Neither type of pain is comfortable and most of us try to avoid any type of pain. We want life to be struggle-free even if we have to ask the doctor for a prescription to ease our sufferings.
But is there a value to pain? How do we tell the difference between suffering pain and growing pain?
Suffering pain is often physical and/or emotional: a sudden illness, the grief of watching a loved one struggle through Alzheimer’s, a broken relationship.
We deal with suffering pain by learning how to persevere, praying for extra grace each day, contacting professionals and trusting God to help us survive one day after the other.
Suffering pain often manifests in our bodies. We see the woman bent over with osteoporosis and we empathize even as we cringe at the deterioration of her spine.
We watch the tears river down a friend’s face and we hear screams of terror when bombs explode. We feel their sufferings and wish we could alleviate them.
Suffering pain is a side effect of living in this world, of aging and being exposed to various strains of germs.
Yet we endure. We persevere. We treat the symptoms and hope for a cure. We try to find hope in the midst of our sufferings.
Growing pain presses more deeply into our spiritual and emotional selves. We ask the inner questions of faith and rebel when we hear pat answers from those who obviously have not addressed a similar pain or refused to acknowledge it.
Jesus chided the scribes and Pharisees for their simplistic answers based on rules and tradition. He invited questions and never ran away from vulnerability.
Legalism looks at growing pain and condemns it. Jesus invites it because within the questions and the searchings, we discover more about God.
We listen for the divine whisper even as the pain sears our souls and we feel the emptiness of the despairing pit.
Einstein wrote, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”
In my year-long search for a church, I experienced both types of pain. The emotional digs of condemnation and hurts inflicted by people I thought knew better. But also the deep questions of my soul in asking what I really wanted to find in a church and how I could become a better member of my new church family.
Growing. Stretching. Grieving. Within the parameters of pain, we discover how important our faith is and how much we truly care about our soul health.
If we don’t care, then we don’t suffer. Pain proves we are alive and something important has been taken from us.
The grief accompanying pain teaches us about the intensity of love.
Where Hope Dwells
But if we shy away from the pain of growing, then we never come to the place where hope dwells.
In her book, “Rising Strong,” Brene Brown writes, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. But curiosity can lead to hurt. As a result, we turn to self-protecting – choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability and knowing over learning. But shutting down comes with a price.”
So what is the difference between the pain of growing and the pain of suffering? Not much, really, because they feel the same.
The difference lies in how we react to them and which choices we make for dealing with any type of struggle.
We can run from it, refuse to acknowledge it, try to find something to mask it, drown it with a gallon of raspberry fudge ice cream.
But the pain returns because it is often more persistent than we are. Some pain we can never escape.
Ultimately, all pain can cause growth if we open our hearts to the possibilities. We can choose to learn patience through the Long Goodbye or years of rehabilitation that stretch muscles atrophied by disease.
We become stronger by embracing the pain of growing, by asking those deep questions which lead us to learn more about ourselves and God.
The saints who grow through pain are the ones who reflect wisdom and hope into old age. Even when their bodies betray them, they hang on to the hope that pain will eventually ease and the heavenly result will be a crown of gold.
Am I still in growing pain? Somewhat. Not all my questions have been answered and that’s okay. I will continue to ask, to seek, to find.
But now I refuse to listen to legalistic quotes that once soothed me.
I would rather insert question marks into my life than live under the concrete umbrella of condemnation and easy acceptance.
Pain is inevitable on this earth, but an attitude seasoned with grace will offer us the hope we need to keep going, to continue questioning and to march toward the Light.
©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh