Pain shows up in a lot of ways. It builds a wall around our life that looks like protection, and is in fact, a prison. And whether caused by physical injury, shattered emotions or betrayal of the soul, it manifests and controls our entire being. Physical pain creates emotional and spiritual pain, while emotional or spiritual pain creates physical symptoms. Pain has no age barrier, young-old-inbetween, we are all targets. But how do you breakthrough the pain barrier?
There's the sharp pain of a sudden injury. Trauma that takes your breath away. You clutch the pain point to shelter and soothe the offended territory. Your mind instantly gropes for something, anything, to subdue the tormenting beast.
For some, chronic pain drags at you every moment of every day. It seeks to absorb the joy, energy and expectation of life from the marrow of your existence.
To be sure, Pain, whether trauma induced or chronically present, comes in many forms. Physically, of course. But, for many, we hide, or ignore, the pain of our emotions, the turmoil of our psyche, or the numbing death-like malaise of our spirit gone quiet from suffering.
It is important to remember that no matter the pain, where it originates or how it presents itself, we come to a day when we look at the walls around and within, and know there has to be a way free. It is time to break the barrier and step into freedom.
Let me say right here, I'm not a therapist or counselor. So, if you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255.
Pain is not a stranger.
Without a doubt, I'm just an ordinary person like you. And my story may sound like yours. Someone who has suffered physical, emotional and spiritual trauma and bears the scars to prove it. And for the sake of helping you see I know what I'm talking about, here's a bare minimum list.
As aUnfortunately, chronic pain is my companion too. Weakness and pain In my knees (thank you, baseball), elbow and wrist (thank you falls to the ground).
Spiritual confusion and devastation have knocked at my door.
Emotional pain has gut-slammed me more than once. Maybe you've experienced your share of these; a chronically ill mother and all that brings to the table; a shattered relationship with my sister, death of a brother, death of my parents and in-laws, financial stress and loss, and in July 2020, the death of my Richard after an 8-year battle with cancer.
As a result, I've come face-to-naked-face with pain. And sometimes it has been a minute by minute decision to break through to live beyond the desolate territory of darkness that threatens to swallow me whole.
Let's get real about fighting pain
Honestly, some days it's just easier to lay back in the arms of Suffering. For all the torment, it's still somehow comfortable. It's understood. It accepts us as we are and makes no demands on us other than to relax into its embrace.
Pain gives us a reason to isolate, to ignore, and to be pretty nasty. After all, we're in pain. People have to give us a break, right?
Live with it long enough, and Pain masquerades as a Demi-god of protection from a world that doesn't understand. We call to it when we're afraid. We nestle against it when we are ashamed. We yearn for it when we face the specter of a future grown shadowed and gray. When everyone and everything abandons us, Pain promises to wrap us up. No longer is Pain outside of us. Pain becomes us. Our particular brand of pain defines us. We are Cancer. We are Depression. We are Abused. We are Abandoned. We are Outcast. We are Pain.
Tear Down the Walls
So, how do you break down the pain barrier, especially when the wall of pain is your identity?
How do you break free from saying, "my cancer, my diabetes, my depression, my abandonment, my abuse, my (fill-in-the-blank)?"
Step 1: Choose Your Identity
It isn't just about a positive confession, or list of affirmations, or calling some other identity to yourself. It is a matter of which identity you choose to believe belongs to you.
For me, it begins with my beginning. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (1) And that isn't just a cliche. I have a choice to make each day: to believe the lies pain sold me; or believe the Truth that bought me. But that doesn't mean it is easy. Pain is relentless and brings in an army to keep us subdued.
Enter Shame and its associates, Guilt and Justification. After all, we probably deserved all of this. And if we did something, then we should feel pain.
The other side of the coin is to be a VICTIM of our circumstances. The world wants us to embrace Victim as an identity. As I recently heard Donald Miller say, "the victim is never the hero of the story". As long as we remain a victim, we never have power to change. I'm not disregarding that there are victims of abuse or crime or neglect. However, we must decide whether we define the situations or if they define us.
As a Christian, I have to decide whether I really believe that "all things work together for good," (2) and "all things are made new." (3)
Step 2: Silence the Voice of the Enemy
Pain and its companions sing a beautiful, treacherous tune. They lull us to sleep while wrapping us in chains of bondage.
But the Bible gives us weapons to use on invisible enemies. And our enemies have come with one agenda-steal, kill, and destroy. But Jesus came to give us LIFE. (4)
Weapon #1: Our Thoughts
The first of these deals with the thoughts that run through our ravaged brain. Though Pain and Victim try to make us believe we have no power, we know we have a spiritual power to tear down every lie thrown at us. (5)
Weapon #2: Hope
Pain wants us to feel helpless and hopeless. It wants us to believe nothing will ever change, and if it does, it won't last. Without hope, you can't see the future. And if you can't see the future, and all you have is a miserable now, then there's really no reason to battle, is there? Therefore, our second weapon is Hope. (6)
Weapon #3: Our Source
Hope forces us to point our identity outward. We are looking to Someone greater than our situation. (7)
Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
When we can look beyond our situation, we can grasp a way to take what was meant to destroy us and turn it into something more powerful than we ever thought possible. Not that we no longer exist as an important individual, or use our mind to ignore the pain, or that it's all a figment of our imagination.
And though I believe God can heal us from anything, sometimes the pain stays, the injustice isn't resolved, or the loved one dies. I'm certainly not saying that God causes pain to teach a lesson or prove a point. Just because He promises to turn things TO good, doesn't mean that all things ARE good. (But that's another long post.) It's at these crossroads that we must decide whether what we will choose to do in the midst of the situation. Will we abandon ourselves there, or will we carefully lean on the Shepherd who leads us THROUGH the darkest valley? (8)
Weapon #4: Our Stand
I will miss my Richard every day for the rest of my life. But I have to continue to live. I heard a quote from poet Mary Oliver:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Not all pain is curable, but we can manage most of it. When you live with something a long time, it's easy to forget to do the most simple things. Things like making sure our diet doesn't contribute to the problems, or that inactivity (or the wrong activity) exacerbates the pain. Sometimes it means staying away from the people who cause us pain. And there are times it means finding a new church community. Believe me, I know even those simple things can feel insurmountable. Sometimes the call to stay in bed, or in my chair with lights off, windows shuttered, and tv on, is louder than all my resolve.
Perhaps the most sobering scripture I've ever found is in Isaiah chapter 7 verse 9. "If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all."
Though your Source may be Christ, though you may believe His word is true, even if you are tired of being tired and ready for a change, if I, if you, don't stand firm in our belief that life is more than dancing to Pain's waltz, we will never break through the barrier.
One of my favorite business teachers, Dov Gordon, states we often hit a wall, and decide we need to do something different. But that real breakthrough comes when we hit the wall, make a small change, and go at the wall again. Eventually, our result will be breakthrough, because we didn't give up.
Life today results from small decisions made over time that led us to where we are today. And though we might not have the power to change the circumstances, we always have the choice of our response.
So here are the 1-2-3 A-B-C steps you've been waiting for. They aren't easy. But transformation never is.
Live at your best. Live inspired.
1) New King James Version Psalm 139:14-I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
2) New King James Version Romans 8:28-And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
3) New King James Version 2 Corinthians 5:17-Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
4) New King James Version John 10:10-The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
5) Amplified Bible 2 Corinthians 10:5-We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ,
6) New King James Version Hebrews 6:16-This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,
7) New King James Version Colossians 3:3-For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
8) New Living Translation Psalm 23:4-Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me