I have never really thought about pain as being something that helps me through life. I have always just regarded it as a nuisance and something in life that I just have to deal with. But when I took the time to think, I realized that pain is more than just a nuisance and bother. I believe pain strengthens, tests, and supports me.
I recently finished a book called The Giver. In it, Lois Lowry describes a perfect fictional society where everyone is equal, or so they all think. The main character, Jonas, is then assigned the job of learning all of the memories of the past- the joy, pain, grief, and love- that his community never experienced. It especially focuses on the love and even more, the pain that we deal with.
Towards the end of the book, I began to remember a lot of the joyful times in my life and the really painful ones, too. Then I realized something. I, as well as most of the other people in the world, seem to always try to escape the pain that life brings. I always try to steer clear from all of the really challenging and painful situations. But Jonas didn’t. He experienced even more pain than I have been through, and yet he still was eager for more because he learned that pain brought more than just hurt.
Just six months ago, my grandma had a heart attack when she and my grandpa came to visit my family in Bucharest, Romania. She had never had any kind of heart-related problems before, so it was all very shocking and terrifying for me. It was painful to know that my grandma, who had just ran to hug me after not seeing me for six months, was in the hospital practically dying. As I sat there on our kitchen stool I intently listened to my mom talk on the phone to my dad, who was at the hospital with my grandma. My eyes burned from crying so much. My cold stew sat in front of me uneaten. I prayed and cried as my heart ached for everything to all go back to normal. The anguish and pain I suffered those next few days was unbearable.
The pain my grandma’s heart attack brought was hard. But I also learned a lot from it. I learned that every moment is so very important in life. It is one extra second to love, to make memories, and to cherish. I also learned that besides bringing grief and suffering, pain also brings unity and trust. It has been through some of my most painful moments in life that I have strengthened relationships with friends and family, and felt the unity of my community as they all encouraged and helped me through my pain.
I have seen so many people let their pain eat away at their lives and end up in miserable situations. But if there’s one thing in life that I’ve learned, it’s that I decide what controls me. Pain doesn’t have to control me. Instead, I have to learn from it. Some of life’s most valuable lessons are learned by really bad mistakes or learning too much, as in Jonas’ case.
Now, I’m not saying that I should just go out there and run toward every painful experience, but I shouldn’t run away from them either. I believe in confronting and using the pain in my life to strengthen, encourage, and support me. So the next time I find myself in a painful situation, whether it is an injury or a death, I’m going to confront it and learn from it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.