Ask anyone for a list of what they hope for in life, and I can just about guarantee you that one of their answers won’t be “pain.” Big shocker, right? Well, I can also almost guarantee you that “winning,” in some form or fashion, will usually make it on the list. And while the things we want to win AT are as varied as there are people on the earth, deep down inside, we all want to experience that sweet taste of victory.
Unfortunately, throughout our lives, along the way to our dreams, we will inevitably encounter these awful interruptions called pain. And unfortunately, you are almost guaranteed NEVER to win if you don’t first learn how to embrace and unwrap these unplanned gifts of pain.
Now, before I go any further, let me just say something – I really didn’t want to write about pain. At all. I wanted to write about something happy and cheerful and bubbly and “shareable” (for instance, why couldn’t I be good at baking?!) And yet, here we are. I’ve been fighting the rising urge, almost like nausea, for weeks now, trying to steer my thoughts and my heart in a different, happier direction. “Anything but this, God…. Please?!” But trying to fight off nausea is basically a losing battle. If your body legitimately needs to get something out of your system, you will reach a point where there’s no longer anything you can you do to stop it. Instead, you eventually cave, and out it comes; no matter how much you might dread the process. And then, afterwards, miraculously, you always seem to feel better, and a little bit lighter.
So, while I’m fully aware that all this talk about pain can feel heavy, and sad, or even depressing, I’m also learning, slowly but surely, not to despise what is inside of me… or anyone else for that matter. As a rule of thumb, whatever isn’t given an appropriate outlet to come out of me will only torment me until it eventually releases itself in some other un-healthy behavior.
So, back to our topic: Many of us will find out along the journey of life that pain is actually not our enemy. Quite the contrary! If welcomed as a friend, pain can and will teach us, ever so deeply and painstakingly, life’s most valuable lessons. Pain actually holds the key to us achieving our greatest life victories. Professional or Olympic athletes are, of course, a perfect illustration of people who understand this concept. After all, most of them spend their days engaging in strenuous activities that will most assuredly cause them a certain amount of stress and fatigue (if they’re doing it right). Why do they do it? Are they chasing misery? Are they gluttons for punishment? Shouldn’t they be doing something better with their time? All valid questions. Why would anyone submit themselves to willingly go through intense physical, mental, or emotional strain every single day of their lives?” The answer lies is this: not that they are chasing pain, but that they are chasing a dream. A dream that, I believe, was placed inside of them by their Creator. A dream to WIN! And the only way to WIN is to learn how to overcome pain.
Here are some synonyms I found in the dictionary for the word “winning”: victorious, successful, triumphant, vanquishing, and conquering. Hmm… do those words sound almost…. “Biblical” to you?
It seems like in the church, ”winning” and “conquering” has had negative connotations tied to it… especially towards women. Since when did being a conqueror seem to invite so much shame and isolation? Many have tainted the desire inside of us as Sons and Daughters to WIN and to conquer adversity by seeing our desire as something evil, dangerous, selfish, and “ungodly.” But, I’d like to present an alternative…. An alternative that says, “The longing to “win” or to “conquer” was placed inside all of us by our Creator, given to men and women alike. It is born out of a GOOD desire for GOOD things, and can ultimately lead us into alignment with His GOOD plan for our life!”
Of course, problems can arise in several different ways if our desire to win becomes warped. One way that a warped desire to win will manifest is when we, out of selfishness and independence, develop tunnel vision, until all we can see is our GOAL. We become so focused on our goal of “winning” that we will do anything and everything to make that goal happen, and to avoid all pain in the process. We then decide that we are in a competition, not with ourselves, but against other PEOPLE. This is where you begin to see things like cheating, backstabbing, lying, abuse, manipulation, slander, and all kinds of damaging behaviors. Are these actions caused by our desire to win? No! They are caused instead by our pride, our independence, and our unwillingness to embrace pain as part of our beautiful journey.
Another way this desire can get warped is when we stifle our desires, trying to convince ourselves that we don’t want anything at all. Personally, I experienced the latter for many years of my life. “Well if I just don’t want anything, then I’ll never be disappointed. Done. Fixed. No more pain.” Sounds logical enough; but unfortunately, this attitude will quickly turn against you. While you may feel protected from some pain in the short term, you are also sacrificing your joy in the process. True joy comes from being honest about the desires in your heart, and choosing to hold onto hope within the mystery of an unknown future.
Now let me backtrack for a second and address an earlier point: I did NOT say that pain is a genie who will walk up to you and hand you the keys to life. Nope, not at all. I think what pain does instead is it walks up to you and hands you a choice. A choice wrapped as a gift. And the decision you make when given that gift is what determines the outcome of your life. We all get to choose our response to pain, no matter what circumstances present themselves. Every one of us will encounter unwelcome pain in some form or another throughout our lives – it is guaranteed to us as humans. Pain will come. It’s just a matter of when, and how it will be dressed.
Some of us will get more pain handed to us than others. Arguably, you could also say that life has handed them more “gifts” than it has to others. But whenever and however those gifts come, we all get the same choice. Who will we be? How will we respond to it? Will we react out of anger? Fear? Will we blame? Will we lash out? Will we cover it up and pretend it doesn’t exist? Will we treat our pain and the people through whom it comes as the problem? Or…. Will we instead choose to lean into the pain. Is it possible that we can lean into Jesus, and instead, say things like, “This hurts, but I choose not to push it away just yet. Jesus, I trust you. Jesus, why does it hurt so much? Is this a pain I should accept or reject? What is this pain teaching me about myself and my life? Is this pain the result of an area of my life that needs healing?” Hard questions! But I do know that they are absolutely critical ones. These questions are vital to our ability to thrive and conquer, and to keep us on the road toward “winning.”
So, to all of you winners out there, to all of you seekers of truth, to you who long for meaning, peace, and understanding…. This is for you. The world needs you, and it needs you healed. This is my pain, handed to you as life lessons learned, in hopes that you too will turn your pain into beautiful gifts that you can offer back to the world.
*Note: There’s a book called “The Gift of Pain,” by Phillip Yancy and Dr Paul Brand, which I’ve heard about but never read. If you would like a more in-depth discussion on the significance and importance of pain, I would probably refer you there. This post has no direct connection to that book.