Pain is a natural part of our mortal probation.
In an oft-quoted piece of writing from Elder Orson F. Whitney, we learn “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”
Pain and suffering is real. It shouldn’t be minimized, trivialized, or pushed aside. It shouldn’t be scaled against other experiences, relegated to appropriate reactions, or given the quick solution of just smile.
However, pain also shouldn’t be worshiped. It sounds like a crazy idea, but upon closer inspection it is easy to see how we as a society end up putting our pain up on a pedestal.
David H. Madsen, a manager in the Church Education System, once said, “In essence, the practice of idolatry means putting worldly things ahead of God.” While pain definitely has an eternal purpose, pain in and of itself is a part of the world. Here are five ways we may unknowingly put our pain ahead of God and how we can learn to let it go.
5 Reasons We Worship Our Pain
Pain Feels Right. As stated earlier, pain is a natural part of our existence. When we scrape our knee, it hurts. When someone passes away, we mourn. When we sin, there are consequences. No matter the source, pain often brings with it an array of other emotions and experiences. These include but are not limited to anger, hurt, exhaustion, depression, and shame. However, just because something feels right doesn’t mean it is right to remain in that state.
We learn in the scriptures that the natural man is an enemy to God. We often let our emotions fester and impact the way we live our lives because we feel we have a right to. Technically, we do. But that doesn’t mean it is best for us in the long run. There is a time and place for pain to be felt and experienced. That is a timetable only you and the Savior can judge. If we are to believe the gospel, there is also a time we need to try give it to Christ and move forward.
Pain Attracts Attention. In the midst of painful experiences, we often feel alone and vulnerable. The love and support of others quickly becomes a soothing balm. Satan can twist this into something ugly. If left unchecked, we can become addicted to the attention. We may begin to call attention to our pain in order to receive attention from others. Many people learn they can use their pain to get their way, gain favor, or manipulate others.
God’s love and favor should be first and foremost in our minds; constantly seeking approval and validation from the world instead of God will never lead us to true healing. We should appropriately seek and accept support without using our pain as a weapon or manipulator.
Pain Gives Us Purpose. Pain can motivate us to change and drive us forward. It can also drive us in the wrong direction. Letting go of pain can be hard because we feel it gives us purpose, for better or worse. We may seek justice or mercy, revenge or forgiveness. The pain is funneled into a purpose that can distract us. Without it, many wonder where their lives will go and that is a scary thought. Stepping into the unknown and finding a new direction is always difficult, and even more so after a painful trial.
Pain Becomes Our Identity. The very last thing God wants for us is to remain a victim to our trials and circumstances. While suffering plays a large part in forming our views and changing our hearts, if it changes our understanding of our divine identity then something has gone amiss. Oftentimes, people who have experienced prolonged suffering and and pain do not know who they are outside of those experiences. Everything becomes defined and colored by the pain. It can be hard to feel like you have any control over your life or the things that happen to you.
Healing Means More Pain. When a bone is broken, it may need to be broken more in order to be set properly back in place. If not corrected, healing can’t properly occur and the bones will grow in the wrong way. To reach healing we often have to experience more pain. We’re asked to forgive atrocious things. We’re asked not only to serve, but to love people who have wronged us. We’re asked to keep going when all we want to do is stop.
5 Ways to Let Pain Go
Discover the Source of Your Pain. First and foremost, we need to truly understand what is going on inside of our hearts, minds, and souls. We may have become so accustomed to the pain in our life that our reactions and attitudes just seem normal. It is important to understand why we lash out, where our anger is coming from, or why we feel so depressed. Why do certain situations make us feel so raw? What is it that hurts so much?
It is only when we pinpoint the true cause or causes of our pain that we can figure out the best course of spiritual or emotional treatment. Pray for your eyes to be opened to these things. Emma Smith once wrote in a letter to Jospeh, “I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself, that I might be able to overcome whatever of tradition or nature that would not tend to my exaltation in the eternal worlds.”
Choose How You’ll React & Recover from Pain. One of the greatest tools and blessings we have from God is our agency. In our society today, we have been taught that we don’t have control. While this is partly true, we take it to extremes. We may not be able to change the pain or control every reaction we have, but we can commit to doing our best to react to these feelings in a way that leads us closer to God. We can choose to start the road to recovery and avoid situations or people that lead us back into darkness.
This is a decision we can make ahead of time. We can determine that the next time the offender reaches out, we’ll do our best to refrain from unkind words. We can choose to pray each time the pain tells us not to. We will not be perfect. We will never be able to, nor should we, completely suppress our emotions; we can learn how to make choices that allow us to work through our pain in a healthy way.
Don’t Invite Company. We’ve all heard the phrase that misery loves company. In the LDS faith, we often use this when talking about the adversary. Satan is miserable and is driven to make us all experience the same. Empathy is a powerful, Christ-like tool. It is good to meet with people going through similar experiences. Trying to make others feel as bad as we do isn’t. Do we get upset or angry when good happens to other people? Do we shrug off the good things in our lives when anyone mentions them?
For many people this is done without intending to. We’re not trying to spread darkness. We just need to remember there is a difference between helping people understand our darkness and wanting them to feel as bad or as a dark as we do so we don’t feel as alone.
Recognize You Are More Than Your Pain. You are a cherished child of a loving Heavenly Father. Your pain does not define your existence or your worth. Your capacities and abilities are never limited if we turn to Jesus Christ for help. Do not become defined by what your pain has done to you or the limitations it may or may not bring into your life. Allow your pain to add beautiful color to your life through the lessons and wisdom you’ll gain. Don’t fixate on your pain; fixate on where your pain can take you through Christ.
Believe Christ Can Heal You. Jesus Christ is the master healer. He knows more about what it means to be in pain than any other being that has or ever will live. It is hard for many to truly accept the grace and goodness of a loving Savior. Focus on building a relationship with Christ and believing you will always have access to his help if you seek it. Elder Kent F. Richards once said,
“Our great personal challenge in mortality is to become “a saint through the atonement of Christ.” The pain you and I experience may be where this process is most measured. In extremity, we can become as children in our hearts, humble ourselves, and “pray and work and wait” patiently for the healing of our bodies and our souls. As Job, after being refined through our trials, we “shall come forth as gold.””