm and shooting in some kind of stinging venom that supposedly would keep me healthy! The reality is, I just don’t do well with pain. As I have matured, I have (thankfully) stopped trying to claw my way out of doctor’s offices when they mention the need for a shot. I even take myself to get a flu shot every year, knowingly subjecting myself to what I am starting to suspect will always be painful. The truth is, I just hate pain. The problem with this, of course, is that pain is sometimes essential. All pain is not the same, and all pain does not necessarily indicate that something is wrong. The pain of a child running away from home is different than the pain of a child successfully launching and leaving home. Both are painful and indicate similar scenarios. However, the first type of pain indicates that something terrible has occurred. The second type indicates a real pain of loss, but one that accompanies positive change.
Our society has been labeled “therapeutic” in that we try to ease pain and promote well-being. These two goals are not necessarily wrong, but they are not necessarily opposed. Promoting well-being does not always include the easing of pain. In fact, we may need to increase certain kinds of pain in order to become well. A very basic example is the treatment of cancer. Many people with cancer will increase their experience of pain through chemo in order to promote ultimate physical health. We tend to accept the reality that pain is sometimes necessary to physical health. We will endure the pain of exercise or flu shots for the sake of physical health. However, we often don’t recognize the value of pain in the spiritual and emotional realms. This is where a therapeutic mindset often takes over. If I am not feeling appropriately “uplifted” or “confident”, then this must not be good. If I am emotionally uncomfortable, experiencing fear or insecurity, then I should not proceed in the current direction. This pattern stunts growth. Growth requires pain, or at least discomfort.
Pain is a signal. It is up to us how we interpret that signal. If I feel uneasy, it is important to pay attention to that. However, my initial reaction to discomfort will always be to get away from it, and that is not always best. Instead of instantly interpreting pain or discomfort as a sign that I should stop or move away, I need to evaluate the pain to see what it is signaling. Sore muscles usually mean that I have had a hard workout, and they indicate growth. Sore muscles when I have not exercised may indicate oncoming sickness.
When I experience pain in my spiritual life, I need to evaluate what that pain indicates. It may be the pain of conviction that indicates the need for repentance. It may be the pain of my fleshly desires dying, which indicates that I need to continue walking in the spirit, enduring the painful death of my sinful flesh. If I move away from that pain, then I am appeasing my flesh, and that will eventually result in death. Emotionally, if I feel pain in a relationship, I need to evaluate it as well. That pain may be an indication that I am enduring criticism or abuse and that I need to take action to resolve conflict or step away from the relationship. However, emotional pain also results from the death of my selfishness. Sometimes, I am serving another person, and that can be painful. Sometimes, I am working to resolve conflict, and that can be painful. Sometimes, I am taking steps to develop a relationship, which comes with its own set of insecurities and emotional risks. In the latter cases, discomfort indicates health and growth. It indicates that something is right.
In therapy, counselors often talk about addressing avoidance or processing trauma. These therapists are indicating the need to walk a painful, uncomfortable path in order to grow and change. A life lived apart from discomfort is indeed a pitiful life. It is a life marked by stagnation and self protection. It is a life that is choked by fear, a life lived looking in from the outside rather than engaging in the glorious battle of living. It is a life of isolation, since true intimacy comes as a byproduct of hard work and painful engagement when we want to quit. It is a spiritually dead life, void of the sanctification that brings life through the painful death of the flesh. If you want to truly live, you must recognize and embrace the role that pain will play in bringing about an abundant life.
I don’t pretend to be good at this. Just this week, I felt conviction in a conversation with a friend and desperately wanted to change the subject. But I’m grateful for that conversation. I’m grateful that God saw fit to expose my flesh so that I could better walk in the spirit. The call to action here is simple, but not easy. Fight the urge to run from discomfort. Stay with pain long enough to evaluate it. Develop a willingness to face the uncomfortable, and even the painful. Some of the most beautiful, life-giving moments reside on the other side of our fear and discomfort. There is no cheating your way around it. Trust that God will be with you every step of the way, as he is not one to shy away from pain. Our Savior embraced pain for our benefit. Suffering was the avenue to our salvation. He has endured pain, and He will be with us through pain. Our peace and confidence does not come from comfortable circumstances and emotions, but from the presence of our loving Savior who is with us through every moment of fear, pain, and discomfort. I can courageously face what I know will be uncomfortable because I have the Comforter with me. I can walk into uncertain circumstance because I trust my God who is absolutely, always certain. When I experience pain, insecurity, rejection, or failure, I know that He has not left me and that I am safe with Him.
If you find yourself in what seems like an unshakeable pattern of avoidance toward discomfort, then counseling may be the best avenue to help you shake that pattern. We would love to walk with you on the courageous journey to face the uncomfortable in order to achieve growth and change.