(Following on from my back-to-running experience and post yesterday, and the brilliant article on Jeff Goins' blog today, it's appropriate to post what I wrote about pain a little while ago).
I don’t know where that title came from, I’m sure I’ve heard it or seen it somewhere before, but it perfectly describes my experience with pain. Yes, that sounds strange, if not downright bizarre, I know. How can there be beauty in pain, when pain is such an unpleasant experience?
Pain lets us know that we’re alive. Yes, it is a ‘warning system’ that God has created within us, and alerts us to the fact that something isn’t right in our body, but if we feel pain, that means we are alive. That’s where the beauty lies – in the act of being aware of life, life within ourselves, within God, within the world. We don’t embrace painful experiences because of how they make us feel, and yet these experiences are some of the most valuable ones of our lives. Pain, be it physical or emotional, or both, serves to teach us how do deal with life when all doesn’t go according to plan, how to avoid situations that will bring us harm, where to find the perseverance and strength required to have to keep going when we know it hurts to do so.
Dealing with pain, be it temporary or long term, exposes us to experiences that we may not have had otherwise, teaches us life lessons that we may have missed out on if not for the particular turns life takes: humility, grace, what it is to be part of a bigger picture, strength, perseverance, patience, a sense community, tolerance. I suppose they’re the ‘good’ effects of the pain experience. But as anyone who has experienced pain on any level will tell you, the ‘bad’ effects are equally as significant: fear, frustration, despair, hopelessness, isolation and rejection.
I can only write from my own experiences, and I’ve been through the gamut of pain, from a paper cut to childbirth, from the short-lived stubbing of a toe to the long-term nature of chronic illness. On reflection, each and every experience has taught me a lesson, has impacted and shaped my life somehow, has taught me what to be wary of and what to embrace. I’ve learned what I’m capable of, and what scares me, and both have been somewhat surprising. For me, the beauty comes from the lessons learned and the discoveries made, from realising that pain has purpose and that we don’t go through all the hurt and fear for no reason at all.
Without pain, we would never know of the dangers in the world, we wouldn’t learn what harms us and causes us to hurt, inside and out. We wouldn't have experiences to reflect on that teach us how to avoid situations that could be harmful, but also experiences that show us how pain makes us feel alive.
Would I change my experience of pain, present and past, if I could? My immediate response would probably be yes, because life before chronic pain seems so much better in my memory. But pain has taught me so much about living, good and downright horrendous, and I wouldn't be who I am today without those expereinces. Rather than ponder the question, I continue to just take each moment as it comes, and try to find the beauty in the every day.