Devotion: Pain

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

I fell while trail running in the rain today. I slipped on a rock and bashed my knee pretty badly. I did a momentary body scan, felt the muscles tighten but no sharp pain, so I journeyed forth. A few minutes later I noticed that blood was coming off of my knee. However, I felt fine, so I kept running for another 45 minutes. But, once I stopped running, returned to the comforts of my heated seats and drove home, suddenly the pain in the leg became the strongest I had felt. My hip tightened by the time I entered the house and the knee swelled a bit.

It was weird, though. As I ran, I did not feel any pain. Once I stopped, however, the pain came like a flash.

In a study on pain, Karel Gijsbers “put 30 elite swimmers from the Scottish national team through a series of pain tests, and compared their results to 30 club-level swimmers and 26 non-athletes. The protocol involved cutting off circulation to the subjects’ arms with a blood-pressure cuff, then having them clench and unclench their fist once per second. ‘Pain threshold’ was defined as the number of contractions needed to produce a sensation that registered as pain rather than merely discomfort; ‘pain tolerance’ was quantified as the total number of contractions before the subject gave up.
The first finding was that pain threshold was essentially the same in all three groups, starting after around 50 contractions…but there were dramatic differences in the pain tolerance: the national-team swimmers endured an average of 132 contractions before calling for mercy, compared to 89 in the club swimmers and 70 in the non-athletes…”*

This famous study by Gijsbers shows us that everyone experiences pain at the same time, but the difference is the ability to withstand and even tolerate pain. Our pain thresholds are biologically linked, but our pain tolerances can be developed through hope-filled suffering. Further studies show “that simply getting fitter doesn’t magically increase your pain tolerance; how you get fit matters: you have to suffer.”

I could tolerate the bruised knee because other parts of my body were working and suffering. My mind had to stay focused on the trail immediately in front of me and the hope that I would get back to my car again, or else I was going to fall again. It wasn’t until the comfort, safety and stability of my car that my pain sensors were allowed to receive the stimuli coming from my knee.

One of our biggest struggles in American culture is that we have diminished the redemptive qualities of pain and suffering. Rather than viewing them as things that cause perseverance, develop character and force us to lean on God’s eternal promise, we see them as the enemy to our fundamental rights for “happiness.” However, we miss that the constitutional writers declared the right was not purely “happiness” but the “Pursuit of Happiness.”

Anything worth pursuing takes effort. Effort is fundamentally painful. Pain is the result of struggle. Therefore, happiness is found through struggle. Or as Paul states–Hope in God’s Eternal Love starts with suffering.

This is why Jesus’ great invitation isn’t “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or “I love you just the way you are.” No, his invitation is to follow Him: “If anyone wants to follow me, let him renounce himself.”

There is nothing more painful than self-denial. Which is why Jesus was the only one who could show us complete and utter self-denial when He surrendered Himself to the cross for us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.              Philippians 2:1-11

Hutchinson, Alex. Endure (p. 87).

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