Pain and growth, Growth and pain
I was shocked awake by the pain. Screams came from my mouth before my brain even registered that I was in a cabin, with a bunch of guys I had just met that very day on the way up to camp. As much as I wanted to silence the yelps coming from my mouth, my voice wouldn’t stop responding to the agony. I was fourteen years old and this was the first time I’d ever experienced a calf cramp. The guys in the cabin were gracious to help me figure out what was going on; that someone had not just stabbed me in the back of the leg, but that I was having growing pains. They helped me stretch the muscle, providing thankful relief.
I share this story because it’s funny to look back on this embarrassing moment in my life, and how it highlights a reality about life and pain: To grow is to be in pain. Recently I’ve been in the middle of a lot of pain. From realizing deep rooted identity issues, to relational tensions, this year has been marked with many frustrations that have just plain scuked. Over the last couple months I’ve read two books that have been formative in helping me both notice and navigate the reality of this pain. Leadership Pain by Samuel Chand, and Sifted by Wayne Cordeiro, have shed light on the benefits of pain that have helped me reframe how to navigate, and even appreciate, the pain we go through . One of the biggest shifts for me has been in the revelation that there isn’t growth without pain, and that pain can actually be the fertilizer for growth.
In the Bible, there is example after example of people who have been put through the ringer. Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t paint a promise of a pain free life once you place your faith in God. In fact I can’t think of one Biblical character that doesn’t face pain in their lives, and most characters are smothered with pain. Now this can be discouraging, but when you see the fullness of their stories-- a beautiful truth is revealed; God uses pain to help grow and shape people. Moses, spends time ostracized from his people, has a speech impediment, and leads Israel out of Egypt. Joseph is sold into slavery, accused and imprisoned for something he didn’t do, and becomes the second highest seat in Egypt. Jesus’ disciples are beaten, scattered, and mocked for their belief in the Gospel, and they are the catalyst for the Word being spread. We can even look at Jesus himself, and the launch of his ministry was out of pain. Forty days in the desert ending with a temptation from the devil would clearly produce physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.
Each one of these stories, and so many other ones reveal that pain can actually be a positive thing, when embraced as the fertilizer for growth. While pain is never fun to go through, and not something we should seek out, God, in his graciousness can redeem it for something greater. In his book Leadership Pain, Samuel Chand helps us realize the relationship between growth and pain. He makes the argument that growth doesn’t happen without change, change doesn’t happen without loss, and loss doesn’t happen without pain. Therefore with growth there will be pain. Not only is there wisdom in this perspective, but there is relief in knowing that not only does growth equal pain, but that pain can equal growth. The equation isn’t one way, it goes the other way too, BUT there is a catch. For the equation to work the other way we must navigate the pain with a desire to grow (whether that be closer to God, in relationship to others, or in our own character development). Pain won’t equal growth if all we do is sit, wallow, and hate the pain. In these times, we need allow the pain to draw us into deeper discussions, laments, frustrations, praises, and wrestling with God. If we approach pain in this way we will begin to grow. It may take weeks, months, or years to see the growth movement, but we can know with confidence that growth will be happening.
So my encouragement to you, and my reminder to myself is simply this: Know that with growth will come pain, and that with pain can come growth. Our path to growth and through pain is not about trying more, it is about relying more. Relying on a God who can hold your pain, handle your anger, and help you grow...not in spite of your pain, but because of it.