Pain touches everyone. Life tends to bombard us with difficult and uncomfortable situations that often leave us lurching through physical and mental pain. We can all point to recent situations that continue to fester as well as the scars from past pains. For some, pain becomes a motivator but for many, pain paralyzes us in fear and doubt and loneliness.
For me, pain has come from a myriad of places. I remember not getting a position at a church that I thought was best for me. I remember leaving a church because a man who attended the church decided he needed to run things, and it quickly became an unhealthy mess. I remember serving under a pastor who struggled to lead anyone. I remember leaving a job too early simply because I was unhappy. I remember struggling through a strained friendship.
These situations hurt me—some deeply—and left me lonely and disappointed. I wanted to quit. I wanted to run away. I’m sure you can tell a story or two, stories that would trump anything I’ve experienced.
For me, I visited a counselor (several times). He helped me channel my feelings and provided some timely direction. I would like to say that this fixed it all. But it prompted me to head in another direction; the blame direction. I was often quick to react to my wife and kids during these periods of time. I would find someone to blame instead of being honest and dealing with my pain. I did not always handle pain very well.
After many years, I learned a life-changing truth: pain could be a defining moment, accelerating toward the plan that God wanted me to accomplish. I began to understand that pain was a catalyst, not a hindrance; an opportunity for growth, not an excuse for poor behavior.
But who signs up for pain? Not many people. And even if they do, we might categorize them as crazy. Crazy, however, is not so bad.
It’s not that we sign up for pain, it’s that we seek for the deeper lesson. We don’t allow pain to paint our lifestyle—one marked by bitterness and reactionary practices that end up marring our ministries and vocations. Pain, you see, has a purpose. Sometimes it protects us or breaks us, directs us or re-directs us, stops us or causes us to move quickly. So, if this is true, how can we use pain for good?
I have a few helpful hints that I’ve learned while dealing with my own pain. They are short and sweet, but they’ve helped me time and again. Here they are:
Is the pain you are working through right now healthy pain? If so, what is it that can be learned? Is there a nugget of truth inside your storm of confusion that can be used to help you? The voice of pain can help us learn or unlearn life lessons that prove valuable in the long run.
Suck it up
Do not be afraid to hurt. Do not shy away from decisions that may lead you to pain. Give yourself permission to take some risks. Craig Groeschel also told me, “Often the difference between where we are and where God wants us to be is the pain we are unwilling to endure.” We must be willing to increase our pain threshold or else we, as leaders, will limit our influence.
Talk it out
Don’t become a hermit. Too often we retreat to the inside, hiding our pain from those who can help us the best. Find a friend or a counselor. Do not walk life’s journey by yourself. I know some people that feel that if they say they need help it is declaring weakness. If so, what is wrong with being weak? Remember, God is strongest when we are weakest (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).
Give it away
What you hold on to is what you believe you can control. What you release is what you believe you need help with. I love the hope in 1 Peter 5:7, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (ESV)
Do not allow pain to restrain you. There is so much in front of you that beckons your attention, your skills, and your time. Today could be the day that you accelerate toward the person and life God has just for you.
So, if pain is indeed a constant companion, why not make friends with him? A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful that God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
I have found that pain lays us bare—wide open before others. If we allow it, pain can accelerate influence, not from an ambitious standpoint but from the standpoint of service. Leading is serving; it is the embodiment of ministry. We serve first; influence is what follows. So pain can influence someone toward intimacy with God or reconciliation with a spouse or peace between rivals. Pain is the broad embrace of a God who can turn any situation for His glory.