It is inevitable. It is universal. And in my best approximation, it is the single most influential factor in the decisions we make on a daily basis. Pain. What we do with it and what we do to avoid it really makes up the plot line of our lives.
And pain is a fascinating subject. Most of my education on the matter was learned over bad coffee in recovery group meetings 15 years ago. Nobody wants to grow up and be an addict. No matter where you land on the nature vs nurture side of the addiction argument, one thing is clear. When people don’t know what to do with pain, they go looking for answers.
While it is true that my life looks different now, some things don’t change. Marriage, kids and a house in the suburbs may have changed my surroundings, but human nature hasn’t. In my friend groups, in my church, in my business, I still see people everywhere looking for a way to deal with pain. It may not be the sex-drugs-rock’n’roll life of my recovery friends, but it is no less detrimental.
Pain comes at us from a thousand different directions and in varying degrees of devastation. It is uncomfortable and our immediate reaction is to get rid of it as quickly as possible. The goal isn’t to feel good; the goal is to feel nothing. So we go looking for things that will numb the pain. Depending on how you grew up and what your current social circle deems acceptable, you pick your “drug” of choice and use that thing on repeat. Only occasionally at first, but more and more over time until it eventually becomes a part of your world. Alcohol. Work. Making $. Spending $. Sex (or at least porn). Codependency. Gambling. Volunteering. Exercise. People-pleasing. Control. Television. Sports. News. Let’s not forget my personal favorite: food! Yada yada yada...you get the idea. Whatever takes our hearts and minds off the pain will do just fine.
Except it doesn’t do just fine because it doesn’t DO anything other than distract us from the real issue at hand. And pain is a stubborn beast. Like your husband’s bachelor pad recliner, it doesn’t leave on its own; it demands to be dealt with. So now we have a pain problem and a spending problem. Or a relationship problem. Or a food problem. We got more problems and still no answers. The hard facts are this: pain must be felt to be dealt with.
Learning how to feel and deal is a skill. None of us are born with it and most don’t learn it growing up. It requires work and it requires practice. It requires brave. It requires a level of honesty that is not common or valued in this world. The first step is to realize that you are not alone in it. Isaiah 43 is very clear about this one. It is VITAL to understand your place and His in the pain or it is doubtful you will find the courage required for what comes next.
Once you have invited Him into your sacred space, take a deep breath and let the pain come. It will come in waves. Don’t try to block it or control it. Just let it come. Then look at your pain and give it a name. Rejection. Neglect. Abuse. Fear. It is only here to visit and once you give your pain the tears it requires, it will leave. And it will take with it the desire or compulsion to run to all the things that you’ve tried before. All that’s left now is just you and Jesus. And peace.
For me, learning to process pain was a lot like learning a new language. It required a new vocabulary and a new order to things. And just like learning a new language, it made more sense the more I did it. While it is one thing for me to make this a practice in my own life, at this stage in the parenting game, I am seeing all this from a whole new perspective. Looking back over my life and the things I hope my kids will do differently as they grow, I see them all directly related to my unprocessed pain.
It can be tempting as parents to want to protect our children from all the pain that comes at their little world, but what opportunities we miss to grow their character and prepare them for what is to come when we do. HEAR ME: Life hurts! Equip them! I am so firmly convinced that as a parent, I can do nothing greater for my children than to teach them these two things: 1. the scandalous love of Jesus and 2. what to do with their pain. If I get nothing else right with these two little hearts that live under my roof, THIS I WILL DO. Because this I do know: if I don’t teach them what to do with their pain, the enemy is right behind me ready to offer up plenty of options.