My kids started a new season of swim club this week. Yesterday morning they complained about their aching limbs. One moaned, “I hope they don’t make us swim that much again today!”
Not me. I hope they do.
You understand why: For my kids to become stronger swimmers, they’re going to have to feel tired, hungry, and out of breath in the process. The ache isn’t the problem.
The problem comes if the ache is misinterpreted.
Likewise, whenever a person seeks significant life change, he or she will encounter pain along the way. If that pain is recognized as a necessary part of growth, the person experiencing it will be more able to press through.
But if a person believes the pain is evidence he or she doesn’t have what it takes, is failing (or soon will), or that this isn’t the right path at all—then that person is much more likely to turn back, give up, or give in.
My kids have my wife and me to help them interpret the ache in their limbs. But the pain that comes with other kinds of change isn’t always as clear. Quitting a bad habit like pornography or cigarettes, letting go of a victim mentality, or forsaking a false sexual identity—all of these will bring about pain that’s easy to misinterpret.
Here are three examples of the kinds of pain I mean:
- Frustration – With any kind of life-change, it’s common to feel frustrated with how you’re doing or the progress you’re making. When our children were infants, we observed how they each exhibited greater frustration just before they reached a new milestone (e.g. sitting up, crawling, or walking, etc.). The frustration was a result of feeling less and less satisfied with their limitations, which in turn helped move them forward.
- Sorrow – This one surprises many people. Why would I feel sorrow to leave something bad behind and move onto something better? Walking away from an old familiar habit will create a very real sense of loss. And grieving is an appropriate response to loss—it’s an important part of truly letting go so you can move on to something better.
- Temptation – If anything is a magnet for those old familiar temptations, pain is. Temptation promises relief from the pain. Why put yourself through this? It’s too much! It’s taking too long. God’s not coming through for you, so just indulge a little. Temptation will reduce over time, but only if you don’t give in.
In all of these and many more, no one knows first hand about pain and sorrow like Jesus does. Bring whatever ache you feel to him and ask him what it means. In the meantime, resist the urge to interpret your ache as an automatic indicator you’re going the wrong way. It may be telling you something radically different.
Question: In addition to frustration, sorrow, and temptation, what other types of pain do you see along the pathway to substantial change in your life?
Off to swim practice,