Every day, headlines remind us how pain can wreak personal havoc.
“Every person in here knows personal pain,” as Newt Gingrich memorably said to CNN’s John King during the South Carolina debates. “Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things.”
Facing pain is part of the human condition. Here are some thoughts on how to manage:
- Remember, pain caused by others is not about you. Family, friends, co-workers and others can hurt us with their behavior. Don’t assume that the way they treat you is about who you are, what you have done or even what they think about you. Focus on what might be going on in their life. Physical, financial, or emotional stress can cause others to hurt those around them, without them even being aware of their behavior. Without fail, when I assume that unkind actions have resulted from some sort of trial, the assumption eventually bears out. The ultimate model for us is Christ’s prayer from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The outward focus brings a double benefit. Our prayers can help them resolve their painful situation and make us focus on others, not ourselves.
- Find positive, optimistic people to lean on in painful times. No man is an island. Even the proudest, most successful person must lean on others when in pain. Pain can bring alienation, pushing us away from friends and family. A faith-filled person with a positive outlook can provide helpful advice and guide us away from destructive thoughts and outcomes. If you see no end of pain, a positive friend can say the things you cannot say yourself. Each of us will have our own time to allow others to lean on us. We can always seek to cultivate a positive, faith-filled spirit to help others in those times. For those who are outwardly focused, pain can drastically increase empathy for others.
- Use pain to bring you closer to God. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” C.S. Lewis argued. Two decades after his thoughtful and dispassionate exploration of The Problem of Pain, Lewis experienced the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. He chronicled the gut-wrenching experience in his book, A Grief Observed, candidly revealing how Joy’s death tore him apart and how he found his way back to God.
- Embrace the pain that poses the big questions. Pain strips us. It demands we learn what matters to us at our deepest core. Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22, recounted not only his amazing experiences, career and connections, but also his most intimately painful moments. The atheist concludes that our suffering has no greater meaning. A person of faith rejects this atheist dogma, instead pondering questions such as, “Why am I in this pain?” “Am I loved?” and “Does my suffering have meaning?”
- Take steps to improve the things you can. Find ways to improve your health and attitude. Add exercise to help your mind and body. Add prayer and meditation to help your spirit. For multitaskers, pray while exercising! Play a team sport if you enjoy the company. If you’re too competitive to risk losing, find a challenging physical activity with opportunities for concentration and success, like setting a new personal record for consecutive foul shots.
Pain need not incapacitate us. Follow these rules of the road to guide you to a new place. We can grow from our pain, and our experience can help others.