Pain is everywhere. And it’s real. God knows about pain. His original design was a world without pain, and without the sin that gave birth to it. Yet when sin entered, and with it death, the entire world hurtled headlong into this vortex of pain (Romans 5:12). Now, death reigns. Pain persists (Romans 5:14). Because of its power, we feel puny, trampled, and crushed. There are all kinds of pain:
7 Things We Should Stop Doing in Response to Pain
Losing a job.
Struggling in a relationship with someone we “just can’t stand!”
Cursing at the reflection in the mirror, wishing there were no acne, no extra pounds, no weakness.
The pain of dark questions and forbidden desires.
The pain of giving in to the same temptation, the same binge eating, the same sexual escapade, the same raging anger, the same agonizing fight.
What should we do about it? Often, we respond to pain in a way that fails to acknowledge pain’s reality while ignoring our own human weakness. How should we respond to pain?
1. Don’t pretend that pain is not real.
Pain is part of life. We must acknowledge its presence. Beyond mere acknowledgement, however, we must respect its severity and gravity. Pain is overbearing. If we try to cope with pain by thinking of it as a mere mind problem, or emotional disturbance, then we are doing ourselves a serious disservice. Pain. Is. Real.
2. Don’t ignore pain.
I’ve seen people ignore the pain in their life. But you can’t deal with pain by walking it off, or hoping it goes away. Pain goes deeper, lasts longer, and creates havoc. When we ignore it, we live in a state of artificial happiness. Which is to say, we live a false identity.
At times, Christian communities don’t know how to “treat” people’s pain, so they ignore it. People come to church, put on their plastic smiles, and lie to each other: “How are you doing?” “Good. Yeah. Doing well.” Right. And all the while, that smiling person is thinking of the pain that racks their emotions, the wreck of their marriage, the sinking depression regarding their poor performance a work, and the explosive anger they expressed towards their teenage daughter that very morning.
Pain is dirty. It’s not fun to be involved in. It somehow associates us with negative things, sad things, sinful things. So we ignore it.
3. Don’t blame all pain on your sin.
Where does pain come from? The easy answer is “sin,” and technically, that’s right. But whose sin? Yours? Your spouse’s? Adam’s? Satan’s? The truth is, we’re all guilty as sinners, which is why we need to be redeemed. But once redeemed, our sin nature has been abolished. Do we still deal with sin’s vestigial effects, its temptations, its pull to sin? Of course.
But it’s time to stop heaping on the shame that self and self alone is responsible for all the pain and turmoil of life. Scripture tells us that “sin reigned in death,” which refers to life before Jesus covered us with his complete righteousness. But after redemption “grace…reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21). It’s true that our sin does result in pain (Proverbs 13:15), but what about those who are fighting sin in faith, and repenting of sin when it happens?
The mere fact of our sin nature does not mean that all our pain is a direct result of our sin. We’ve been redeemed. Yet pain still happens. We have a new nature, and we still deal with the gnarling, gnashing, rabid advances of pain. We may be loving God, loving our neighbor, reading the Bible, giving our tithe, obeying God’s word, and still pain comes hurtling in.
Pain is a result of sin, yes. But if you constantly beat yourself with the shame, shame, shame message that pain is a result of your active sinning, you’re denying the revolutionary power and nature-changing result of Christ’s death on your behalf. Becoming a Christian doesn’t negate pain or even minimize it. It should, however, give us a different perspective on it. We’ll get to that.
4. Don’t pretend it’s okay, because it’s not.
We are skilled at the pretend good life. We feel the pain — deep, sharp, shattering — but we pretend it’s not there. Instead, we create personas that we wish were real — funny Facebook posts, smiling Instagram photos, and a Twitter stream of Bible verses and heart warming links. But when we sweep aside the digital curtain that conceals the real us, we still have that pain. It’s not gone. And it’s not smiling on Instagram.
We’re afraid of being real — of laying out the raw ugly pain that we’ve been clutching in our heart for so many yrs. We afraid that all the other pretend squeaky clean Christians around us will recoil in shock and horror from the stinking, steaming mass of putrefying pain that we’ve been hiding for so long. But if we all engaged in mass honesty for a minute, maybe we’d all stop the squeaky clean charade, and recognize that we’re not okay.
This world is not okay. Pain is not okay. Sin is not okay. It has ruined everything. Of course we must and should believe that shalom is coming, that Christ is returning, and that all wrongs will be made right. But right now? It’s time to stop pretending.
5. Don’t think that Christian cliches will solve the sting.
Too often, we often dish out platitudes, scarcely recognizing what we’re saying, the real truth of it, how it might be received, or how we might act on those things — “Praying for you.” “Praise God.” “God is good.” “Amen.” Somehow, these lite statements of biblical provenance put a sheen of spirituality on the lurking sense of pain that lives in our heart. But the truth is, we’re not okay, even if we offer a “but God is good,” at the end of our “unspoken” prayer requests. When we see others in pain, we try to comfort them. We really do. Maybe we’ve heard or read that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), so we proffer it as a panacea for all pain.
It doesn’t work that way. These statements, true as they are, don’t take pain away:
- All things work together for good.
- God is good all the time.
- I’m praying for you.
- It’s going to be alright.
- You’ll get through this.
- It gets better in heaven.
As well meaning and as true as these statements are, they don’t remove pain. Scripture can and should be used to address pain. But merely serving these statements up as solutions is short sighted and ineffective.
6. Don’t think you can handle pain by yourself.
Pain is so massive, that we can’t handle it by ourselves. At least we shouldn’t have to. God has given us families, communities, and Himself. These are intended to support us through times of pain. There may be times when we don’t have the security of family. Or, you may find yourself in a season of life where you lack community. At other times, you might not exactly feel like you’re on speaking terms with God. During these seasons of life, pain can be debilitating.
Pain pushes us to that extreme — that up-against-a-wall moment, where we know that we can’t handle this at all. We can’t fight this by ourselves.
7. Don’t give up hope.
What is the solution to pain? The solution to pain is not the cessation of pain…yet. As long as there is this life, there is this pain. We will always deal with it. It’s the world around us. It’s utterly pervasive. No matter how many millions of dollars we pour into charity, no matter how many mission trips we go on, no matter how long our prayers are, no matter how much we read the Bible, pain will always be present. But there is hope.
We hope for something that’s going to happen in the future. Listen to how it’s described in Romans 8:22-25:
- The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. — That’s pain. That’s the pain we’ve been talking about.
- And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly — And that’s us. Even as Christians, as those who have the Spirit, are struggling with this pain.
- As we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. — We’re waiting for something. We don’t have it now, but someday, it’s coming. It’s going to involve “the redemption of our bodies” — the flesh and blood that experiences pain, frayed emotions, stressed out days, and heart-rending grief.
- For in this hope we were saved. — As Christians, we gained a “hope” at salvation. In essence, it characterizes our entire salvation — this hope!
- Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. — It can’t be hope unless it’s unseen. Even though it’s unseen it is still very, very real. We have to wait, yes, but it it is there nonetheless.
What is this hope? The Bible calls it “adoption.” It’s the cessation of pain. It’s life with Jesus. It’s the final and ultimate climax of the redemptive saga — where we actually meet our Savior face to face. Creation has been yearning for this moment ever since that fruit was plucked from the tree in Eden. All the pain, all the grief, all the bulldozed joy and shattered dreams — it’s going to come to a screeching, satisfying halt. There will be a new everything.
Listen to the some of the closing remarks of the Bible, Revelation 21:3-5. Here’s what this newness is like — a mindblowing experience of absolute awesomeness. It defies description.
The dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”