When I was a kid, I went out of my way to avoid extra work, or anything which I perceived would cause me turmoil. I would cut corners in the hopes, my corner cutting would be considered a new minimum amount of necessary work, and would be accepted. My calculated risk venture would work, more often than not, and the dividends paid meant more time to watch TV or basically hang out with my friends. As far as the times it did not work, I found mild irritation in the lectures I received from my parents, and the struggle of doing extra work. All in all, it made more sense to me, to avoid the struggle whenever and wherever possible. At the time though, I didn’t know why I was so willing to be essentially lazy, all I knew was it was working just fine for me, and I was ok with this. As I was becoming a teenager and then eventually a legal adult, I found those situations were becoming more often and less innocuous. The results of my behaviors were also becoming more pronounce and the effects on those around me were even more severe at times. I was walking on people, in a manner of speaking, to get where I needed to go, by avoiding those tasks and situations which required my attention and my personal care to focus on the issues at hand. In other words, I was avoiding my responsibility. The process of being responsible, for me, was painful, and although I had not characterized this as pain, this is what I was avoiding all along. I was pushing off the pain of growth for the perceived painlessness of life through inaction. However at one point or another, I realized the pain I was avoiding was being manifested in other ways on other people and because of the transference the pain was exacerbated. Through my nonacceptance of responsibility, I transferred my pain to others.
This is really what everything comes down to at times, we don’t want to feel true pain, so we avoid it at all costs. We make a personal practice of willing ourselves to maintain the status quo, without realizing the only status quo which can be maintained is change. The change needed in our lives, although we may not recognize or agree with it. The change needed for growth or responsibility is paramount to our collective efforts within a culture of “me”. I’m sure we can all remember as children when we had growing pains in our legs which seemed to throb and become a never-ending pain which wasn’t relieved by any position we sat or laid in. I was always given a rub of some ointment which smelled awful and I likened to burning a hole in my leg. However, with enough time, the pain seemingly just went away, as if it was never there and the world would be right once again. This is what I would liken pain in our lives like. Some pains are worse than others, and some stick with us, while others just seem to vanish. If we focus on the pain and figure out why it’s occurring, we might be better suited to find a solution, rather than if we practice avoidance and find after the pain has affected every aspect of our lives, we no longer can avoid and we must fix what has been broken by the pain. The expression, “and ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure” was never truer than when dealing with pain. When we avoid our responsibilities, and allow a subsistence of pain to continue we risk damage which will take more time to fix than if we’d just focused and prevented it in the first place.
I’m not suggesting though, we run head long into every painful situation we can, or people don’t have pain thrust upon them for no reason or explanation at all. What I’m merely suggesting is, we deal with our pain, as we understand, in order to grow in our spirituality, lives, understandings of the world and people in it, and love we must all endure varying levels of pain. Pain from loss, pain from growth, pain from the unexpected, and pain from the expected are all ways we must grow.
Just the other day, I was informed about an acquaintance whose child was diagnosed with leukemia. To say this is heart wrenching is an understatement. His child, was diagnosed years ago, and seemingly beat the cancer into remission, but the sickness has come back and it’s aggressive. However, the situation isn’t a practice in avoidance. Quite the contrary, they are focused on every aspect of the physical sickness, the pain of the situation in all aspects, and the very real contention of loss from all points of realized mortality. They know what the result could be in a loss to this disease, but they also realize avoiding this pain carries not one scintilla of benefit whatsoever. They, for lack of a better understanding, embrace their pain as they wish to grow in the light of Christ. This is to say, God’s will is for all of us to accept where we are and pursue love in life as it pertains to God’s Love. This is a painful proposition, but not one which is unjoyful or one which carries with it no benefit. Through pain we find a greater willingness to love, to understand, to hope, and to put ourselves last as a matter of truth. I’m strengthened to know their child has what seems to be the faith of a thousand hearts, a faith as bright as the reflective light of a child but in a circumstance as their body struggles. Their pain hasn’t affected their faith, but has increased their love of each other and of the world.
Over the years, I noticed something about pain though, the first time I endured a physical pain, perhaps a migraine or broken bone the pain was almost so bad, I felt as if it would never end and I couldn’t endure it much longer. However, the more times I felt pain I was able to focus and clarify the pain, and create a sense of position within the pain as a matter of a perception to harness rather than something which would control me. This isn’t to say I didn’t feel the sting of physical pain or the emotional drop of failure in both my personal and professional life. It just means I recognized the supercilious events as they occurred. It was like opening a door to a world which would allow me a better understanding to accept what must be endured as a matter of course. I see the man’s child who is enduring a fight with leukemia, and what they must endure to fight the disease. I see the pain they endure and the pain their family endures by being unable to fight it themselves and I don’t see hopelessness, but instead I see a glorifying effort in the name of God to push past the physical ailment and recognize a higher purpose to the pain they endure.
This really is what it is all about, the enduring of what we see as pain, for the purpose of something higher and more pure than we can possible comprehend in life. So, the question asked is, why does growth cause so much pain? The answer is, because we don’t know what we don’t know, but in order to know, we must realize growth and learning is a matter of pain because as humans we resist growth because we like where we are at the time the pain becomes apparent. Why can’t things just stay the same? This isn’t the will of God. If everything were to exist as it is now, then there is no hope for any of us. Personally, I have a lot of work to do on myself, I feel as if I’m a project only half-completed and the work is long and difficult. However, the work although painful at times, allows me the knowledge, once I’ve pushed past the pain, to address the real issues I have and with God’s help create something better. I on my own can only hope to create works which are imperfect and lacking, but if I’m willing to take direction from God, this is to trust God completely (which is painful), then I will be shown a better and more fruitful way to exist.
