I know it may sound harsh, but one of the many lessons God has taught me is to “feel the pain.” —Eeek! I know.
We all run from pain. It’s instinctive. But in God’s economy, the reverse of our instinct often applies. You know, the way up is down (Matt. 10:39).
I love learning and growing. I know you must, too, or you would not be reading this blog. So, when challenged with the next step in my growth whatever it may be, I often ask myself, “If I want to take the next step, then why am I avoiding the pain I must face to take that step?” It’s inevitable if I intend to grow. The shortest route to growth in any area is simply feeling the pain.
For example, my whole life I dreaded public speaking. In my thirties, though, I sensed God leading me to attend Toast Masters.
“What?–Are you kidding me?” I responded. The first time I spoke in front of the group I apparently completed the task but have no recollection of the experience because my brain totally blocked it out. Really, I can’t remember it. Although it was traumatic, feeling the discomfort and pain of giving the first speech was the first step required for me to learn to become comfortable speaking to an audience.
Another instance, in my marriage relationship I was challenged with feeling the painful memories of my childhood because those memories were affecting my ability to grow in my marriage. (We both had our work cut out for us. See 21st paragraph of Power of the Cross and How to Love Your Wife.) My choice was to remain stuck in the painful marital impediment or feel the childhood pain and move forward. Either way was painful! But only one way enabled growth and healing. Feeling the pain with E.M.D.R. therapy enabled me to step forward in my personal growth and for us to grow as a couple.
And a final example, unfortunately, I never had the privilege of bonding securely with either of my parents. As a result, for many years I managed a covertly addictive personality. (There are socially acceptable addictions, such as control, manipulation, behavioral patterns, sugar, caffeine, food, sex, shopping, working, and so on. And socially unacceptable ones, such as shoplifting, alcohol or illicit drug use. But either way, to me addiction is addiction.) I know my tendencies pretty well. Left to my own worthless resources over those years, I could have been addicted to anything. Fill in the blank!
But thanks be to God, over many years He has trained me to be attentive to His lessons in feeling pain. In cooperating with Him, I have preempted many troubles, including addictions, in my life. So used to it now that I usually don’t hesitate. Believe it or not, feeling the pain has become a welcome part of my life. I welcome the pain necessary for growth because I enjoy the fruit of it (Ps. 119:71, 126:5).
According to Psalm 119:71, feeling the pain is a type of affliction. As I push through that affliction to the other side, my soul is healed and transformed as I develop a new perspective and learn more of God’s ways (e.g. putting aside the fear of man to speak publicly, putting aside childish perceptions from my youth to grow my marriage, putting aside sugar addiction to walk in freedom). And according to Psalm 126:5, feeling the pain is sown with tears which cleanse the soul and promise joy on the other side.
The Benefits of Addiction post offers an example of this healing process. I had to revisit the pain and grief of the abandonment I endured as a child so that I could walk free from the addiction to sugar. Who would have ever known that abandonment was the root of my sugar problem? Ha! I would have never known the root had I not decided to sift through the urge to continue the addiction, feel the pain of the abandonment, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead me down the trail of healing.
Sometimes we secretly tend to believe that the pain we must face might be too big or that we cannot possibly face it. But the truth is that we can face it and come through the other side much better for it. (See The Dungeon). Remember, all feelings come to an end. We won’t cry or grieve or rage forever. And feelings come in waves just deep enough for us to navigate through at that moment. Our feelings will not consume us…unless we keep them bottled up inside. Releasing them sets us free. One less chain binding us. One less rope around our necks. One less issue to deal with. That sounds like progressive freedom to me.
Over the years, the more trust and intimacy I have found with Christ, the more healing has taken place within me and the less the addictive tendency manifests itself. And this is because He has taught me simply to face the pain. If I take a short-sighted view of things and avoid the pain, I face the probability of running to distractions, bad habits or addictions. Those are painful, too! What insanity. Instead of all that, I can choose to search and tap the root of the problem. In skipping the insanity and choosing to feel the pain, I step toward healing.
In any case, allowing yourself to feel the pain in a supportive environment (such as with God, a therapist, a trusted friend or a support group) is the only effective way to process it, release it and step toward healing. You must feel the pain to heal the pain. And the pain rumbles inside because it wants out!
Fighting that healing process by keeping feelings locked away consumes so much of our energy dragging us down and could be used for so many other useful things. On the contrary, opening the door of our emotions to release them is what sets us free to take the next step in our growth and healing. Otherwise, we live trying to contain a volcano of layered emotions while unbeknownst to us the pain leaks out randomly all throughout our lives.
God gave us all kinds of emotions and we do well to pay attention to them because they speak loudly like flashing lights on a dashboard. When we staunchly ignore our wounded souls or choose superficial remedies (Jer. 6:14) to distract us from them, we are fighting God, unknowingly hurting others and delaying the process of healing. Let’s humble ourselves and learn to accept the process of feeling and healing the pain.
Fun and insightful it is to do a word study on the emotions of God: Grief, Sorrow, Anger, Anxiety, Passion, Love, Dread, and so on (Mark 14:36, 15:37, John 2:15). God created emotions, has emotions, and fully accepts our emotions. Really! He does. In my book, My Journey through the Cross, there’s a chapter called Jesus Embraces Our Humanity. It details my personal experience with God’s surprising reaction to my strong emotions toward Him. What a gracious God we serve!
Think about it…we are born -broken- into a broken world, raised by broken people, and as we grow up we are often broken further by the world. Is it unthinkable that we would need some repair and restoration along the way as we look back and notice those broken places still abiding within us and negatively affecting our lives? Let’s not ignore the cries of our souls for healing. That’s what Christ came for. And that’s what we need courage to face and embrace in our personal journeys.
Feelings sometimes are not fun to face. But think about it, on the other side of them is relief and joy. Next time you avoid pain by automatically running to a distraction, habit or addiction, pause for a moment. Stop the insanity. Take a deep breath, be brave and peek underneath that behavior to see what is hiding.
What is hiding there? Can you see it? Ask God to show you.
What is driving that repeated behavior? You might need to explore like I did.
What is the pain you want so desperately to avoid? It’s never as bad as you might imagine.
It’s safe to say that facing that pain could very well be your door to freedom.
Matthew 10:39 Whoever finds his [lower] life will lose it [the higher life], and whoever loses his [lower] life on My account will find it [the higher life].
Jeremiah 6:14 They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wounds
Psalm 119:71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
Hebrews 5:7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Mark 14:36 And He was saying, Abba, [which means] Father, everything is possible for You. Take away this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You [will].
Mark 15:37 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?—which means, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me [deserting Me and leaving Me helpless and abandoned]?
John 2:15 And having made a lash (a whip) of cords, He drove them all out of the temple [enclosure]—both the sheep and the oxen—spilling and scattering the brokers’ money and upsetting and tossing around their trays (their stands).
Joshua 24:14 Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.
Psalm 126:5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
John 10:10 The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).
Galatians 5:1 In [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off].