Friday, January 6, 2012
No Pain: No Gain
Ok, so the title is a bit of a cliche, but hey, truth never goes out of style.
Imagine with me. You are 5, out in the backyard armed with hammer and nails, building a birdhouse. Your thoughts are filled with showing your dad when he comes home, and absentmindedly hammering away at the nearest nail, you miss and squash your thumb. You jump up screaming, go running into the house into your moms arms, and she kisses it, blows on it, hugs you, and tells you to go play outside again.
You're now 10, and you are helping your dad build a shed. You are proud to be helping your dad do something, and in your arrogance, you smash your thumb with a bigger, badder hammer than before. You make a funny face, wave your hand in the air hoping somehow it will ease the pain you feel in you mangled appendage, and after biting your lip to keep from hollering, you continue on, not using that hand as much as possible.
Now, you're 24, and you are building your own shed in your own back yard, a toddler watching you from the sliding glass door. You glance at him as you are putting in the last nail, and before you know it, you have done it again. Your thumb is telling you in no uncertain terms just how much that blow did not land where it was intended. But you wince, flop it around a bit, and get back to work.
What changed? Was it the place? Air pollution generally doesn't help to ease pain.
Was it the hammer? As time went on, the hammers got heavier and gnarlier.
It certainly wasn't the nail.
What changed is you got used to the pain. You pain tolerance increased and you are able to take more pain with less reaction. You are able to hit your thumb harder than you did before and react less than you did before. That's called building a pain tolerance. I have built a pain tolerance in many things more than when I was younger, because I have been beat up, worked, roughed up, and knocked about as a young man, and things hurt less now than they used to.
God gives us things in life, to toughen us up for things in the future. God let you hit your thumb when you were 5 so it would hurt less when you were 10, and even less when you were 24. The more pain we have, the more we get used to it, and learn to cope with it. In fact, I am pretty certain the only way we can ever have any tolerance to any pain, is because we have done it a few hundred times beforehand, and gotten used to it. It goes beyond just physical pain, but spiritual pain as well.
That being said, I need to classify pain. There are two types of pain. Physical, and Spiritual. Both can happen for perfectly normal reasons, both can happen because you made bad choices and are now reaping the consequences of your decision. You can hit your finger with your hammer because you merely missed the nail, or because you were being proud and God was humbling you a bit. That's the physical pain. You can feel hurt inside because your boss said something that really cut deep, just because he was in a bad mood, or because you were outa line and God was using him to get you back in line. All are legitimate examples of pain in our lives, but different circumstances and reasons.
As a general populace, we don't like pain. Pain is discouraged, avoided, and worked around at all costs - literally. One only has to look in Walmart to prove it. You have a pain killer for every type of pain out there. Stomach pain? We have the food isle. Mental pain? The self-help magazine isle. Physical pain? Drugs and steroids over the counter.
We even as Christians can be obsessed with avoiding pain. We will try to avoid conflict, because we don't want to deal with the pain that follows. We don't want to deal with the sin in our own lives, because ouch, that hurts.
The only problem is that we tend to forget that God allows pain in our lives to help us. Our pastor put it very well. Pain always changes you. It makes you do one of two things. You either seek God more, or become bitter.
So that pain you feel when you were hurt by what your mom said, will either drive you closer to God, or farther away. That pain you feel when you were belittled by your big brother will either drive you closer to God or farther away. Everything will do one or the other - but not both or none. What pain does, is either increase or decrease your faith. It either makes you believes less in God, and more in your own personal self, or less in you, and more in the big and powerful God.
You have a choice when you are hurt. You can take that pain, nurture it, stew it, put it in a pot and sick back and fertilize it, and deal with it in your own time and way, driving a wedge of bitterness and hurt in-between you and God. Or, you can feel hurt, take that pain to God, and say "Here, I'm hurt. I really want to get back and be mad, but I want to please you. Please take this hurt away and make me love them more like Christ." You just drew closer to God, and it was the pain that brought you around to doing it. To top it all off, that process of going to God with your pain, is building your faith. You believed Him when he told you to cast all your cares on him. You believed Him when he said pray for those who despitefully use you. Faith is believing what God said is real, is real. You know what you believe, by what you do. If you had turned away from him and nurtured your hurt, you would have been not believing Him, since you obviously thought your own way was better.
I heard a phrase once, that wen't something like this. If you have faith when things are going easy, life is smooth, sky is sunny, that's not really faith. Faith is when the world is falling apart around you, you have nowhere to turn, you can't do anything, but you still believe in the the one who can. That is faith, and one of the ways God uses to get us there is by pain.
Its that pain that acts as a warning and a reminder to keep on track with what God wants us to be doing. If we didn't have problems and pain every time we strayed from God, I doubt we would ever come back!
Now, it must be clearly understood that not all pain comes from bad choices. Job for example. He was righteous before God, but God still allowed pain and suffering to happen to him, to test his faith and patience. We might tend to think that we shouldn't have to have pain because we never did anything, and things are always fine and dandy when you are following God. Well, Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He NEVER did anything even remotely wrong, but he came and suffered and died, with LOADS of pain, so that we might be saved. So the argument of you only have pain when you slipped up somewhere doesn't really hold up.
I find the times in my life I grow the most in trusting and following God, is when things are tough, nobody is cooperating, and life is merely crumbling around me. That's when God shows me how much I really stink and how much I need him. I grow in faith, and I grow in obeying him in trials.
I heard a quote once, that went something like this.
"We as a people aren't happy, not because we don't have enough things to make us happy, but we aren't happy because we don't have enough things to make us sad."
Pain and suffering also makes us appreciate peace and ease more than before! If you have been through some really tough times, physically of spiritually, you realize how nice and easy your life was before, and you appreciate those calm times more often.
To sum it all up, God uses pain to our benefit, and if there is no pain, there is no gain.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" - Romans 8:28
So get used to pain, and see what you can learn from it along the way. Turn to God with all of your pains, physical and spiritual, and ask him to help you bear all of them.
This here is mainly for the men, but the girls can too: Next time you have decent physical pain, i.e. headache, just hand your hand clobbered in a sword fight, feet are killing you from a long hike, etc., see how long you can take it without caving in. You'd be surprised how far you can go and how much pain you can tolerate if you really push yourself. I've tried it recently, and I've amazed myself. We tend to give in at pretty minimal pain overall, when we in reality could take a lot more and keep going. Granted, there is a point where it is prudent to stop and let things rest and recuperate a bit, but that point is a lot farther down the line than we think.
So be ready next time something hurts. You just might learn something.