P-A-I-N. Pain is a four-letter word. Almost everyone dislikes pain. Often we run from it, avoid it or medicate it.
Whatever it takes to avoid pain, we will do it. In my opinion, however, pain has gotten bad rap. Most people avoid pain because we associate it with negative experiences.
Where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, we experienced tornado watches and warnings on a weekly basis during the summer months. At least two to three times a week we would be interrupted by the loud siren of a tornado watch/warning. Over the course of time I began to hate the sound of that siren because I always associated it with severe and dangerous weather. But the reality is that without that siren warning us, many of us would have been harmed and some may have even lost their lives.
While no one really enjoys pain, it does have a role. Pain plays the role of a warning system in our lives. When someone leans over a hot stovetop, they immediately feel pain. That sensation of pain warns them that they are in danger. If they didn’t feel physical pain, they might continue leaning over the stove until they smell their own burning flesh.
There is a actually a bacterial disease called Hansen’s Disease that causes our nerves to prevent us from feeling physical pain. It can often be fatal because it prevents people from feeling pain that warns them of injury.
For instance, someone with Hansen’s Disease may step on a rusty nail and walk around with it in their foot all day because they are unable to feel pain. Before long they will have lost their foot to an infection. The same is true of burns, cuts and contusions. Often times people with Hansen’s Disease will lose limbs from un-felt injuries that go un-treated. Hansen’s Disease is also know as Leprosy.
When we choose to ignore the emotional pain that we feel, we create a form of emotional leprosy. We begin to let things go untreated and may eventually lose parts of our emotions all together.
Like physical pain, emotional pain is a warning system. Emotional pain lets us know when something is wrong internally. In many cases our response to pain is to ignore it, medicate it (with drugs, food, sex, etc…) or get angry at the pain itself. In my opinion, the healthy option is to lean into the pain.
When I say “lean into the pain,” I mean acknowledge it and explore it in oder to resolve it. The
problem with tornado warnings is not the alarm, but the impending tornado. The problem with burning your hand on a hot stove is not the pain, but the contact with the stove. The pain that we feel internally is not our real problem, the cause of the pain is.
We need not fear leaning into our pain. Only in acknowledging and exploring it can we resolve it. Ignoring it or medicating it won’t really heal anything.
Rev. Jim Rudd is the Lead Pastor of True Vine Church Community in Wissinoming. You can visit the church website or friend-request Jim on Facebook. His column, Heart Conditions, appears on NEast Philly the third Thursday of every month.