Embracing Pain as a Way to Grow Faster
The Fear of Pain will Encourage you to Resist Changes and Miss Opportunities.
The hedonistic view on life is that pursuing and experiencing pleasure is what makes life enjoyable. To the mind and the body, this makes perfect sense. Pleasure feels good so more pleasure would feel really good. It is a little hard to refute such a statement because it can certainly be true. The question is whether that is actually what God meant for us to experience.
In our school, we follow Jesus and Mary recognizing that They are the Way. We capitalize Way because of our reverence for the Divine. The Way means the true path back to God. So much is implied in such a phrase but most of all, that we have strayed and are now heading back. In the passage about the prodigal son, the younger one chooses the life of pleasure. He asks his father for his inheritance early, which in itself is rather odd, and then proceeds to live a carefree indulgent life. Perhaps you have wondered if great wealth and all the time in the world to experience pleasure would be something to aspire to. If you are honest, it is likely you have thought about it.
But Jesus and Mary’s lives were not about pleasure. They suffered in a lot ways with the most obvious being in their Passions. Beginning on the eve before Good Friday, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane and it was here that he began to feel the weight of all the sins of humanity. It was so intense that it is reported he began to sweat blood. That night his betrayal by Judas, one of his Apostles came to fruition and he was arrested. He was humiliated and beaten by the Jewish religious leaders and then presented to the Romans where he was first sentenced to a brutal scourging and then execution by crucifixion.
While dying on the cross, people took joy in watching Him suffer. That could not have been easy. At the same time, Mary went through her Passion internally by watching Jesus be tortured and killed but Her promise to God was to keep Her heart open to all people and not hate those who attacked Her son. She was to love their souls despite the hatred they freely expressed.
You could also imagine the ways in which they suffered leading up to their passions, being fully enlightened spiritual masters living obediently to God in the midst of humanity that was essentially riddled in selfishness, lust, greed, anger and barbarism. So what is the lesson here?
Think for a moment of the anxiety that stirs in you when you imagine having to go through something difficult. In fact, anxiety can be boiled down to a simple definition; the uneasy feelings, generally fear based, that exist because of what might be. Let’s examine this.
Worrying is almost always a condition associated with the future. Even when we are obsessing on the past, the worry comes in because of the fact that we might’ve done something off and worry about how it will affect the future. Anxiety, worry and nervousness reveal a fundamental error in the thinking of people, which is that pain is to be feared. Instead, pain is to be loved and this will set you free.
Does this mean we are to make the pursuit of pain our main object in life? This kind of mental argument is one of the reason people reject religion. We hear a teaching that is beyond our level of understanding and out comes the lawyer in us wanting to argue how it is flawed. Remember how many times you have read the Gospel and felt that some aspect of it was harsh or mean. This is the state we often find ourselves in, not yet conscious enough to let a deep teaching change us.
No, it is not the object of life to pursue pain. But consider your perspective on it. If we look at the lives of Jesus and Mary, we see that God put them through some difficult stretches. By staying connected and having faith, they were progressed to a higher spiritual authority. Jesus is the King of Kings and Mary is the Queen of Heaven. We can’t know exactly what those roles mean but they do sound quite regal.
Think of pain as a necessary precursor to growth. Our goal is growth of our soul and therefore, you can count on pain as part of the process. If you fear pain and try fervently to set up a life that avoids it, you won’t grow very much. If you pursued pleasure as an ideal, how can you imagine growing? Experiencing pleasure is a wonderful thing but it is even better when it is God who gives it to you. This could be in a moment of intimacy with your spouse, a physical experience of great fun with your kids or some spiritual epiphany that comes because of your deep devotional life. So we don’t discount pleasure when it is given.
The problem is when the central aim of life is about pleasure because where is the giving? Finding and experiencing pleasure does not perpetuate much good karma. It’s you seeking to feel good for you. It’s sensual and thus not very deep. Pleasure found in an experience with love and deep meaning is something else. But sheer physical pleasure is a shallow and selfish premise for life.
Fearing pain leads to a dynamic of blockage. Fear constricts. Fear opposes love so God can’t get involved when you choose fear. Loving pain changes your internal calibration. Love invites God to be part of it. It doesn’t mean you are seeking out pain as a way of life but it means you eliminate the resistance to it. If you stop fearing pain, you prepare for a lot more growth because your soul opens to step forward boldly without that anxiety and subsequent constriction.
Let’s consider a few of the fears that walking the Way bring up;
As I follow Christ, I worry that my social community will change. The friends I have may not accept me. This is true. Becoming conscious and growing up will affect how you fit in with your community. Your fear is about losing their love or being an outcast. But what is the growth you are sacrificing in order to cling to the hope of their love?
If I open my heart to another in a romantic partnership, I might get hurt or I might drive them away and then be rejected. Also true but what is the alternative? If you have a longing for romantic union, how can you proceed with integrity if you aren’t willing to be hurt? The answer is you choose someone who is safe for you because you let fear lead the way, not love.
As I grow in my understanding of God, I worry that the truth will be upsetting to those in my life. Their reactions to what I say, do and think make me anxious. It is true that the truth might upset people. You’ve seen how it can upset you so why wouldn’t it upset those who are not even interested in much spiritual growth? You should consider the cost of protecting people emotionally at the betrayal of the truth. It’s backwards. The truth liberates and sometimes that’s through pain.
Tonight’s lesson is about embracing pain. Begin as soon as possible to examine your relationship to pain over the course of your life. The pains we bring on ourselves as a result of living away from God are much harder to move through. But the pain felt because you walk the Way, inviting Jesus and Mary to work on you and steer your life back to God, this is a very evolved attitude. Remove the fear of it and learn to focus on what will follow if you courageously give over to your process.
When anxiety comes sneaking around, littering your thoughts with how horrible the future will be, tell it to shut up. Fear will make the future seem worse. You don’t need that garbage being whispered in your ear. It will be as hard as it needs to. You will feel discomfort on the way to being liberated. We have talked in the past about how change is preceded by pressure. The definition of pain includes pressure in some form. And besides, we are created to be resilient. With God, we will be strong again even if at times we suffer.