“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves offers a sobering choice: a broken heart or an irredeemable one. Fortunately for those inclined towards the former, a broken heart’s byproduct, pain, is extraordinarily useful. The pain we encounter is not some kind of punishment for wrongdoing. Pain is not something that God exacts or something from which God could choose to spare us. Rather, it is an extraordinarily useful gift that arrives amid suffering. How is pain useful?
First, it can serve as a warning. Martin Smith in Reconciliation offers, “God refuses to soften or neutralize the painful effects of sin because we need the pain to warn us the acts are destructive of life.”
Second, it can serve as a teacher. Painful consequences can steer us towards better choices. Toddlers learn disobedience has consequences. Though it pains parents to see children suffer the consequences of their bad choices, good parents don’t deprive their children of this learning essential to survival. Where is God in our pain? Like the parent, teaching, hoping, loving, infinitely sensitive and compassionate.
Third, it can serve as an impetus. Few people seek radical life-changing transformation when they are in a comfortable rut. It’s when the fruitless rut becomes uncomfortable that we open ourselves to another way. The pain encountered when we look inward for where we have veered off course is the seed of the new way. If tended to, the seed can grow into a magnificently fruitful tree.
Most compelling to me, pain is fuel. Japanese poet, author and social activist Kenji Miyazawa (1896 –1933) famously said we must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. Picking something specific to visualize is going to help in the heat of painful moments. It could be coal that powers a locomotive you ride to another place or liquid hydrogen in a rocket that blasts you the heck out of here. Be creative and be visceral. What does jet fuel feel like? Does it give you a metallic taste in your mouth? Do you smell it? Evoke all your senses when pain arises, and level your eyes with determination on the destination.
Destination is the key. At first it may suffice simply to cry, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and evacuate. Many times I have cried, “My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” (Psalm 25:15) Eventually, though, what we’re propelled from only gets us so far. We have to give vision to what we’re propelled towards.
Join the conversation. How has having a clear vision of your destination helped you work through painful but necessary life changes?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.