You might not feel like you want to read an article about pain; and that’s probably the exact reason why you should read it.
It really does.
And almost nothing is more painful than not living the life that you want to live. This could mean something different for each of us: financially, relationally, emotionally, spiritually, creatively…
Regardless of which area(s) of our lives we feel are behind, we are likely to keep going around and around the same cycles of life until we do this one thing:
Note: This doesn’t mean that we BECOME pain.
We don’t let pain become our identity and resign ourselves to a life of misery (like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh).
Embracing pain means that we choose to accept that pain is an inevitable, necessary part of success and growth. Without pain there is no growth, no triumph, no victory.
To explain the contrast between both ends of the spectrum, here is an excerpt from The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus. (Highly recommend!)
In life I have found two kinds of people to be the most uninteresting (Is it ok to admit that there are people who are uninteresting?)
The first is the person who has never suffered. It is still surprising to me, but I have met people who have told me they have never suffered, they have never failed; they have lived a life absolutely devoid of pain and disappointment.
Living as long as I have, I have discovered that people who live these Teflon lives have only managed that outcome by living a life without risk, passion, or love. We cannot love deeply or risk greatly and never know failure or disappointment. Not even God was able to pull that one off. Love never comes without wounds; faith never comes without failure.
But there is another kind of uninteresting person. It is the person who has suffered, and that suffering is all they know. They are trapped in their pain; they wallow in their despair; they are all wounds and no scars. All they can talk about is their pain.
Life is suffering, and the suffering does not make them empathetic. They have no room for the pain of others. Their pain fills their entire universe… As uninteresting as the person who has never suffered may be, this person wins the prize. It’s hard to tell a great story if we remain stuck in chapter one.
Our goal should be to find BALANCE.
Embrace pain without becoming pain.
To clarify, "embracing pain" doesn't mean that we should be looking for pain. Jumping into pain for it's own sake is foolishness. Just because you're experiencing pain doesn't mean that you are growing from it.
My point is: Don't fear pain. It's inevitable. And when it does come, walk through it with an open mind and heart, instead of running from it.
I’ve spent my whole life avoiding pain.
I’ve developed “a very particular set of skills” for avoiding pain: perfectionism, performance, rationalization, and procrastination.
These survival mechanisms have served me pretty well in life, to be honest.
For the most part, I think that most of us humans are masters at avoiding, escaping, and numbing pain.
The main problem is this: most of us never learn how to DEAL with pain; and so when it comes, we do everything in our power to get rid of it again, without digging deeper to heal the root issue or overcome the root obstacle.
I’ve even used my faith as a way of avoiding pain:
Looking back I decided that if I would put my faith in God, then he would take me from success to success.
**Insert chorus of "All I Do Is Win" by T-Pain** – Unintended pun with the whole T-PAIN reference)
I thought that if I performed well enough and learned from other people’s mistakes, then I could steer around all the potholes of life and effectively avoid pain or failure. The only catch is that it's not God's top priority to keep me from pain, but rather to develop me into the best version of who I'm designed to be. If He were to keep me from pain, he would also keep me from growth.
My reasoning has been flawed:
I wanted success but I didn’t want pain; and yet I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been able to break through to the next level.
You can't separate the two. Pain is a prerequisite for success.
- You can't have success without sacrifice, and sacrifice is painful.
- You can't have success without discipline, and discipline is painful.
- You can't have success without passion, and if you're passionate about anything you run the risk of experiencing pain.
There’s this quote by Jesus that gets right to the heart of this.
(For those of you who aren’t believers, that’s totally cool, because the core principle here is pretty much universal, and pretty much awesome.)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Essentially he is saying: “If you don’t accept the fact that you will experience pain in life, then you won’t have peace.”
Even Jesus, who is arguably the most influential person to have ever lived, knew that you couldn’t escape pain if you wanted to live out your destiny
There’s this moment in his story where he has a REALLY difficult choice to make:
Either allow himself to be captured by soldiers after being betrayed by one of his best friends (This would mean a brutal death sentence involving beatings, ridicule, embarrassment, being nailed to a wooden cross, and eventually dying in front of all the people who used to look up to him).
Or he could have decided to run for his life and take his own path. he could have used his considerable influence to stay safe, gain more followers, and avoid the whole crucifixion.
Needless to say, he’s extremely stressed out, to the point where he sweats blood.
But he knew he had a mission: to save mankind.
(Stay with me here for those of you who don’t share the same faith. The personal development insight here is crazy good.)
He knew that in order to fulfill his ultimate mission he would have to take the path of pain.
He said NO to safety and he embraced pain.
This decision was the most selfless one he could have made, and what seemed like the craziest because it goes against all human nature, but it resulted in him completing his mission here on earth.
Each of us has the same decision to make if we want to fulfill our purpose, live our dream, experience true and lasting success in life:
We have to embrace the pain.
Only recently have I decided to quit running, square-up to my pain and walk through it.
Pain is as guaranteed as the sunrise, or rain, or gravity. it’s not going to go away just because we don’t want to face it.
