Visualization Technique for Using Pain as Fuel

Everyone  experiences emotional pain, but it’s the wise ones who know how to harness it and to put it to work to drive positive changes.  We feel pain when we’re caught in particular  conditions at discrete times.  If we can conceive of different conditions, then we can put the pain to work for us.  Visualizing the change we desire, however commonplace, is a big help.

Here is a way to do it.  When you identify the patterns that have dragged you down, away from who you want to be, or away from God, make note of the other choices you might have made.  If you had known more, if you had had more self-control, if you had been free from coercion, if you had only realized… what might you have been able to choose?  Pick the best choice, and ask yourself what character traits are
required to choose them.  Construct a scenario that places you in its center with those characteristics.  That’s your destination.

Here’s an example.  Someone leaving an abusive relationship confronts fear of retribution, shame for having accepted the abuse for a time, guilt for not preventing danger to self and perhaps to children, and, poignantly, grief for the relationship that was desired but never was.  She fears independence because her abuser has told her she can’t make it on her own so many times she believes it.  For that abuse survivor, the destination might look like sitting in the living room of her own apartment where her children are relaxing comfortably regaling each other with funny stories.  They are safe, free to be themselves, and at peace with one another.  When she confronts an obstacle, she can taste the fuel and level her sights with determination on that living room.

It’s wise to maintain some curiosity and flexibility about the destination.  Abraham’s story of setting off on a journey with no clear vision of his destination speaks to recovery seekers, newlyweds, teenagers and anyone else embarking on radical life change.  You don’t know exactly how things will unfold.  It’s ok to be unsure whether you’re focused on the best possible destination.  The important thing is setting out—lech lecha, go fourth Do your best to construct a provisional destination, and revise it as mercy and truth are revealed.

Dallas Willard in Spirit of the Disciplines offers another visualization.  “The old leaf automatically falls from the branch as the new leaf emerges.”  Define the old leaf, the one that needs to fall.  Visualize the new leaf, that which is budding.  It’s hard to “Just say no” to one thing without saying “Yes!” to something better.  When I realize God’s imagination for me is better than mine for myself, I can relinquish my silly notions that I know best.  Whether those notions have led me to complete devastation or to a dull ache of emptiness (“There’s got to be more”), relinquishing them will free my imagination for the destination God would have for me.

Our culture conditions us to remedy pain quickly, so we must resist the impulse to avoid or to medicate it.  If we can think about how badly it hurts here and how much we
want to be there, pain becomes our rocket fuel.  Don’t avoid it and don’t waste one
ounce of it.  Use it all to reach the destination.

Join the conversation.  What visualization techniques have helped you process pain?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit

Pain: Fuel for the Journey

“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