This is where the family of the child with a disease is at. They ask questions like, “why us?” or questions like, “what did we ever do to deserve this?” The answer, although people don’t want to hear, because presumably there is the pain of receiving an answer which doesn’t satisfy our need of certain closure as a result of questions, is perhaps we were never intended to live a life stretching into old age. Perhaps we were never intended to have a life where we received the vows of marriage, maybe having children was never in the cards as well. It could be our intended purpose on this earth was to be a light which shown bright for a brief period of time, only because a brightness like those who leave us early can never be sustained over a long life. The truth is we don’t know, but what we can know, is because of medicine, and new techniques for human health, we’ve grown to assume all humans should live well into their 70s and anyone who doesn’t left too early. However, when we think like this, we take God out of the mix, and assume life is about science and the explanation therein. Perception is key, when we presume life is how we see it, then we can correctly presume we are wrong in this. “Some truths about God, exceed all the ability of human reason” (Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentile, B1:iii)
There is pain in this understanding, but when we move past this pain we realize, we can only know what God wishes us to know, but this knowledge isn’t without the express desire to know. We can’t simply ascertain a bevy of knowledge as if it were a notion suddenly apparent in our heads. We have to search for this knowledge, we have to be willing to accept in our search we will go down the wrong paths. We must conclude, in our search for knowledge, the pain we must accept as our world no longer is what we once perceived. Many years ago, although I have always believed in God, I never asked the question “Where do you think you go when you die?” Seemingly I knew what the answer would lead to, and I knew letting go of what I’ve always known would be painful. Accepting a truth which didn’t align with my current situation, would be a painful proposition, and one I wasn’t ready and willing to accept. The truth still existed, and the question was still on my lips, “why is my life in so much turmoil?” The answer found its way into my head and into my heart, and the years I mulled it over and over, I would find a qualifying understanding of the question on one aspect or another, but I kept away from the answer I knew I must accept. Finally, I did, I can’t say when or where it was, but it was as if the entire world and understanding of past, present, and future made sense to me. It was then, I looked back on my life before this point, and realized my turmoil, my confusion, and my lack of acceptance was painful. This part of my life was very painful, and although I don’t have the physical scars on my body to show the pain I was dealing with, I have very real scars on who I am, perhaps my soul is covered in the scars of my sins. I was in pain, I looked and acted like a normal man, but the truth was, I wasn’t a man, I was still that little boy trying to avoid pain off the pretext, I didn’t want anything in my life to change.
I’m reminded of the movie, Titanic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio where the ship has begun its final plunge into the blackness of the ocean. The cold waters of the Atlantic risk to swallow the light from the ship and the voices crying out in fear. What I always remembered was the stoic behavior of the Captain, as the ship dips below the water, and he looks at the glass now covered by the ocean, and the fear is realized. He knows his death is eminent at this point, he knows there is nothing he can do to prevent this from occurring, so he’s accepted his fate. Then all at once the water comes crashing in and his fears are realized, his fate is sealed, and we move on to others in the film, suddenly realizing their own fates. Hollywood is real good about the dramatization of events to evoke emotion, and then leaving those events to entertain us with other equally dramatic tales of happiness or sadness. Though in the case of the captain, our pain is a lot like what he experienced before the water came rushing in. We wait till the circumstances of our fear have taken control and it then becomes too late to do anything about where we find ourselves. Jesus once asked “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Peter being the leader of the Disciples says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. Jesus indicates to Peter, he is the rock the community is meant to be built upon, and nothing of human origins gave Peter this revelation of truth. Though, this truth wasn’t something Peter received just because, he was in search for this answer, even if he didn’t realize what he was searching for. This search would inevitably lead to Peter’s death, but a death glorious in the truth of God.
Like Peter, we are all searching, but we aren’t quite sure what we’re searching for. Some of us have preconceived notions of what we’ll find, and there are those of us who run from what we’ll find because we are fearful of the pain it might cause in our lives. Some of us risk the loss of a loved one due to sickness, and even the loss of our own lives due to sickness. There are those of us, who have the capacity to embrace the love of God, and reflect the light God shines upon us to all, but we don’t because we know what this will mean for our embrace of the culture which surrounds us. Don’t be mistaken, to embrace God, means to push away a culture focused on self, and to become selfless. It means the pain of being ostracized by those we once considered friends even family. However, the reward of life doesn’t come in life, but in death. When at the point of death, our fears are relieved and we can see a truth more beautiful than the limits of our imagination, we understand, the pain was necessary for our growth, so might be willing to accept the Love of God.
God must deal with enormous amounts of pain, in order to love us all. God must endure those, whom He has created, rejecting him at every twist and turn and yet his acceptance of those (including myself), is the unconditional love we all seek and desire. God must also see our pain as we grow, much like a parent must watch their child endure a necessary pain in growth and even a perceived unnecessary pain (though as we don’t understand God’s narrative, we must always presume there is a reason for the pain we feel). God must allow this, because if we are to fall in love with God, we must be allowed to experience the pain from the growth necessary to experience an unmitigated and pure goodness from God’s love. I know this can seem counter intuitive, but this is only because we don’t know what we don’t know.
So, why does growth cause so much pain? Because, any journey in life will inflict upon us demands which for some will seem like a painful experience because their head is down as they look upon themselves. For others, their eyes are affixed to God and what might be physically painful or emotionally painful is mitigated by the joy one feels for God. Pain risks to control us all, if we accept it as a final act, but where God is our focus our pain becomes secondary. Embrace your pain, push past it, find God in all you do, and your spouses will follow suit, your children will have a leader to follow towards the path of the eternal light. You will be joyful, and you will always have a reason to admonish the pain you feel as par for the course. May God bless you and your family and mitigate any pain you feel in this life.
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!