Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Pain is unavoidable (Lesson #3)

There’s no plainer way to put it.

You can’t avoid pain.

Not if you want to get anywhere, that is. Not if you want to get better.

This is what makes avoidance so dangerous. I should know. I know now.

Avoidance of confrontation, of taking the bull by the horns, of making decisions, of demanding more of oneself (or of others), when appropriate. In practicing avoidance for a considerable proportion of my life, I just assumed that I had found a smart way to circumvent pain. I learned a lesson, though: Your pain is waiting for you.

I’m not being ‘prophetic’ or anything like that. I’m referring to unresolved pain which remains unresolved because it’s not confronted. You can choose to deal with it now, or you can decide to postpone it till later, but ignoring it won’t erase its existence.

It has to be dealt with. The sooner, the better, I’ve learned. I like to quote a bishop I used to know who would always say, ‘The serpent in the Book of Genesis became a dragon by the Book of Revelation. Deal with your serpent while it’s still a serpent.’ Hearing that never failed to give me the chills.

If anyone asked me what my favorite Bible verses are, it would be impossible for me to say. But there are some verses that I tend to refer to more often than others because of how deep they are. As I was thinking about what to write on the subject of pain, I remembered two verses that are among my ‘go-to’ scriptures when things get tough. The first one is Hebrews 12:11 (NIV):

‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest … for those who have been trained by it.’

Who would’ve thought that we could actually harvest something from our pain? I’m all for a good harvest! If that’s the case, then what are we waiting for? If that’s the case, then how come we’d rather not touch that form of ‘labor’ with a ten-foot pole?

Not everyone reaps a harvest from their pain, though. The only folks that do are the ones who aren’t afraid to actually engage with their pain – to use their pain as a training ground. Why go through pain for nothing when you can actually use it to make a difference in your life and that of others?

The rmj blog has primarily been about my own pain. I can honestly say that processing my pain in this way (and there are a variety of ways of doing so) has had a profound effect on my life. I was about to say that it has changed me, but I don’t think ‘changed’ is the right word. I’m still the same person I’ve always been, but confronting my own pain has revived parts of me that were always there, but that got suppressed over the years. It has awakened parts of me that are critical for living this life that I must live, and it has helped me identify and begin addressing those parts that haven’t been so helpful. I honestly feel like there’s no other way this ‘miracle’ could’ve happened. It had to take something drastic for me, personally, to wake up and live, rather than just exist.

The second passage is a ‘golden oldie’ from James 1:2-4 (J.B. Phillips version this time, though):

‘When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives …, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become [wo]men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

Let the process go on. Until that endurance is fully developed, so we can be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

In the past, I used to be really skeptical when I’d hear the testimonies of cancer patients. I’ve heard many of them say that cancer was a gift. I would always think, How can? They’ve got to be either lying or delusional. I’ve heard many talk about how they didn’t start really living until after cancer invaded their lives.

I can relate to that so much better now. I’m not sick, thank God, but I can relate to the notion that life after surviving a really devastating and difficult experience can end up being better that it was before. This has been my own experience in regard to divorce. I love the idea of marriage. I’m nothing if not the marrying type. I admire and applaud good, strong, healthy marriages. But I know the difference between being married and dead and being divorced and alive. I have lived the difference, and in many ways, I see my current marital status as a personal gift. I can only see this now, though. Four or five years ago, I was much too disoriented to see a thing. I’ve noticed that the cancer survivors I referred to previously also construct the disease as a gift only after they’ve been through it and have come out on the other side.

I am honestly a much better version of myself now, given my experiences. Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Pain perfects us, as long as we push through and allow ourselves to be trained by it. It’s like pushing through from a two-minute jog to a twenty-five minute jog. It’s like doing squats and waking up the next day, unable to move your legs. I hate squats with a passion, but if that’s what it takes to get in shape, I guess there’s no point trying to avoid doing them.  

My last quote for the day is by Kenji Miyazawa:

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.

I just came across this yesterday and found that it tied in so well with what I was trying to convey in this post. What this statement tells me (apart from the fact that not shying away from pain is smart) is that pain can be productive if we let it. There is absolutely no reason why I should have had to go through whatever I’ve been through for nothing. If we let it, our pain can be the fuel that gets us to our next destination point along our individual journeys.

May God help us all.

P.S. – I finally jogged for 30 minutes non-stop today. I’m a jogger.


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