Last week, the Lord said something to me that was really simple, something that I already knew to some degree, yet it spoke to me profoundly. During worship last Sunday night, my neck was hurting badly, to the point that I could not just ignore it. I said, “Okay Lord, I really need you to alleviate this pain – I’ve got to preach a message to these teenagers in about 10 minutes!” And after a pause, He quietly responded to me,
“Pain has a purpose.”
Now I have to say, that is not the response I was looking for. Over the next few minutes (and the next few days), He began to expound, revealing truth to my heart. Pain has a purpose in my life, and it’s always to move me forward into His best for me. I tend to avoid pain whenever possible, and when I have pain, my natural tendency is to ignore, stuff it, distract myself from it, and if “absolutely necessary”, medicate it.
Side note: there is “good” pain (e.g. pain we feel following a good work out, etc.) and “bad” pain (e.g. pain of a torn muscle, broken ankle, etc.) One pain will build your body up, while the other has a potential to irreparably harm it, depending on the severity of the issue and the care it receives. In this post, my focus is “bad” pain.
Back to my original conversation with God: Mildly frustrated, I responded, “What is the purpose of my pain?” He replied simply,
“It’s a signal that something is wrong.”
Ahhh. That got me thinking. What are we supposed to do when we have physical pain? Find the cause of the pain, and either stop doing the action causing pain, or get help fixing the underlying problem (e.g. research, doctors, diet changes, physical therapy, surgery, medication, etc.)
Emotional pain works the same way! It’s an indicator of what is going on below the surface, and sometimes this pain comes out as outbursts of anger or frustration, onslaughts of anxiety or depression, or even physical illness, etc. A lot of times we try to deal with pain ourselves, and in unhealthy ways, which as I already mentioned, I am notorious for. I avoid pain whenever possible, and if I cannot avoid it, ignoring it seems like a good way to go. That first fall when my dad was in the hospital fighting for his life, I spent hours watching tv reruns, hoping to distract myself from it; I spent countless quarters at the vending machine, hoping to find solace in the face of an emotional monsoon that threatened to take me under.
Some people, like me, ignore the problem, stuffing it down, or distract themselves with other things, like technology. Some keep a revolving door of people in their world at all times so they never have to be alone with their pain. Some try self-medicating with food, alcohol and drug abuse, and etc. The list could go on. These things don’t actually deal with the problem, only cover up the symptom. But pain is meant to be a signal that there is a problem so that we can DEAL with the problem.
What’s the point of all this? God wants to bring healing and restoration to areas of pain in our lives. He wants to reveal the underlying problem, so that He can heal it! The process of healing happens differently depending on the person and the situation, but I believe that it begins with recognizing the pain and taking it to Papa God.
Sidenote: Sometimes this healing from pain comes from walking out that process with people. (Just like sometimes we need wisdom from someone wiser than us or sometimes even a doctor to know what to do when we have something wrong physically.) We weren’t meant to be independent lone rangers; we were meant to live in community and relationship. This means asking for help when you’re struggling (from pastors, mentors, a counselor, etc.)
To continue the story about what started this whole thought process, later that night, I asked Papa about my neck, “How am I supposed to respond to this pain, Lord? Is there something I need to do?” He told me to go to the chiropractor, so in obedience (even though I really didn’t want to), I made the appointment the next day. That first visit, my chiropractor told me that low-grade pain is like when the oil gauge light comes on in your car. . . your car can keep going for awhile like that, but it’s going to keep getting worse if you don’t do something about it. Just like the low-oil sensor, low-grade pain is a warning.” I nearly laughed out loud. “Okay, God, I’m listening.”