A Seaman's Quest

One man's search for truth

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Learning from Pain

Learning From Pain

Life is filled with difficulties and struggles; they are unavoidable. Perseverance through the struggle helps us grow.

Pain is a refining process that ultimately leads us to a richer life and wholeness. During this time when our faith is tested we need to gain understanding, which comes from God.

Sometimes when we ask for wisdom we are not willing to embrace the truth of reality as it is. Unless we are brutally honest we will never gain any meaningful insight, since our minds and hearts are closed. As a result we will flounder with no answers indefinitely.

Our viewpoint on our circumstances is often wrong, giving us a very shallow understanding of reality. In God’s economy, wealth and poverty mean nothing. We can live out a meaningful life only by seeking God’s specific purpose.

Difficulties can teach us about meaning and purpose. But during this process we are tempted to give up and turn away from God which will lead us to destroy ourselves. Only by persevering and learning will we benefit from the struggle. We must be patient and find the truth that the Lord would teach us.

God’s plan for us is wholly good, but along the way we will experience sorrow and pain. This will cause us to grow and lead us toward the perfection that God already sees in us. He has a plan and purpose that is unique to each of us, but refinement is needed to get us to the place where we can embrace his plan.

Our emotions frequently block our progress and stop God’s purpose for us. It does no good to hear the truth without embracing it. We must see reality as it is rather than as we want it to be. Otherwise we are just fooling ourselves. If our actions are not aligning with God’s truth, it is clear that we are not embracing reality.

Growth can happen as a result of suffering, but it depends on how we deal with it. It might be a valuable experience or it could be totally wasted. This largely depends on how we react to the pain that we feel. Does it move us to seek God or to draw away. It is a choice.

Discovery Comes Incrementally

I’m a better person than I’ve ever been before but worse than I will ever be again. Hopefully every month that passes will see real progress in my understanding. Personal growth is a lifelong and continuous investment. Every new experience offers an opportunity to learn and grow.

Each new insight builds understanding that is compounded. Learning is a process of exponential growth that makes future growth even easier. Every lesson learned produces confidence for overcoming new challenges.

Over time, I am able to recognize problems early and address them. A small dysfunction can be dealt with before it develops into full-scale mental illness. Absolute honesty is needed for the increased self-awareness required to grow and mature.

Each victory spawns greater confidence to address issues earlier, resulting in a commitment to continuous growth. Over a lifetime this has a profound impact on our overall quality of life. The difference between people that deal with emotional issues and those that do not is like day and night.

Pay Attention to Pain

Pain is a great teacher. Identifying areas of unresolved and recurring pain can quickly highlight the next advancement. A painful situation or conversation is a true opportunity for learning. It reveals a sore spot where healing should take place. We ignore this pain at our peril and miss the chance to understand what is causing this pain.

I’ve started keeping a Pain Journal to capture these moments. During the heat of the moment I lack the objectivity needed to grow from the experience, but later this can be a valuable indicator that something needs attention. This pain journal is used later after the situation is cooled and provides examples of the specific issues that must be addressed.

Analyzing Pain

To look at your pain is a bit like looking into the Palantir from Lord of the Rings. It can be a terrifying and unnerving experience to learn things about myself that I would rather not know. But courage is always rewarded when it comes to personal honesty.

The process of analyzing the pain in my life is very straightforward, but also exhausting. In involves the following steps:

Each of these steps takes me closer to understanding the true nature of the problem. Each step is a step toward healing. Sadly I often lack the courage to walk this path, and choose the path of denial instead. Ultimately, denying a problem exists allows it to fester and breed, eventually consuming my entire life. Facing it head-on is the only solution that works.

Relive the Moment

It is astoundingly easy to relive painful experiences from years ago. Emotion memory does not fade; pain can have a lasting impact. The first step toward healing is like choosing to open Pandora’s Box. You must be certain that you are committed to the journey.

Bring the painful moment back into the light; relive the horror you felt. Pain has four faces: Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Shame. Our most painful experiences are a blend of all four of these aspects. I dwell here just long enough to get the adrenaline pumping. This gets me the motivation to resolve the issue.

I am amazed by how fresh and raw my most painful experiences are from my childhood. It was like those thing just occurred.

Write an Angry Letter

I process things by writing. Other process things by talking them out. When I need to work out any problem it is helpful for me to put pen to paper (or more aptly, fingers to keys). I write down all of my grievances and concerns.

The main objective for doing this is to accurately and dramatically describe the turmoil that I feel. I intentionally use my whining voice and complain about everything that I would have sense not to tell another person. The goal is to express maximum emotion to try and capture the most extreme version of the conflict.

Later this writing always appears intensely juvenile and self-centered. Part of the value of this step for me is to illustrate how unjustified my feelings are even though they are so deeply felt.

I then convert all of these complaints into a letter to the Universe (or some faceless uncaring deity like Odin or Zeus). Targeting one of these gods reduces the amount of repenting I need to do in a later stage of processing.

Ask Why

I let some time go by and let my subconscious stew on the angry letter.
Sometimes I think of additional things that really torqued me off. I view the letter as a working document, that describes everything that is wrong with my life. At some point it begins to feel rather ridiculous.

Describing my pain in writing is a starting point for examination. Why the strong negative emotions? What is really causing that? I dive in at this point; there is no turning back now. I must find the root cause of the issue so that I can receive the healing I so badly need.

Humans are complex beings. Our emotions are deeply layered. The first time we ask why we feel a certain way, we get only a superficial answer. We must dig deeper by asking why that is so. To trace the true problem I typically need to ask "Why?" five times, sorting through the layers. This lets me uncover the layers all of way down to the central issue.

At the core of every big problem is a lie that I believe to be true. The lie has already caused me a great deal of pain so I want to never forget what I just learned. The newly discovered lie becomes a feature article in a newspaper that I publish for my eyes only.

"Lies I Believe" makes for gripping reading whenever I begin slipping back into darkness. It can provide an instant jolt of reality. It allows me to scoff at my old foolishness and feel superior to my past self for how wise I now am. We all need a little humor in these dark times.

Repent and Seek Forgiveness

Writing about the myths that I have subscribed to goes a long way toward bringing the issues into the open. Putting words to the lie reveals the inevitable falsehood of the situation. Then I ask why this lie has had so much power over me.

The next step is to repent from this flawed thinking and choose a more life-giving path. I confess the sinfulness of these lies to God and them I find a human that I can confide in. This is someone that I trust deeply.

There is a natural accountability that emerges from this confidence that is shared. A deeper bond of trust is developed each time we choose to trust another personal with our dirt.

Receive Love and Healing

This trust will lead automatically to a deeper level of conversation and understanding. My issues may actually be shared by the other and so bring redemption to them as a bi-product.

Anyone I share with will automatically begin praying for me and will likely inquire about the related issue later. This begins a healthy interaction and a supportive cycle of growth.

The camaraderie that develops as a result is priceless. This is no surface relationship but a deep commitment to see each other prosper. All too often, we settle for so little out of fear of disclosure. We believe that if someone really understood our weakness then they would reject us.