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Pain

Pain Avoidance and Addiction vs Faith and Freedom.

Pain is a great teacher, often the only one that can get through to me ……I usually try to skip class though…..

I have been a counselor for a long time, which means I have had the experience of listening to many people share stories of life with me. I see this as an enormous privilege, and hold in high regard all those who have chosen to confront their pain and let me be a witness to their inner struggles and challenges.

For those who profess faith in Christ, it is reasonable to expect suffering. Jesus, the one we follow, suffered for us. It is reasonable that if we follow him we should expect that he will lead us to (and through) our own suffering. What does scripture advise? Don’t be surprised by suffering, be patient and trust God.

Most people I meet with are in pain, though some don’t know it. It seems that one of the inevitable truths about life is that it involves pain….(I use the word “pain” here as a catch-all for those feelings that we don’t like to have, from boredom or dissatisfaction all the way to deep despair, grief, or hopelessness.) Interestingly, although we all know that life will include feeling such things, most of us refuse to accept it, and instead live with a persistent expectation that life should be pain-free. Because of this lack of acceptance, most of us become good at hiding our pain…..even from ourselves.

It seems, then, that one of the things we all have in common is an aversion to pain, whether it is our own, or someone else’s. This aversion shows itself through learned avoidant behaviors which we develop and practice over our lifetimes. Here is a list of some of the things that some people learn to use or do that (they think) protect them from pain. Think of these as possible “drugs of choice” that some use to medicate their pain, fear, sadness, or discontentment:

Lying
Hiding failure
Withdrawing from people
Managing other people’s opinions of themselves
Never admitting weakness
Using illegal drugs
Abusing legal drugs
Inappropriate sexual behavior
Gambling
Shoplifting
Explosive anger or raging

Of course this is only a partial list. Do you know anybody who struggles with things like this? It’s tempting to think “I’m different from people who do things like this”. Did you find anything in the list that you yourself use to avoid pain, sadness, or discontentment? No?

Then let’s continue our list and include some of the more common (and socially reinforced) “drugs of choice”.

Working
Accomplishing things
Earning money
Acquiring degrees or credentials
Involving ourselves in worthy causes
Overloading our schedules
Keeping up to date on news
Keeping up to date on social media
Staying entertained
Focusing on our appearance
Drinking alcohol
Playing
Eating
Shopping
Buying things
Having sex
Sleeping
Reading

This is not a complete list either, but perhaps it will be sufficient to make a point. Did you notice that none of the things in this list are “wrong”?
There is a saying that the “problem of alcoholism is 10% alcohol and 90% ism”. I like this saying because it points to the truth that the core of any addiction or compulsive behavior is not the behavior itself, but the thing that drives it. It’s easy to identify what’s wrong with a drug addict, right? He uses drugs, so he can’t do what he should be doing, and causes all kinds of trouble for himself and anyone who loves him, but he won’t stop, he’ll do whatever it takes not to run out of his drug, right?
Ok, fair enough….but why does he do that?
Maybe he’s doing the same thing I do when I pack my schedule, or work too late, or study my assets, or work to make sure you like me…… Maybe I’m an addict too, addicted to doing whatever it takes to avoid my pain.

What if, instead of going to any lengths to avoid pain, I allow myself to engage it, trusting that the God who loves me will give me His grace to endure and learn from the pain? Maybe what I learn will change the way I live.

“Dear Lord, please grant me grace to trust in You. I confess that I am prone to follow after false gods like money, power, and pleasure. Help me to live content with what you provide, and be grateful. Cause my soul to rest in You and find peace, even in suffering. Thank you for loving me. Amen”

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