Pain is an interesting notion, isn’t it? We use the word to cover all manner of topics: physical, emotional, financial, spiritual. Each person has a specific level of tolerance for pain. Science tells us that women, in particular, have a higher level of pain tolerance (yes! it’s science!) for doing things like birthing babies. Have you seen those videos of men experiencing simulated contractions? I mean, come on, there’s no doubt women were designed for pain!
All joking aside, as humans we do all we can to avoid pain. It’s a survival mechanism. Pain = slowing down and slowing down = death. Pain is not so dramatic these days, but thousands and thousands of years ago it would have been. When we hurt, we’re forced to heal, at least that’s the concept. Why then, do so many of us simply try to cover up the pain instead of embracing it and allowing the healing to happen?
We can’t be bothered with the downtime or the disruption to our everyday lives. For physical pain, we take pharmaceuticals to numb ourselves, but then that numbness becomes a way of life and we don’t know how to function without it. When we experience emotional pain, we stuff ourselves full of [insert your favorite coping mechanism here]. For some people, that’s food or shopping or work or our kids or exercise. If there’s financial pain, pull out the credit card or take out another loan in order to avoid addressing the pain and finding a new lifestyle. Then there’s spiritual pain and this one is a doozie. Most people are so busy trying to avoid all the other pain they don’t even realize there’s spiritual pain. Pain, numb, repeat. Pain, numb, repeat. More of us live this way than don’t. I know I have for a long time.
I remember how different my birth experiences were between Daniel and Layla. I had had an emergency c-section with Layla, and wanted a natural birth with Daniel, but ended up with a second c-section. My experience the first time around wasn’t awful, so I thought I knew what to expect. What I hadn’t considered the second time was the x-factor; already having one child to chase around! Instead of relaxing during the evenings and weekends, binge-watching TV and feeding the baby, I was trying to breastfeed with one arm and help the toddler wipe her hiney with the other. To this day, I still consider that my most proud “new mom of two” moment!
I counted down the minutes until I could take my next pain pill because I would go-go-go while I was numb, but once it started to wear off, it was ow-ow-owwww!!! The numbness of the pain pills allowed me to ignore the fact that my body was trying to heal, and in order to heal, I needed to REST! Rest has always been a four-letter word to me, just ask my husband. In my mind, if you’re resting, you’re being lazy because there’s always something to do.
Not that long ago, I picked up a copy of Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I’m probably the last woman on earth to read this book (or at least it seems), but I deeply identify with her struggle and where she found herself before she wrote the book. I fake rested. all. the. time. I said yes to too many things, I worked hard out of fear, and I never gave my full attention to just one thing. And friends, I needed a rest. It was freeing to read that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this in life.
Isn’t it fantastic when someone understands your pain? We’re freed from the burden of being “different” or “high maintenance” when someone else says “YES! Me too!” But we don’t share our burdens, do we? We all silently agree that it’s just “life” and life is exhausting. We post pictures of our smiling faces on Instagram and Facebook and tell everyone how much fun we’re having, but on the inside, we’re weeping because we’re so tired. We need rest and healing and we have no idea where to find that.
Consider the child who needs a nap and is crying for no logical reason. As parents, we say, “Oh, he/she is over-tired. They need a nap.” But getting the child to nap is a feat within itself. Once we’re past the point of exhaustion, our bodies practically refuse the rest that it’s asking for! It makes no sense! Our bodies weren’t designed to go until they break, we were designed for regular rest. So, please hear me on this—GO TAKE A NAP!
Even if you’re still trying to pretend you aren’t physically tired, I can almost guarantee your soul is. One morning last summer I woke up and God was practically yelling at me. “What are you doing? Why won’t you stop and rest!? I’m telling you to STOP!” He had been whispering it for a long time. Even before cancer came into our lives, he tried to show me, but I never listened. I had too much fear about what that would look like. I couldn’t use the “R-word.”
I listened and I stopped, and then I found myself asking, “Ok, what now?” See how I did that? I stopped doing what I was doing but immediately started asking what to do next. I’m tricky, but God sees through me.
If we can embrace the disruption of pain and begin to peel back our layers, we allow the pain to do its job. It helps us slow down and heal, and to do this without fear of what’s to come. I know it hurts when we pay attention to the pain in life. It’s easier to push it or numb it away, but those tricks always wear off. There’s no way to get rid of the pain other than letting it be felt and working through the healing. And that brings more pain. Pain. Heal. Repeat. How exciting and freeing is that!