The Purpose of Pain: 3 Ways to Reconnect Through Suffering
Updated: Jul 23
The human experience is an ironic masterpiece of joy & pain. Most of us would count pain as a shitty part of the experience, but when we take a closer look, it’s clear that there’s a lesson behind every physical and emotional pain we suffer. Today, I’d like to discuss suffering and how it connects us. Trust me, it’s difficult to find the pros of pain when you’re head first in the toilet, but I believe suffering brings us closer to others, ourselves & God. Like most experiences in life, there is a lesson to be learned and a connection to be made. So indulge me. Continue reading.
Connecting with Others
This past New Year’s Eve my boyfriend and I visited Atlantic City. One day he woke up and immediately started vomiting and having diarrhea (don’t kill me for sharing, you’re sexy when you’re sick)! I know what you may be thinking, but it wasn't a hangover. I sat in the living room as I heard him sprint from the bedroom to the bathroom while wincing in pain. It sounded bad and it looked even worse, but I had no clue exactly how he was feeling. All I could do was pick up things from the store I thought may help.
A couple days later I woke up with the same illness and concluded I caught the stomach virus from him. Instead of feeling angry that he got me sick, I felt grateful having someone taking care of me who had just recovered from the same sickness. “Sufferers want to be ministered by people who have suffered,” according to Stephen F. Saint from his essay, “Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions.”
I'd rather have someone take care of me who knows exactly how I'm feeling than someone who can only make suggestions based on what they googled about the stomach virus.
When it seems like the bathroom has become your new home, all you want to know is that it will eventually be over. “People who suffer want people who have suffered to tell them there is hope.” (Piper, John and Justin Taylor, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Wheaton, Crossway Books, 2006, p. 112.) My man gave me hope and through our shared experience, we connected on a deeper level.
Empathy is among my favorite experiences in the masterpiece of life.
It's easy to sympathize, but impossible to empathize unless you find someone who has suffered in the same way you have.
My boyfriend was able to express empathy for me while I was head first in the toilet, because he was head first in the toilet a couple days before. This is how suffering connects us to one another. We're all on the same journey known as life. Yet we have different experiences on this journey. When we suffer together, it is the authentic occasion when our experiences are the same.
Pain & suffering help us learn how to help each other. Pain and suffering connect us.
Connecting with God
God sent his only son Jesus into the world as a sacrifice for humanity. Jesus lived for 33 before He suffered an excruciating execution. During those 33 years, He suffered in many of the ways we do.
Let’s recall Jesus’ temptation from the devil in Luke 4:1-13....
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, ... The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
So maybe you’ve never spent 40 days in the desert, but surely you've suffered from temptation. Satan offers Jesus authority if only He will worship him. Satan is tempting Jesus to betray God, a temptation we are all faced with daily. Then, he tries seducing Jesus with pride. If Jesus is the son of God, He absolutely could turn stone to bread which would feed him and prove his power. So he's faced with a choice; pride and glory or continued fasting and obedience to God. What would you choose? We suffer with the choice that free will prompts every day.
Choosing between our own glory and God is a from of suffering. But if Jesus went through it, he can get us through it.
There are numerous examples in the Bible of Jesus suffering as we do. If you can't relate to the last one, consider the burden of betrayal. Jesus felt the pain of betrayal when his disciple Judas essentially handed him over to be murdered. Have you ever been betrayed by someone you love?
When Jesus walked the Earth as a human, he felt the same suffering that we feel.
Therefore, when we suffer, we are able to relate to Jesus and understand him more. Equally, we're reminded that he empathizes and understands us. Since Jesus was also technically God in human form, we are connecting with God as well.
Suffering connects us with others and our heavenly Father.
Connecting With Yourself
As a teenager, I treated my body like a dumpster and suffered from constant headaches as a result. I popped a pill for every headache and when one went away another would return a couple days later. Once I got to college, I was done feeling like crap all the time, so I changed my diet. The headaches disappeared but once in a while I would get a painful migraine. Instead of playing doctor and popping pills, I played detective and rode out the migraines hoping to discover where they were coming from. I learned that 90% of my migraines were preludes to vomiting. After the migraine came vomiting, and after the vomiting I would go to sleep and wake up feeling well again.
If every time I had a migraine I took a pill, then maybe the bad food in my stomach that is dying to come out never would. When we don’t feel well, our body is calling us to slow down and rest, not pop a pill and keep going.
Listening to your body is connecting with your body and finding the truth behind the suffering.
One of the greatest tragedies in American healthcare is how often it denies the truth that our bodies are fantastic at healing themselves. When I don’t compromise my system with pills, I allow my body to naturally sort the issue and I allow myself to connect with my body.
Most of us do whatever we can to feel better when we’re sick. Usually we’re interested in suppressing rather than healing. When we begin popping pills, we suppress our symptoms rather than getting to the bottom of what’s actually wrong. We play doctor instead of detective. This can bite us in the ass in the long term. Here’s why…
An NSAID or Non steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug is what we keep in our cabinet for when we’re aching. This includes but is not limited to Advil, Motrin and Aleve. According to Dr. Axe, more than 30 million Americans take NSAIDs, for common pains like headaches and inflammation. Why so common?
Most of us are too busy to ride out a headache or nausea. We’ve got places to go and people to see (pre corona, obvi). “In our society, it's very common for people to habitually push through fatigue. Just have an extra cup of coffee, eat something sugary to give you a temporary kick, or drink a high-voltage energy drink, rather than slowing down or resting,” says award winning physician Susan Biali Haas.
We’re bred into a culture that says there’s a “cure,” hard emphasis on the italics, for everything. We think these pills cure but most of the time they are only suppressing symptoms. I’m not saying to avoid NSAIDs like the plague, but I am warning you of the side effects of reaching for one every time you’re suffering.
The top five dangers of continual use of NSAIDS:
increased risk for heart failure
ulcers and internal bleeding
higher risk of renal failure
serious allergic reactions
The next time you feel unwell, I challenge you to listen to your body before popping a pill.
I’m not talking about serious illnesses that require antibiotics. And for fucks sake, if you think you have the corona virus, please be proactive and take the necessary steps that have been suggested by healthcare professionals. I’m challenging you to ride out a headache, nausea and all the annoying suffering that could be your body’s way of telling you something important.
Remember, suffering is an unavoidable part of life. Will you embrace it or avoid it? Will you learn from it or silence it?
When we listen to our bodies, there is a beautiful intimacy that develops allowing us to know our bodies and ourselves better. In the words Susan Biali Haas, “If you listen to your body, your real life—your best life—might actually have a hope of finding you."