I am not much of an expert on physical pain management, although I support the practice. A few years ago I had shoulder surgery and my anesthesiologist gave me “the works.” I can honestly say, with the exception of an unfortunate fall in the midst of my recovery, and my physical therapy sessions, I never experienced pain. Thanks Doc!
But there is another kind of pain that has to be managed, and I have met several people recently who are suffering as a result. The pain started with Hurricane Harvey, was expanded with Hurricane Irma and hit a new threshold with Hurricane Maria. Then came a massacre at a concert in Las Vegas followed by a fire in the NAPA Valley which took several lives. All of these events occurred against the backdrop of intense social debate and tension between world leaders. In addition, many are struggling with the sorrow that occurs in all of our lives when we lose loved ones, encounter disappointment and experience temporary defeat.
We call it “emotional pain.”
I would be remiss if I did not mention, while we may feel emotional pain as a result of events taking place around us, the physical pain of those involved in a crisis or tragedy is still quite real.
Just keeping things honest.
We manage emotional suffering in a number of ways. Sometimes we engage professionals in the process, which is always a good idea if we think we might be slipping into a serious depression. However, I would like to suggest some ways we might manage our emotions as we seek to cope with more general forms of emotional pain.
Take time to sort through your emotions. Pain has a way of traveling. When I suffered from shingles I learned the difference between a skin rash and a condition that attacks the nervous system. A shingles rash on my shoulder shot darts of pain through my scalp. Weird. In the same way our emotions travel. A news story about a natural disaster can exasperate the pain of a divorce. Feelings of fear and doubt can mix with those of loneliness and resentment, producing a volatile cocktail of despair. God knew we would experience these times of trouble, which is why He gave us each other and promised the indwelling gift of the Spirit. We will still experience a convergence of emotion from time to time, but Christ is our Centerpiece who helps us with the sorting process. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Ask God to help you avoid transference. As a minister, sometimes I am the object of transference. When people are angry at God they take it out on me. Sometimes they lash out at God and me, and sometimes just me. It all depends on what they think God might do to them if they cross a line. I’m not whining. I understand, and we all have occupational risks. However, sometimes when we transfer our emotions to innocent people we can permanently damage relationships, or catch someone at the wrong time and hurt them badly. The Apostle Peter knew first century Christians had reason to be angry with God. They had given their lives to His Son and as a result were suffering persecution and pain. Peter wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) I believe this means it is alright to tell God we are angry. We should cast “all” of our anxiety on Him. He has broad shoulders and will love us regardless. The more honest we are with God, the less likely we are to blame the wrong people for our trouble.
Try not to let your feelings distort the truth. When we are visited by many troubles, it is easy to lose hope, or to believe God has abandoned us. Satan would love to exploit our emotional pain and lead us to believe there is no reason to keep up the fight. However, we know it has been almost 2,000 years since the first church leaders faced immeasurable emotional and physical pain. Most of them remained faithful, Satan’s schemes were overthrown, and the kingdom of God continued to expand. The truth is, God will never leave or abandon us, and sometimes His glory is most evident in suffering. The Apostle Peter addressed persecution in the early church with these words: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:12-16)
None of this suggests we should trivialize emotional pain, ignore signs of depression or use worn out clichés to deny the reality of our pain. Instead, we should pray for perspective, even as we take our suffering seriously and seek wise counsel from others.
We manage our pain by seeking God’s will and out-smarting Satan in our time of trouble.
Satan is a pain.
Let’s manage him.