On Pain and Growth
Does anyone out there like pain? I know that I sure don’t. You know what I like? Comfort. Ease. Luxury. I like the idea of me in a beach chair, reclined on a beautiful secluded island, sipping an iced cinnamon dolce latte with the warm sun beating down on me. I like the seasons in life that feel easy, when things just seem to click, everything just seems too function with minimal effort and strength exerted. Unfortunately, those aren’t the times in life when I do the most growing. Growth comes when life gets hard. I listened to a teaching from Steven Furtick recently. He talked about how eating Dorito’s may bring him comfort in the moment, but it is actually bad for his body. On the other hand, exercise might bring discomfort in the moment, but it is actually very good for your body and overall health. In another teaching I listened to, T. D. Jakes describes a leg injury he had. The doctor urged him to walk on it and it hurt…a lot. The doctor told him, “It might hurt, but it won’t hurt you.” Pain is always going to be uncomfortable, but there is a difference between pain that is good for you and pain that just hurts.
Looking at my own life, I realize that I am never more challenged to grow than when I am experiencing some pain and discomfort in my life. Pain challenges me to get really honest with myself. Where am I (really) at in my relationship with Jesus? What have I allowed to get in the way of that relationship with him? What lies have I been believing that need to be challenged and confronted? What ways of thinking and operating have I been living with that have ultimately been detrimental to my growth and kept me stunted? Am I living with unresolved pain? What roots need to be pulled up so I can break out of unhealthy patterns? These are all questions I never ask myself when life is easy. There is no need to. Sometimes the only way that God can get our attention is by allowing us to get to a point that we are so uncomfortable that we are finally willing to recognize and accept that we need a drastic change. But guess what? The road to change is painful and not easy. But it’s the good kind of pain. The kind that brings you from where you are to where you need to be. It’s the kind of pain that produces something good in you. It’s useful pain. Life-transforming pain.
Here’s the thing. Even when we live in our comfort zones, we experience pain to some degree. The pain of settling for a life that is less than God has for us. The pain of knowing that we are not living in and experiencing true freedom. The pain of secretly wishing life was different. The pain of knowing we were made for something more, but feeling stuck where we are. This is the kind of pain that tricks us into thinking we are okay where we are at. It might be a dull ache, but it saps us of our energy, strength and vitality. We need to trade our pain. We need to suck it up, surrender and get ready to handle the pain of surgery and recovery. We might as well choose the sort of pain that leads us down the road of growth and restoration.
When Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross, he said this to His disciples:
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. (John 16:20-22)
I just love that! Jesus allowed his disciples to weep, to mourn and to grieve. He didn’t have to allow that. He could have chosen not to go to the cross. Imagine the relief it would have given His disciples in the moment, if He had just decided not to go. If he told them, I won’t go to the cross. I’ll stay with you instead. Jesus could have lived out the remainder of his human existence teaching and instructing his disciples. He could have died of old age instead. That would have brought the disciples great comfort. However, they would never know the joy of experiencing eternal salvation. They would have no idea what it is to have God live in them, by His Holy Spirit. And they would ultimately, experience the pain of eternal separation from Jesus. A pain far worse than the temporary separation that the crucifixion would bring.
We have the tendency to think that pain is bad, but some pain is good and protects us from experiencing far worse pain later on. Sometimes the road that God leads us down is long, tedious and painful. Stay the course. God is a God of suddenly. When we allow God to lead us down the road of suffering, we will reach a point where our grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. The sort of joy we are talking about is real and lasting. It’s different from the momentary comforts that only leave us feeling good for so long. Just wait for it, in a moment’s notice, your pain is going to have to move aside and make room for the great joy that is going to flood your life.