The Purpose of Pain
As I’ve taught classes to families and couples I’ve learned some important things. Family life is inherently difficult, and it can be more heart breaking for some than others. You could be teaching something that would seem like common sense to one person. But that same principle could be a huge hurdle for another.
It’s so important to me that no one hears a principle and leaves my class feeling co
mpletely defeated. While some of those feelings can be helpful, there’s a point where it’s not productive. To me, guilt is acknowledging something you did wrong and trying to correct the situation. Shame is being overwhelmed with guilt to a point where it’s hurtful and not productive.
For example, my husband has chronic back pain from a couple of old injuries. If he is diligent with his physical therapy exercises it doesn’t even bother him, which is a huge blessing. Interestingly though, he only learned that when he was advised by a wise physical therapist that in his situation he should avoid medication for his back pain.
We learned from this that pain, while inherently, well painful, is a sign from your body that things need to change either in your behavior or your environment. Are you over-exerting yourself? Is someone hurting you that you need to remove yourself from? Are you doing things that are contributing to your pain? If my husband masked his occasional pain with medication he could do more damage to his back long-term. To feel the occasional pain would be beneficial because it would be a sign to him that something needed to change in his life.
Shame and Guilt
As you are learning principles about healthy family life you may encounter a principle that you feel heartache, or pain, over. Some people feel this pain and it turns into debilitating shame for them. I believe shame is not what God wants for us. Shame is counterproductive, whereas pain and guilt can be instructive. Shame holds you in one place and tells you you’ve failed and forget it because you’ve screwed up so bad you have no hope. This is a lie.
I think shame is a tool of the adversary. It is a counterfeit of Godly sorrow, or appropriate guilt. When we feel guilt, we are acknowledging that our hearts or our behavior was not in line with what is right. Like the pain of touching a hot stove, guilt encourages you to step away and change harmful behavior. Shame says you’ve already been burned, what’s the point of letting go of the stove, you can’t heal from that. It’s a lie! You can heal from a burn, really it’s just a small thing in the long term. But to hold on to the stove, to not change your course, is to do much worse damage to yourself.
So how do we take this pain, guilt, or heartache that we may feel and utilize it to change ourselves to something better, to find a place where it doesn’t hurt like it does now? Ask yourself questions: why does this bother me? What memories or feelings come to mind? This takes real honesty, and real courage too. The more honest you can be with yourself, the easier it gets. (We’ll talk about this more in future posts I promise!)
Change can be terrifying, but I want you to learn to see it differently. The knowledge that something in your life needs to change can be empowering. If you are frustrated with your situation, it is only hopeless if it is completely out of your control and there is nothing you can do. But if you can do something, and usually you can, then you have power to change your situation. If you feel overwhelmed and defeated, know that this is not from God.
It takes practice, but try to see these moments as opportunities. If you’ve been struggling and straining your brain trying to figure out why, and then encounter a principle that you realize you haven’t been doing very well or at all, you have now been given power. Without knowledge of this how could you have changed? But now you know and now you can take a hold of the situation and change it. This is empowering!
This is not to say it is always your fault if someone is causing you pain or you find yourself in a difficult situation. But maybe this is an opportunity to learn about boundaries, using the resources around you, managing your expectations, or forgiving yourself and letting it go. I believe that you know in your heart how to find healing, sometimes you might need a little guidance and direction, but it’s in there. You have the ability to hear and identify truth. Find the courage to implement the change in your life that you need to. It’s hard, I hear you, but you can do it.
A Paradigm Shift
Recently, as my family has been through a whirlwind of change with a new home, new friends, and my husband’s new job, I’ve found myself feeling pretty uncomfortable from time to time. (Being uncomfortable is a feeling on the lower end of the pain spectrum.) When it gets to me, I feel like I’m a walking embarrassment and I should just give up on trying (sounds a lot like shame?)
One day as I was awash with these feelings of self-doubt and insecurity, I had a powerful prompting come to me. These feelings are the feelings I have when I step out of my comfort zone. But rather than call it that, I should call this process what I feel when I’m growing. Changing my internal dialogue to one of a growth mindset gives me more patience with myself, and more forgiveness. After all, I’m growing! It’s not going to be perfect, and I don’t think it’s meant to be. And, at least for me, when I say I’m outside of my comfort zone I have the tendency to make excuses for myself, rather than push myself to try.
The next time you feel uncomfortable, or hurt, as you’re learning something, or hear about a topic you are struggling with, I challenge you to re-frame your thinking. You are growing. It is hard work, but you can do it. You have the tools and resources inside you and around you to make it work. God did not send you here to struggle and fail. He sent you here to struggle and grow! Ask yourself questions. Find good truthful and compassionate friends that will help you see yourself in a loving and honest way. Be patient with yourself. We could always use a little more patience.