Life and FaithTheology & Spirituality

Dealing With Pain and Suffering (Part I)

Grief Observed In A New Light

It doesn’t take a philosophy degree to understand that pain and suffering are two things people are naturally inclined to try and avoid. It is in our nature to run away from suffering, and to simply try and avoid discomfort at all costs. No matter how strong pain makes us, very seldom does anyone truly welcome it. Although time has opened up the windows of my world to the reality of this life, I find myself no longer being able to turn a blind eye to this experience that I have come to understand as suffering. I have found that suffering stands at the heart of our world–for both Christian or unbeliever–and it cannot be avoided, whether we can stomach this truth or not. We try and keep our distance, yet each and every one of us finds ourselves staring in the face of some sort of pain. At times, it can become so grueling that everything inside of us helplessly cries out in anger, demanding some sort of explanation. We yell at God, but receive no response. We search, but there seems to be absolutely no reasonable explanation for why He is letting us experience such tremendous pain. Our brains simply can’t seem to comprehend why this life has to be so overbearingly difficult at times. More so, as a Christian, why are we still experiencing such pain when we have God as our father? Why would such a loving father let his beloved experience such agony?

Though the Bible is clear that as a Christian we will endure much tribulation and suffering, sometimes we need more than a Bible verse when wanting an explanation for our trials. Sometimes when in pain the best thing one can do is simply cry out and let the emotions God gave us take their natural course. Though once our heads are clear and we begin to ask why, it is critical that we have logical reasoning to fall back on. Understanding is the one thing that will allow the pain to serve its purpose. It is by far the most important weapon we have against the burden of pain.

The past four years of my life were filled with daily suffering, which in turn were full of daily questions and persistent doubts. Day in and day out, I never found true peace, for my pain was mental. I no longer held Christianity to be true, which in turn led my mind down a very dark, long journey. The uncertainty of life brought forth extreme anxiety, which in turn brought about a deep depression. I saw the brokenness of the world and I saw raw evil for the first time. The pain of everyone around me became too much to bare, and before I knew what was happening I woke up one day and realized that I had become the very thing that I once felt empathy for. I felt helpless, completely and utterly lost. I said I didn’t believe in God, but I needed something to blame for my suffering. I had lost my will to live, and I found myself cursing God for not asking my permission to be created. I couldn’t think of even one possible reason for why God was allowing me to experience such agony. My pain, the world’s pain, it was all too much, and I wanted nothing to do with a God that would create a world such as this.

It was during my fourth year of this suffering that God began to show me why. I don’t have time to explain my full story, but an important factor to know is that I (along with most people in this world) relied completely on myself before I became a Christian. I didn’t need God. I wanted nothing to do with him and his rules. It would take a perfect storm to bring this young man to his knees, and that is exactly what God let happen. Not only did the continuous pain and suffering bring me to my knees and draw me back to God, but it still continues to brings me closer to him. For I still wander, I still fall away and begin to think I can do life on my own. Only in continuous tribulation do I clearly see how weak I am without God. Only in times of need do I truly rely on him and times of need usually come with pain and suffering. Sometimes to understand pain we must simply be honest with ourselves. God wants all of us, not just our Sunday mornings. Do we really think that we would be willing to do this if he sent nothing but happiness our way?

When my time of suffering was at hand, God at least blessed me with the realization that I should not turn a blind eye to what I was experiencing. Only by God’s grace did I not keep myself distracted with entertainment and work. Only by the grace of God was I able to understand that I needed to experience and embrace what I was going through. If I hadn’t have done this, I might still be left in an endless cycle of pain and tribulation. The storm God threw my way was going to last however long it took for me to learn what I needed to learn. But we can’t learn and grow from the storms in our life if we stay inside and pretend they do not exist. We will only continue to get up from our devices, look outside the window, and curse God for letting the storm last for so long.

We all are guilty of this, we just stick our heads in the sand in different ways. Many of us use entertainment to avoid discomfort and pain. Some of us drown ourselves in alcohol or bury our heads under piles of work. We all have our outlets to escape the reality of this world, we just don’t seem to realize the storm is still affecting us no matter how far we stick our head in the sand. Because the truth of the matter is that beyond all the entertainment and distractions of this life lies a world of pain and darkness that is inescapable, and God allows the reality of this life to seep into our daydream to simply wake us up. Sometimes it is to make us realize how much we need him. Other times it is to prepare us for what he has planned for our lives. Either way, God sends tribulation and pain our way for a reason, and the waves of suffering will not let up until we come back down from whatever cloud of escape we have found.

Whether we like it or not, suffering is an essential factor of the Christian faith. To avoid suffering is to avoid fully living for God (1 Peter 2:21). The sooner we learn this the sooner our pain will become sustainable. If we are avoiding pain then we are not letting God change us, and if the pain is not changing us, then we will be left in an endless pit of pain and suffering. For it is the very pain that we reject and ignore that will give us the insight we need to better comprehend our suffering. The only way to make our pain bearable is to first understand it, and for this to happen we must quit running. Whether it be dying to ourselves, depression, or dealing with a tragic event, all of these tribulations change us. Think of them as growing pains that we must experience in the process of becoming like Christ. Just like a young child does not understand his parents’ discipline until he grows into adulthood, so also we cannot understand the suffering God sends our way until we begin to grow in Christ, and we cannot grow in Christ when running away from the suffering he sends our way.

Only when we are older and mature do we see the reason for our tribulations and suffering. Just like how a young child will always throw a fit while the doctor is trying to give him a shot, for the child simply thinks this man is the white coat is trying to hurt him. The reason we no longer wrestle with shots is because we have grown up. We are no longer children that think the pain of the shot is of no significance, for we are mature enough to understand the pain is for our benefit. Suffering is always more bearable once we understand.

Just like the child that can’t understand why the doctor is having to inflict pain upon him, many of us today are stuck at this very same stage in our walk with Christ. But the difference between that child and our walk with Christ is that children grow whether they like it or not. The same cannot be said about our Christian walk. If we keep our head in the sand and don’t embrace what God is trying to do, (through suffering) then we will never grow. We will never change and we will be stuck in an endless cycle of pain that we cannot seem to understand. We will stay children of the faith that scream and yell at God whenever he tries giving us a shot for our own good. We must learn to trust our Father, just like a child does in the doctor’s office. Our first step is to trust God and take our heads out of the sand, to look upon suffering as a blessing instead of a curse. Only when we wake up and truly experience our pain will we grow and begin to understand our suffering. Only then will the pain make sense, and only then will the healing process begin.

Understood pain is bearable pain, and we cannot understand pain without fully experiencing it. I cannot stress this enough. For in the end, it all boils down to our mindset, and we cannot reach the right mindset without first learning to embrace suffering. I used to think this world a living hell, but that was when I was experiencing pain in a world that I thought was for my personal enjoyment and bliss. Now that I have a better understanding of this life, I find myself at a peace I never thought possible. Not because I no longer suffer, but because I understand why I suffer. For if we think of this world as a place for personal enjoyment and happiness, then we might find ourselves in for quite a miserable ride; though, if we think this world as a place for learning, strengthening, and training, then we might not find it to be such a bad place.


Image courtesy of B.K.

Micah McMeans

Micah McMeans

Micah graduated from Scarborough College with a B.A. in Humanities, and is currently getting his Masters in Philosophy at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. His main areas of interest are Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Christian personalism, especially as these subjects overlap with Moral Theology.

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