It is often said “No Pain, no Gain.” But I’d like to propose that along with that saying comes the mindset that to feel pain is to feel weakness leaving the body. I have definitely seen variations of that idea written on the back of multiple sports player’s t-shirts and cringed every time.
So which is it? Can pain be dignifying or is it something that one must hide?
There’s an inherent problem with this saying. It glorifies pain as something that we ought to strive for because it will make us stronger. But there is another saying, and this one is not written out for us like the others. That saying goes something like this: “If you’re in pain, do not let anyone else know because it will show that you are weak. “
For starters, I’d like to classify what types of pain we will feel in life. Let’s start by splitting this up into two simple categories: good pain and bad pain.
Good pain is the pain that tears down in order to rebuild something stronger. A practical example of this is how our muscles work: it hurts to tear them when you work out, but once they are healed they have grown back stronger. This pain is something in which we can pride ourselves. Athletes even roar in pain as they finish races, communicating to others that they are in pain while showing that they are overcoming it.
This rebuilding pain also occurs not just physically: it can also be mental or emotional. Sometimes we must go through new experiences in life and learn new things. The pain of failure can break us down, but to overcome a failure makes one even more successful. What has been torn down is made into something even better.
This is a pain can be likened to that of Dante’s Purgatory; while it is painful for the individuals to climb up the mountain and be refined by the fire, the pain is worth the end. Being refined only makes them stronger and we see an aspect of redemption in this pain as they reach an end goal.
It is what I called bad pain that does not allow for this rebuilding. This is the type of pain that tears down and does not readily heal to any profit. It is that pain that is felt when you scrape your knee, lose a loved one or remain defeated by the troubles of life. It is a pain that can dwell with us for a very long time if we do not learn how to throw it off of ourselves.
When we are told that we ought to hide our pain, our loneliness, our depression or our losses, we learn to dwell in the pain rather than leave it behind. To remain in pain that does not refine is not beneficial; rather we can leave pain in the past by turning it into a pain that will help grow and rebuild us.
There is no entrance into the rebuilding until we learn to share our pain. For it is only by sharing that we are given a different perspective on our personal pain. In community we can find both remedy and empathy.
If we do not share our pain there is no way to find a remedy. In a hospital, if a surgery patient is in pain, that patient must communicate their pain to the nurse in order to receive relief. Only then can the patient receive a remedy–in this case a type of pain reliever. Only once that remedy is administered can the recovering patient feel better and even go through a proper pain that comes with exertion for something like physical therapy. But none of this would have happened if the patient remained silent and never communicated their pain.
By sharing a persistent and degenerative pain with someone else, it can be turned into a rebuilding pain that comes to an end.
There is remedy in the act of sharing. The sharing could lead to something as simple as immediate physical pain relief, or it could be the actual sharing of a painful experience that heals.
But like I said, it’s harder to share than we think. We do not feel that others will entertain our struggles or understand them.
So here’s the bright side for a Christian: they have God. God, who will always listen, always sympathize, and always offer a remedy. That is enough, but we are also meant to live in community. Members of the church are called to be that love, understanding and remedy to other members. We are to bear each other’s’ burdens.
Sometimes God alone is enough, but more often than not God will show himself through the community that He brings us to in a time of pain. This is the community where we can share pain, be uplifted by the stories of those who have gone before us and see from a different light that we too will make it through the pain and put it behind us. But we can only find those who can encourage and empathize by first sharing with them.
It is through sharing that the church can gather around a hurting member and know how to help them as best as they can on the path to restoration.