No one wants to experience pain. And yet, life seems to be full of times of challenge and difficulty that cause discomfort, anxiety, and yes, pain. Everyday people come into my office because the pain they are experiencing has become more than they feel they can bear. Pain comes in so many different shapes, sizes, and forms. And most of us will do about anything possible to avoid pain. And indeed, there are some pains that must be avoided at all cost. Touching a hot stove is something I only need to do once! This kind of pain is harmful. It warns of danger, but it does nothing beyond that.
However, there is some pain that cannot be avoided so easily and serves a purpose beyond just warning. In fact, there is pain that is actually good for us. For example, sore muscles after lifting weights, burning lungs after a good run, or the discomfort experienced when rehabbing an injury. These situations hurt, but they are good for us. The short term pain results in long term gain. One of my favorite examples of this is concept is the dentist. Eating sugary foods, forgetting to brush, and skipping the floss might feel good for a while but results in cavities causing harm in the long run. Going to the dentist, on the other hand, often hurts, but it is goof for us by keeping our teeth healthy. Sometimes avoiding short term pain, like not going to the dentist, actually causes long term harm.
I avoided the dentist for 5 years. When a rotten tooth finally demanded I go to the dentist, I ended up needing six cavities filled and a tooth implant which required surgery. My dentist and I got to know each other very well! Since that time I’ve kept my regular appointments and have only needed one procedure in the last five years. Now I try to see my dentist at church more than at his office! Here’s the point: hurt is temporary, harm is permanent. Temporary hurt to achieve or maintain health is well worth it to avoid the long term harm. This is true of dentists, of exercise, of health in general. And it is certainly true of emotions as well.
Denial, blame shifting, stuffing, and other ways to avoid acknowledging and dealing with the emotional pain in our lives feels better than facing it head on, but it all too often causes much more harm in the long run. Dealing with emotional pain definitely hurts, but it is the only way to achieve emotional health. One of the truths that I hope and pray all of my clients are able to cling to in the midst of their deepest and darkest times is that the pain will not last forever and that emotional pain is not fatal not matter how overwhelming it may feel. Healing hurts. It just does. Whether it is the pain of working out to lose weight, the pain of a teeth cleaning, recovering after surgery, or facing an emotional wound.
So when life’s emotional wounds seem to big to bear, remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Paul, a man who endured more pain and suffering than most. He was whipped 5 times, beaten three times and stoned once. He was shipwrecked three times, run out of cities, homeless, without food, thrown in jail, and even rejected by his own people. Not to mention the “thorn” he prayed God would take from him that never was removed. Paul knew pain! And yet Paul writes these words, “We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 16-18)
Temporary hurt in exchange for long term health is a great trade! Momentary troubles that give us eternal glory are well worth it! Yes, we need to avoid the things that harm us, but so often we fail to recognize that hurt is not harm and that harm is actually the result of avoiding hurt. Face the hurt. Deal directly with the pain. It is temporary, it will not overwhelm, and you will come out on the other side better for it.