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The Real Gain In Pain

“I’m on the edge of losing it— the pain in my gut keeps burning.” -Psalm 38:17 (The Message Bible)

You know, I spent quite some time the other day looking for the author of the quote, “No pain, no gain” and as with what seems to be a lot of things in my life these days, I found myself getting weary and wondering if the struggle was even worth it; so I quit trying.

To be honest, I probably couldn’t find it because I wasn’t looking for the right reasons. I actually just wanted to see who was getting the credit for such a widely used, and if you ask me, hugely overrated catch phrase. Have you ever noticed that whenever you are going through something that seems excruciating at the time, someone is on hand with a “God won’t give you any more than you can bear” mini-sermon. Are they are coming at you with this four-letter statement? I mean, I don’t know about you, but in the pique of my agony, I am not looking for something that will encourage me to endure it; I want something that will make it stop … as soon as possible!

When I’m walking everyday with my calves burning only to see no obvious improvement; when I am trying to miraculously keep my checking account from going into the negative as I await a “way past due” freelancing check; when I receive news that someone I care about is physically ill; when I am trying to figure out if someone who I thought was meant to be in my world for a lifetime throws me a curveball and most importantly, when I am praying, crying, and pleading with God to make all of this physical and mental anguish stop— only to have to wake up and repeat the cycle all over again. Can someone please tell me, what is the gain in that?

When you are asking these kinds of questions in life, you’ll be amazed where you’ll find the answers— often it is when and where you least expect it. A few nights ago, I found myself watching The Real World on MTV. Although I used to be a fan back in the day, it has been quite some time since I have really followed the show, so don’t ask me why it caught my attention, but it did. Anyway, this season there’s a radical redhead by the name of Frankie on show, who is battling with (among many things it seems) cystic fibrosis. In this episode she confessed to her out-of-state boyfriend that in an altered state of mind, she kissed someone else. Long story short, in response, he cancelled his trip to visit her and didn’t return her phone calls, which sent Frankie into such an internal outrage that she locked herself in a bathroom with a kitchen knife. To rid of herself? Mmm, not quite, but it wasn’t to cut a tag off of her clothes as she told one of her roommates, either. By the end of the show, it was revealed that Frankie was a self-mutilator (or what some call a “cutter”); she uses outward pain to deal with inner conflict.

If you have not dealt with this on some level, it may seem a little crazy to you, but if we are all really honest with ourselves, when we find pain to be too much to bear, we all resort to some form of self-mutilation. Isn’t that what sin is all about? In life, there will be times when things will happen that will be plain ole’ unpleasant and we can either choose to “tough it out” by remaining faithful and prayerful or we can do further damage by running to self-destructive behaviors to avoid the pain. It may be sex, drugs, alcohol, eating (or not eating), clothes, money, approval from others or even anger at God. The list goes on and on, but just like the counselor told Frankie on the show, nothing positive comes from using one thing to avoid another. You only find yourself suffering more than you did before.

So what do you do when feel as David did in Psalm 38:17? Where can you find comfort when you feel like you are about to “lose it” without seeing any relief in sight? This is where I must take the time to thank Frankie because even in the midst of her pain, one simple sentence brought some much needed relief and Godly confirmation to mine: “It takes a strong person to find a good way to deal with pain” she said.

As Oprah calls her revelations in life, this was a “light bulb” moment for me. Even when you don’t see the immediate purpose of the pain, the conscious decision to “stick it out,” is strength. I have come to find that the real danger in the saying “no pain, no gain” is that it leads you to believe that there aren’t immediate results to the discomfort that you feel. In reality, there is the moment you decide that no matter how tempting diversions may seem, how lonely you may feel or how much you may want it all to come to an abrupt and permanent end that you are going to stay committed to what you know is right— if for no other reason than it being the right thing to do.

Do you realize how powerful that is? Sure, the enemy tries to manipulate you into thinking that in your times of blood, sweat and tears you are showing evidence of weakness or that there is real strength in ending the pain by any means necessary. But God sees beyond this moment, the next hour and even the next year. He knows that as you develop patience, faith, tenacity and complete reliance on Him, you will be better equipped to deal with the blessings and cursings of life— the ones that our limited foresight cannot predict. Just as physical trainers assure their clients, “When it hurts, that’s a sign that the exercise is working; that you are becoming a stronger individual.” The fact is you will feel on the inside way before you ever see evidence of it on the outside, but when you’re not feeling anything; that is when you should be concerned.

Sorry, I don’t have a quick fix for you, but I have come to see that there really isn’t one. Just know that if you are staying submissive to the will of God, there is a method to all of the madness and if you are in major discomfort as a direct result of your faithfulness, the pain is working and you will gain something out of it. Something that makes you strong enough to handle it … all.

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"But those who learn from their suffering, God delivers from their suffering."—Job 36:15 (The Message Bible)

©Shellie R. Warren/2004

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