Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? – Psalms 42:5a (KJV)
Pain. Perhaps just the mere reading of the word conjures up unpleasant memories. If you’re like me, you have scars on various body parts as lasting tributes to episodes of pain encountered during childhood. As I’m typing this I look down at the scar on my right pinkie finger to remind me of the time as a child that I smashed my finger in a car door. .
Perhaps you carry the invisible but very tangible scars of emotional pain, what Pastor Dale O’Shields refers to as “soul pain.” The events that generated this pain such as emotional or physical abuse, the death of a loved one, or divorce may have occurred in the distant past, but the echoes still reverberate today.
There is debate whether a child is born with a pain avoidance reflex. It is clear that if not born with it, a child learns pain avoidance at a very early age and with good reason. The learning of this reflex could be the key to his or her survival. If a child does not learn that touching a hot stove or open flame can cause severe burns, he could do himself irreparable harm.
While it is natural, even instinctual, for us to avoid pain, I’m suggesting we partner with our pain. No, I’m not a masochist and do not derive any innate pleasure from pain. However I have come to see that in many instances pain can actually be a gift.
Onboard computers monitor a vehicle’s various systems and display early warning indicators if something is wrong. You may elect to ignore these indicators, but the vehicle will be damaged in the long run. Pain is the body’s and soul’s “check engine” and “maintenance required soon” lights providing early indicators of problems that could become severe if left unchecked. Heart disease and stroke are so insidious because they often do not have any early and visibly detectable symptoms. Stroke is sometimes even called the “silent killer.”
In recognizing pain, we must seek to determine its cause and not merely seek alleviation from it. I recall interviewing a real estate agent to list one our former homes for sale. The unscrupulous agent upon seeing a crack in our garage wall suggested I could put toothpaste in the crack to mask it. Often we attempt to “plaster over our pain” by engaging in unhealthy habits to escape from it, rather than addressing the pain head on.
Listen to the psalmist seeking to identify the source of his pain with his question, “why are you downcast, O my soul? why so disturbed within me?” You may need help in getting beneath the surface of your pain. The “check engine soon” light might be an early indicator of vehicle problems, but a diagnostic test must be run to more granularly identify the source. You might need the diagnostic assistance of a trusted friend, counselor or pastor to help identify the source. Upon identifying the source of our pain, we must bring it to God who is ultimately is the source of healing for us.
To identify the source of pain require courage on our part. It may actually mean enduring more pain in the short term from unpleasant memories long buried are revisited. It might be more comfortable to deaden the pain through one of the “isms” such as alcoholism or workaholism. However, if we do not identify and treat the pain at its source, it may likely never disappear. While I’m suggesting we partner with pain, I’m not suggesting we keep it around as a permanent companion.