On the Other Side of Pain
We in North America are really good at a few things: hockey, removing all nutritional value from food, making problems out of things that aren't really problems (such #firstworldproblem as the dreaded "forgot I was watching a recording and sat through the commercials"). And oddly, we're also really great at avoiding problems. We don't like conflict, we shun commitment, shirk responsibilities and we don't embrace pain. And really, isn't it about time that we all just hugged a cactus?
Perhaps I should back up a bit. I've already talked about my love of conflict and how commitment actually creates freedom, but I'll recap quickly. Then, I'll try to do a Jedi mind trick and attempt to rebrand pain as the new 'pleasure'.
Conflict, I believe, is actually a great way to get closer to people. Sure, we usually only hear about the fight or flight response to conflict, but I think curiosity is a much more effective response: how does that person think that this particlar action is ok? What is their reasoning behind it? Back in the olden days, I think we must have been much better at conflict. Out of necessity, we would have had to resolve difference with neighbours. There wasn't the option to pick up and leave our homestead.
The same was true of our jobs. Back in the day, we were named after the job we did. There wasn't an opportunity to say, "I just can't stand my coworkers; I'm going to find a different job". This would have confused things terribly. Just imagine if your friend John Shoemaker suddenly wanted to become a miller. Oh, the chaos and confusion that would have surely ensued!
But now we can leave our job, our spouse, our neighbourhood, our church when things get a little uncomfortable. It's just too easy to avoid conflict, rather than to practice doing it well so that we can get better and better at addressing issues in a positive way, learning from one another, and actually growing closer and more intimate relationships.
I fear that commitment and responsibility have gone the same way. We're giving ourselves more and more opportunities to back out of commitments rather than learning the beauty that can only come from making a firm decision. Instead of intimate marriages forged through fires of trials, we have divorces inevitably wrought upon foundations too shaky and uncertain to begin with. Instead of young, energetic men and women passionately pursuing their chosen field, we too often have lazy procrastinators who are all too happy to stay in mom's basement for as long as possible because they can't afford a place of their own on the measly wage they are earning skipping from entry-level job to entry-level job.
But pain is my favourite, because I haven't quite figured it out yet. I know it's not the demon we've made it out to be. And I know that everyone experiences pain. But what I want to know is how people mitigate the pain in their lives.
Sure, we can dull the pain with all sorts of drugs or distractions. In fact, most of us have at least one vice we go to: drugs, alcohol, food, sex, books, people, games, and the list goes on. The truth is that nothing gets 'dealt with' when I shove a bag of M&Ms in my face. That has never, not even once, solved a problem for me.
But neither has sitting there, being miserable. Often times, this just ends up in a pity-party downward spiral of grumpish existence… which then usually ends in partaking of one of the aforementioned vices.
Is pain like a virus? Are we supposed to tolerate it until we build up an immunity? Perhaps pain is more like a riverbed slowly being built up by years of silt deposit; at first, the water is so deep I can barely reach my tiptoes to the bottom. But then, through the years, it becomes shallower, more manageable.
The word 'patience', loosely translated, means 'long suffering'. I wonder if this changes anyone's mind who has ever desired more patience; "Yes, I'd like to suffer longer please!" But as with so many kinds of pain that we deal with in life (mostly emotional, I'm referring to here) patience seems to be the only answer.
But patience differs from the aforementioned 'sitting there, being miserable' technique, at least in attitude and perspective. Patience involves trusting, committing to the length of the process, no matter what length of time that might be, whereas "sitting there, being miserable" involves gradually growing more and more impatient.
While I don't quite yet know how to be more patient, I do know this: There's only one way to get through the conflict, the commitment and responsibility and yes, even the pain, in order to reap the benefits associated with each: intimacy, understanding, freedom, loyalty, trust and resilience. You can't go around. You can only go through.
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