My friend Ben Rose, of Cross The Island, has a really great metaphor for this: Circumnavigating The Island.
- Circumnavigate: A nautical term for circling around an object or an obstacle. A way to avoid facing an issue head on.
- An Island: An issue, weakness or secret in your life that you know you need to deal with head-on. (Don’t think tropical island, think of Admiralty Island outside my hometown of Juneau, AK. It has one brown bear per square mile)! The island could represent anything that gets in the way of you living according to your values.
You can’t circle the island forever; there will be consequences.
You HAVE to CROSS THE ISLAND.
I’ve learned recently that one of my lifelong “islands” has been PAIN.
I’ve done everything in my power to steer clear of it, but I’ve wanted success, something that I can only get by going THROUGH it.
I’ve arrived at a place in life where my dream and determination have become greater than my fear.
I’ve become fed up with going in circles and I’m walking through the pain that comes with the different seasons of life so that I can finally move forward for good.
We need to change our relationship to pain.
You don’t have to become pain in order to embrace it.
If you pretend like you can avoid pain, then you will get derailed each time it inevitably comes. But if you EXPECT that it is a necessary part of the process, then you won’t be caught off guard by it anymore.
When you expect it you can prepare for it. And when you are prepared for it, you can better HANDLE IT.
When you embrace pain, you can use it.
You are no longer a slave to pain. You are the master when you stop being a victim to it and start proactively learning through your pain.
Not all pain is bad. The fact that you’re experiencing pain doesn’t mean that you’re failing.
Which leads to my next point:
Don’t waste the pain.
Since pain is guaranteed in life, we can either use it or waste it.
Circling the root issues in our life is a huge waste of pain. If the root doesn’t go away, we keep paying the consequences.
Do you know someone who is always experiencing the same crises and same problems over and over for years on end? There’s probably an island they need to cross, or a root they need to dig out.
Within all pain there is VALUE, there is a LESSON, there is on opportunity for GROWTH.
We don’t get to choose how, why, or when we experience pain, but when we experience pain we have a decision of what kind of person we want to be in response to our pain.
- We can choose to let pain reveal a deeply rooted issue in us and then deal with it.
- Pain can show us which parts of our character need to still be refined.
- Pain can strip away everything we thought we wanted/needed in life and leave us hanging on to what truly matters: the essentials.
Pain can be a Tool. Pain can be a Teacher.
Maybe you’re like me. Are you finally sick and tired of avoiding pain and are you ready to move past your biggest obstacles?
It’s time to spend less energy on figuring out why we are in our circumstances and spend more energy deciding what we’re going to do in response to our circumstances.
We can GO through our situations or we can GROW through them.
"The obstacle is the way." - Marcus Aurelius
Pain can be an indicator of progress.
If comfort is an indicator that you’re not being challenged, then pain can be an indicator that you’re growing.
Think of the overly-used working out analogy:
- Pain means you’re building muscle. If you push through the soreness and fatigue, then you get stronger.
- If you keep using the same weight you’re comfortable with, you’ll plateau and stop making progress.
- If you avoid the gym completely out of fear/procrastination, then you not only don’t get stronger, you'll LOSE your strength because your muscles will atrophy from not being challenged.
After deciding to embrace pain, I’ve felt so much more PEACE.
I’m no longer feeling anxious like, “OMG, when is the next crisis going to happen?”
I’m not feeling sorry for myself or defeated. I’m also not getting frustrated and exhausted trying to reason out why I’m even facing obstacles and pain.
Instead I’m embracing that the pain is real, it’s here, it’s part of the process, it’s teaching me more about myself and the world.
Pain is showing me what I need to work on.
Pain is either the fire that burns and scars us, or the very same fire that forges us into a more refined and stronger version of ourselves.
The decision is up to us.
As a final encouragement:
Remember that pain doesn’t last forever. Pain is temporary, but the growth that comes as a result is something that you get to keep for the rest of your life.
Don’t shrink back; walk through the pain you’re facing right now and grow.
Don’t waste the pain. Embrace the pain.
Are you ready to embrace the pain, but you don’t know where to start?
Maybe you feel like there’s something invisible that stops you whenever you try to commit to taking your first step.
I know what that’s like. I was there and I walked through it and came out on the other side.
Some people spend their whole life getting to “Step 1” of their dream.
And it’s not because they don’t have the skills, resources, knowledge, or motivation.
There are internal obstacles that stop us before we get started. And until we learn how to get past those obstacles, we will stay stuck on STEP 0.
If this sounds like what you've been facing, I want to invite you to check out Step 0 for yourself.
Some words about Step 0:
"Friends, this book by my friend, Nathanael Clanton is a must read! I'm part way into the book and am so inspired and convicted by the relevance of the content. This is what I call, a "t-shirt book", you can put it on and wear it right away! Many of us feel that we have greatness inside of us, a book, a business, a dream job, leadership, influence...the list goes on. This book will help us to stop talking about our dreams and start moving towards them!"
Ben Rose | Producer, Filmmaker, Pastor, Blogger @ CrossTheIsland.com