Friday, January 3, 2014

The thing about pain and stress....

I was thinking this morning about when my kids were little. We are a "roughhouse" family - even to now, a pinch or a smack in a timely manner is shared among family members all in "the name of humor." Maybe it's because my hubby grew up with brothers or because I grew up with no siblings at all, but it's not completely shocking for a "dog pile" or a wrestling match to erupt on our living room floor. It's how we roll.

But this morning I was thinking about when I used to flick my kids behind the ears, mostly my boys - and how it created two completely different responses in them. Whereas Jacob would shake his woolly head and shake off the little offense, Ethan on the other hand would often end up in tears. Needless to say, I didn't flick him much for that reason.

I never flicked Ethan any harder than I ever did Jacob, but their reactions were very different. I remember saying to Ethan a time or two, "I didn't flick you that hard." And in all sincerity I hadn't, but Ethan would look me dead in the eye and tell me from the depth of himself, "Mom, that HURT."

And that's what occurred to me this morning - the injury or infliction may be measurable, it may be something we can judge from the "outside," but the pain itself is completely subjective. I knew that when I looked into Ethan's little tear stained eyes. When he told me it HURT, he meant it. And I could tell by looking at him, it hurt a LOT.

I look around at a lot of people in my life, myself included who are hurting and struggling in one level of pain or another. Sickness, loss, loneliness, fear, financial struggle - they are all creating levels of pain and stress in the lives I see around me.

It's easy to look at someone else's situation and make comparisons. Sometimes it causes us to judge the other person - we think, "What is their problem? That's not that bad..." I know for me I think people might be thinking about that when I am too apparent in my struggles. And sometimes too we have the opposite response. I think about our struggles and they suddenly seem very small compared to someone who is dealing with death, disease or devastation. Now mind you, perspective is a GOOD thing, but at the same time it's not a call to be dismissive of the hurt or stress we feel.

I think it's very important to realize a few things:

(1) Pain is a gift. What? Yes, a gift. What do I mean about that? It's a warning system that God created within us to protect us. Whether it's the pain in your hand that causes you to draw it away from a hot stove, or the pain in your heart that causes you to reevaluate what you've gotten too close to or too far from to be healthy - it's a gift. It tells us there is something that we need to do in response to the pain. Also, not all pain is bad. The great pain of physical labor in a woman birthing a child helps to bring new life forth. Likewise sometimes in the spiritual and emotional sense, pain is required to bring forth change and new life in those areas as well. If we did not ache in places where we shouldn't be, we just might stay there.

(2) Pain and stress are completely relative." I could flick Ethan's ears today and not at all get the same response I once did when he was younger. Is it because he's older? Or because his ear's are healthier? (He actually had a lot of ear problems when he was little.) No one can say for sure, except that SOMETHING changes. It's like the pain of grief. It does change, and in some ways subside - but not on a schedule, and not in the same manner or way for each one. A lost job or a lost loved one, some adapt more quickly, some struggle longer. Sometimes change takes a long time, and sometimes it's a very sudden improvement, or for another three steps forward and two steps back, and even another two steps forward three steps back. Everyone has to walk out the process on their own. Stress too is relative. I've had days where the car breaking down could send me over an edge, and others where I can manage a far greater crisis in peace. So many outside factors to account for, but at the end the point is, we cannot judge another's pain or stress level because we have no accurate point of reference.

(3) God understands. That's the most important factor of all. God gets it. And He does not differentiate between one man's pain and another to prioritize who He ought to comfort and who ought to get over him/herself. The Bible describes Himself as "the God of all comfort." It tells us He comforts us "in ALL our afflictions..." (pain and stress) and makes no mention of it having to reach a certain level, or supersede that of another to qualify. He just IS the God of all comfort for each of us who needs it.

What I'm walking away with this revelation from this morning is this: (1) Be compassionate - towards others especially, and without judgment. People are hurting and under a lot of stress, and we need to be sensitive to their hurt and struggle without quantifying it. We don't know all the factors. If they are hurting or overwhelmed (and most people are to some degree or another) then be the hands and feet of the God of all comfort to the best of your ability in whatever capacity and opportunity you are given. (2) Don't exclude yourself from the "right" to comfort. - Don't be dismissive of your own pain or affliction, don't ignore it or belittle it, don't be ashamed of it, but rather respond to it in a healthy manner. Figure out the what response you need to make to it. I would say first and foremost move toward the Lord in it. He is the Great Physician, and no one knows suffering more than He. Most of all He has made the invitation to us, "Come all you who are weary and heavy laden..." God calls the hurting and struggling and promises comfort and rest.

If you are not one of the hurting today, be joyful and GRATEFUL in that place, and be a conduit for those around you by directing them toward the Source of comfort with your compassion, a gentle word, a listening ear, a time of prayer. But if you are hurting, pursue the God of comfort for yourself. I encourage you, He is waiting with open arm ready to enfold you in His love and grace and help you move to a healthier and stronger place.

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