What I've had the last few days is nothing. But it doesn't feel like nothing. It feels like my body isn't functioning correctly, even though in my mind I know my lungs and the rest are doing exactly what God programmed them to do, trying to isolate and get rid of what they see as harm or potential harm. But anyone who's had allergies knows the day-ruining groggy-head, and the sinus stuff, and the itching, and so on that's part of that. And it feels horrible. Anyone who's had the chest crap that follows sometimes, making it hard to breathe and sleep, knows how bad that feels, too.
Yet it's all nothing.
I have some awesome joys in my life. Truly awesome. But I've also had some huge pain. Nothing like some have had, to be sure. When I look at some people's lives, I'm amazed at how far suffering can go in this world – and how much of it human beings can survive through emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But many folks, when they hear about my life, say they're amazed at what I've suffered and survived, too.
And that reminds me, when I forget, not to disrespect one of the biggest teachers in my life.
Pain is certainly nothing we'd normally invite in. It's an enemy. It's an animal that sweats poison and spits fire. But if we accept God's help with pain, it can make us stronger even as it makes us gentler. It can teach us. It can open our hearts in ways we'd never known was possible.
Pain can actually make us better people.
Of course, pain makes many people worse. I grew up with and around people who let pain make them bitter, angry, selfish, violent, self-destructive, and intentionally ignorant of others' (even their children's) pain. In some cases, it made them drunks and drug users. In other cases, it made them religious legalists, or crazy people. And all of that was exactly what pain invited me to make of my life, as well. For many years I did – and for many years I smeared pain through others' lives, just like it had been splashed over mine.
I can name the day that I used to think God changed all that. I have to say "used to think" because by now I realize that God's hand was in my whole life, long, long before I ever realized it. He was there when I was:
- a kid in a house of raging crazies, and He kept me from falling so far over the edge that I couldn't come back;
- a teen full of rage and self-hate, and He kept me from blowing out my brains – or someone else's;
- a young adult arrogantly denying His existence, and calling Him every filthy name I could imagine and viciously belittling and attacking those who believed in Him because I hated Him so much, and He kept me from loving the darkness too much;
- an adult stupidly making myself a religious legalist, making up and following body, mind, and spiritual disciplines I mistakenly thought would give my life meaning, and perhaps take away my pain, and He kept me from selling myself to the devil.
But what about pain? Why is it here? Why do we have to feel it, deal with it, suffer under it?
I can't answer that – today. But I know some day soon we'll all know why. There won't be a question left for any of us, that day.
Until then, I just go with what I've learned – from the Bible, from the Holy Spirit, from my own learned life experience. Like,
Oftentimes we have pain because we've made crappy choices.
I've certainly made buckets of them, in my almost-50 years. I'm certain to make buckets more, before the Lord calls me home. Some of our bad choices we didn't make on purpose. I certainly didn't decide to be such a messed up young person that I was wanting to hurt people, for example. But I was responsible for the damage I did cause, anyway. We all are. We did it, we make up for it, we change (and change, and change, and change, as needed) and we move on. And hopefully we get ourselves pointed in that direction we'd actually like to go finally, instead of just floating along on some B.S. wind.
Pain is always a signal that something's wrong.
God programmed us to feel pain. And it wasn't a bad thing to do. Imagine being one of those rare people who can't feel pain, and now imagine resting your hand on a hot stove and not realizing it until you smell your own flesh on fire.
Pain means something needs to be different. We need to move our hand, or see something differently, or escape a bad situation, or seek out healing, or grieve and then let go of a loss, or learn to help what we can and accept our own human limitations. Too often we blame the pain -- but the pain is just the obvious, stated. Pain tells us, "Whoa! Are you seeing this?" That's why drugging it with alcohol or meth or religion or bitterness doesn't fix anything: doing that just treats the symptom, and not what the symptom is trying to warn us about.
Pain is an opportunity to understand – and help – someone else's suffering, as well.
If you've ever paid any attention to your pain, you know how it likes to invite self-centeredness. Enough pain, and all we can think about is our hand, or our head, or our heart, or our messed up life. Even a little bit of pain, and all we want to think about is how bad it hurts, and "why won't it go away?"
But pain has a bigger lesson than that.
Everyone's got pain. But since pain is such a selfish ass, lots of people never get to know that someone else actually cares that they hurt, or can even imagine what their hurt must feel like. That means not only can pain be intensely isolating, but the added awareness that "I hurt, and nobody gives a *(#*%" just waters the fungus until our whole consciousness is rotten with it. That's when we start hurting ourselves or others with our words, our actions, our choices.
But what do you have, if you've had big pain? Well, you have first-hand knowledge. You've walked the territory. You're a Pain Tribe member. Given half a heart, you can even reach out – in a little way, or a big way – to someone else who's wearing the same badge, and even if you don't say a word, you can speak their language. And that's all it takes to drain (even just a little bit) of that extra "..and nobody gives a *(#*%" pain someone else is feeling.
The best part is, we don't have to be psychologists, or "clergy", or even have our own lives all together. We just need to have and be ourselves, and be willing to care about someone else who hurts in a way we can empathize with.
Pain can make us better people than people who've never had pain will ever be.
Those who make the most of their lives for themselves and others are those who've come through pain and turned it back on itself, so that their pain becomes a force for good in the world.
One example: one of my many deep pains in my earlier life was believing God hated me for being Gay. Feeling rejected, condemned, valueless, and unable to change made me crazy with grief and anger for many years. When I finally allowed God to heal me of that (something He'd been trying to do for my whole life, I realized later), that pain transformed into a deep passion for helping others who had also been lied to about what God thinks of them, and who also longed for that Jesus-connection they thought they couldn't have. Then, for several years (long before such things became common on the internet, as they are today) I ran a website that received over a hundred thousand visitors (both Gay and straight) who were looking for (or just stumbled upon) the info I'd put up about what the Bible really says about Gay people and God's loving acceptance of them just as they are. During that time, I also personally counseled almost a thousand people who needed or wanted more than a quick note and some Bible studies.
And what can I say about all that? That I did something great? NO WAY. I don't give half a cent for anything I did, or that anyone even remember my name (in fact, I'd prefer you forget me and just remember Jesus!) What I do want to shout about is how "Christians" prejudiced against Gay people meant my previous pain for bad – but God turned it into something good and healing. And, when Bible-based Gay healing resources became common on the internet, my passion moved on to helping others I could also relate to: people who aren't happy being atheists; people convinced they're garbage; people so emotionally damaged they can't believe their life can ever be happy, fun, and joy-filled; and more. And I know God is doing the same and more through the lives of other people whose pain He's made into something better. I know, because I've benefited and continue to benefit from what God's given them to do, say, and be, as well.
Does any of this mean I'm perfect, or have some great stuff to share that others can't live without? Absolutely not. I'm no hero. I'm no saint. I'm no Jesus.
What I am is another human being who, through accepting what Jesus Christ had to offer, has watched her life turn from dark, bleak hurricane to loved blue skies – and who's gotten oriented enough to be able to share directions to the good place I was helped to find, with others. I can't fix anything – and sometimes all I have is a willingness to sit with someone else's pain, and share a laugh, and offer a hand up.
But I can do that now.
Because my pain made me strong.
Because compared to Jesus, my pain is nothing.
This article written by Lynne at No Junk. Just Jesus. You can contact Lynne at NoJunkJustJesus@gmail.com.