Thursday, September 10, 2009

Handling Our Pain In Helpful Ways

Pain isn't fun, is it? Whether it's from a toothache, childbirth (what would I know?) or surgery, we and our doctors do our best to limit the pain we must endure. And there's nothing wrong with lowering or even getting rid of pain in many circumstances as long as we do it wisely and appropriately.

However, many people spend great amounts of time, energy and even money to dull other kinds of pain and they use unhelpful, inappropriate and even destructive ways at times to do it. And when we bring that painkilling to our marriage or parenting, the results begin to affect others as well as ourselves.

For example, some people have great amounts of emotional pain left over from their past. They may have been told they would never amount to much, that they were rejectable for some reason or that they weren't very talented. Some of us may have received those impressions from teachers, parents, bosses and friends who may have never even said those words but we knew what they meant.

As a result, we've spent much of our lives trying to anesthetize our hurt because it is too much, at least in our minds, to face every day. So some of us work harder, others get more degrees, many never let anyone down or must always be right. Others take more obviously destructive routes like abusing alcohol, using drugs, or being drawn to destructive short-term relationships.

Sadly, some of us bring our hurts and painkilling strategies into our homes. Jon's pain came from his parents always setting extremely high standards for him in school. If he got all A's except for one B, his parents were mad because of the B instead of being proud of his outstanding report card. So now as a husband and father, he still feels he has to perform. Criticism is unacceptable. He WILL be the best dad, the perfect husband and can never be wrong.

Why is he like that? It's possible that the pain of being unacceptable is still too risky and potentially damaging from his perspective to face. He never wants to have anyone look down on his efforts like his parents did even though he may never associate the two situations.

Jill has never thought she is pretty or attractive. The kids in school mercilessly called her names, made fun of how skinny she was, and laughed about her skin problems. Her parents weren't overtly critical but she knew they didn't think she was good-looking either because they never commented about her outfits or bragged on her looks.

So when Jill got married she was thrilled that someone seemed to like her enough to want to spend their life with her. But the thought of her husband possibly ever leaving her because of her looks kept her in a panic most of the time. They never talk about it but nonetheless Jill goes to the gym at least five days a week and spends a fortune on clothes whether she needs them or not. If she doesn't have at least ninety minutes to do her make-up and get dressed she becomes terrified to leave the house.

Why does she live that way? The pain of being unattractive and as a result rejected is too much for her to bear. Do you see the power of our personal painkilling? It can begin to run our lives, stymie intimacy in our marriage and taint our parenting. It is potentially paralyzing.

What's the answer? Well, it's easy and it's hard. The easy part is that we must learn that our worth is not found in what anyone says or does. It's only based on what God thinks. So often our identity becomes tied to our circumstances, accomplishments or what others think of us. But the Bible tells us that God loves us unconditionally, that Christ died for us as a result of His love. If we choose to follow Christ and become a child of God our worth and value will always be intact.

Instead of our mistakes or inadequacies now determining who we are, we can remind ourselves each day that we are a child of God, made in His image, a person of worth and purpose. Yes, we may happen to mess up from time to time or have a person not like us on a given day or have our kids not be perfect or have our spouse be more right than we are at the moment. In spite of it all, we still matter to God.

Unfortunately, the hard part is that we have often lived based on wrong thinking for a long time and we have to practice with God's help thinking in new ways. It's not always easy to change. Romans 12:2 reminds us that real change happens as we let God renew our minds. It's something we need to do every day.

What do you need to change about how you think about you? I encourage you to let God do some work on your mind throughout your waking hours. If so you will be free to be the best parent, spouse, friend and Christ follower you can be without all the pressure to be perfect or to gain your worth from what happens on a given day.

Yes, as Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."

2 comments:

  1. I appreciate you Gary. Thank you for the insightful blog posts.

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  2. Thanks for the encouragement Holly. Glad the ideas are helpful.

    ReplyDelete