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Trading pain for a purpose

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) David Leonard
  • 509th Bomb Wing
Every time I run a marathon, I cringe just a little bit as I contemplate the back half. I think about the back half a lot, and by back half I mean miles 17-26.2. I'm just an average runner, but marathons have taught me almost as much about spiritual growth as seminary training.

In a marathon, the first 13.1 miles are somewhat euphoric if you have been training for it. You glide into pace with the crowd. You feel better than you expected and you're making better time than you would have ever imagined. That is until you hit the back half. Somewhere around mile 17 you get this feeling in your gut that signals you're getting tired and there is a small hint of pain in your quads. By mile 20 it's not hinting anymore -- it's SCREAMING! This is where it takes one beyond physical training and into the realm of mental discipline. It requires every ounce of determination and drive to finish the next six miles.

Why on earth would anyone want to go through such self-exacting misery? Because good pain brings new life. Pain takes one of two roles in our lives. It either poisons us, or it makes us stronger. I am referring to pain here in the spiritual sense. We all have pain associated with relationships, disappointment and loss.

In the book "How People Grow" by Cloud and Townsend, there are two types of pain: Worthless pain and growth pain. Worthless pain results from avoiding pain: not facing a pattern that needs to change, toxic relationships, addictions, avoiding difficulties, destructive patterns learned growing up, unable to forgive and isolating oneself from others.  Good pain produces growth in the individual.

Of course there are many things in life that are out of our control that cause us pain. The question inevitably becomes, "What do I do with pain I can't fix?" The answer is we learn from it and we choose what becomes of it. We can choose to be better or bitter.

A valid way to test good pain versus bad pain might be asking yourself some questions: Am I angry because someone else hurt me? Am I doing things when I hurt that aren't good for me? Is my pain causing problems in my relationships/work? What kind of people do I choose to be close to? What kind of patterns do I see over and over again in my relationships? Does my life have a purpose beyond myself? Am I hurting others because I hurt?

If you realize that your pain is "bad pain," look for spiritual solutions. Often we find reprise in seeking mental, social or physical solutions. I would suggest that spiritual pain often has a spiritual root that requires a spiritual fix. In essence, spiritual can refer to: connection with God, connection with others or meaning of life issues.

In letting go of the old pain, make room for new connections. Explore prayer, meditation and worship. Let go of old hurts to make room for new hopes. Identify patterns and attitudes that have been destructive in your life and change those behaviors. Accept pain as a natural part of life and look forward to positive change. Be courageous in seeking out healthy connections with others. If what you have tried in the past isn't working, ask for help from someone else.

As much as marathons hurt in the back half, few things feel better than the finisher's medal at the end. When your legs won't stand and every fiber aches, it feels pretty good to know that you stayed the course and you traded pain for a purpose.