I have enough friends who live with chronic pain to know better than to say that all pain is good. But what I am seeing lately is that without pain, we likely wouldn't evolve one single inch from where we started. Pain can help us heal.
In college I worked at a summer camp where we served a child with diminished feeling in his extremities. As a part of training, his parents informed us that we needed to take special care to look closely at his feet every evening for small injuries he may have acquired. If we didn't, he was likely to gain an intense infection or more extensive injury. This child did, in fact, get a nasty cut and infection in his foot while at camp, despite our best efforts. The problem? There was no pain to alert him (or us) to the problem. How did we eventually catch it? The smell. And at that point he had to go home for treatment.
Often in our culture, where accomplishment and efficiency are highly valued, pain is seen at best as a distraction from our joy and at worst a complete ruination of our lives. It tries to slow us down and we hate it. We avoid it in a thousand ways… ignoring it, looking the other way, separating ourselves from others who experience it, and purchasing costly (in more ways than one) numbing agents.
But what if when pain was present we embraced it as one of the most transformative elements of this phase of eternity?
Pain lets us know where the problems are. Sometimes in our body, sometimes in our community. As a very cognitive culture, we often bypass the emotional and physical information we get, leaving us disabled in the other elements of humanity and often disconnected from others.
If we want to heal within ourselves and among our people, we have to start utilizing the pain we experience, rather than ignoring, belittling, or numbing it.
I see this twofold. The first is to engage with our own pain. What is it telling us? Do we need to rest? Do we need help? Do we need healing? Learning to attune to our own pain is the beginning of learning to care for ourselves.
The second is to engage with the pain of others. Now none of us gets to be the judge of anyone else's level of pain, or the judge of what they should be able to tolerate. We just can't know what it's like to be in anyone else's body. But what if we believed people when they voiced pain and acted in compassion? What kind of bonds would that help us to make?
One thing I've learned working with children is that sometimes a bandaid is more than a bandaid. Kids sometimes bring pain to an adult, not because they need surgery or to be rushed to the emergency room, but because they really are not sure if that adult actually cares about them. I can either respond with annoyance or I can take two minutes to listen and offer a five cent bandaid. Amazingly, option two does WONDERS for a child feeling cared for.
Pain in adults often comes through more complicated communication and unfortunately bandaids don't usually suffice, but the need to be listened to and cared for is exactly the same. When someone voices a woe, what if we just took a few minutes to listen and then, if they want it, actually responded with whatever care we have available… money, a hug, verbal support, etc. What if their pain actually matters and can bind us together? Learning to attune to the pain of others is an element of healthy community.
Pain can help us heal. Are you ready to listen to pain?
Unsplash: Alexander Grey