At the beginning of every year, my church does a corporate 21 day fast. This helps me to be intentional about how I start the new year and allows me refocus on the Lord if I have drifted away in certain areas. For this round of fasting, I’ve chosen to eliminate certain foods and limit my time on social media: those apps or sites that tend to distract more than enhance me. Since we started, I’ve been feeling pretty good; after eliminating foods I know aren’t great for me, I’ve felt strong and healthy, until this week. This week the pain returned and that’s when things have gone wrong.
“I don’t care. I’m in pain.”
I said that a couple days ago as justification for eating a cookie in a moment of pain-induced weakness. In that moment, I didn’t care about anyone else around me or the sacrifice I was making for the Lord, I just wanted to do anything I could to get my pain to diminish. Though that momentary dose of sugar did nothing to help me feel better, it exposed a truth about human nature: you’re selfish when you’re in pain. No matter if it’s physical, mental, or emotional, pain begets selfishness. When you’re in pain, you become consumed with what you’re experiencing, a sensation that’s difficult to tune out to focus on the needs or well-being of others.
Hurting people hurt people.
I wonder how many times we’ve encountered a selfish person and immediately written them off. I know I’ve done this more times than I care to admit. I will think to myself “that’s just how they are, better steer clear” or “I don’t want to be around a person like that!” without daring to dig deeper. What if we began to see selfishness for what it is: a symptom of something greater? What if we dug deeper to get to the root of the problem, instead of merely skimming the surface?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning selfishness, as it flies in the face of everything Jesus taught. Instead, I’m advocating for grace to be shown and self-assessments to be had. I want to encourage you to start by looking more meaningfully at your own behavior. From there, I wonder if that paradigm shift will lead each of us to see other people’s actions in a slightly different light. As I’ve been thinking on this topic for the past few days, I’ve begun to wonder what other areas I am selfish in and what hurt or pain the action is stemming from.
We’ve all been hurt before. Pain is something we all recognize and try our best to avoid. We spend a great deal of time running from the pain by any means possible, which rarely leads to good decision-making. In C.S. Lewis’ brilliantly written book, The Problem of Pain, the appendix includes a note from a doctor, summarizing his experience with patients and the effect pain had on them. He concludes with this:
“Pain provides an opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.”
Whatever you’ve gone through or are currently going through that is causing you pain, I want to tell you that you’re being set up to be a hero. No matter if the hurt is in your physical body or stemming from some emotional wound, you have the opportunity to do something great with it. The question is: what are you going to do with that pain? Are you going to let it consume you, becoming focused on your self or will you give it to God and, though it’s a hard road, allow him to work through you?
I’ve tried doing it on my own and it doesn’t seem to work. I think I’ll try it God’s way. Will you join me?