“Life is pain, princess. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

So says Wesley to the Princess in one of the Frye family’s favorite movies The Princess Bride. Pain is one more area of our life where our focus can easily get knocked out of phase.

One out of phase response is avoidance. We can do this by simply pushing it down and pretending it doesn’t exist. We can put on a happy face and deny its existence all the way to the grave. I have known several families that have suffered under the weight of lifelong painful shame, choosing the toxicity of avoidance over the healing balm of addressing their pain’s root cause.

The other opposite, but equally destructive, out of phase response is to seek to numb the pain through substance abuse, burying oneself in work or pleasure, or by chasing a constant need for accomplishment and approval. So, what is a healthy way to deal with pain? Head on.

Pain is a signal to both body and soul that something is wrong. Pain is also a sign that there is life. I remember walking with a friend through a deep marital struggle. He was heartsick at the pain he was experiencing and thought its existence was evidence of the need to give up. I shared with him that precisely because he felt pain meant it was time to double down in an effort to save their marriage, telling him what I shared earlier, “Where there is pain, there is life.”

Similarly, while sitting with my dad a nurse examined a very painful sore that was not healing. She apologized but went on to say that the pain was a good thing as—again—it was an indication the flesh was not dead.

So what is the in-phase response to pain? To lean into it. Not to avoid it, but to search until you find the root cause and then deal with it. Not treating the symptom, but dealing with the source. This may require medical treatment, counseling, a change in lifestyle, or another adjustment. Healing often also requires a willingness to forgive.

If allowed, the enemy of our soul will always exploit our pain, convincing us that it is evidence that God either does not exist or that He is out to get us. Or—when we have been hurt by someone—that the offending party is not worthy of our forgiveness and as such we deserve to even the score. The reality is, however, that retaliation will never subdue our ache. While avoidance may provide temporary relief, it will only propagate the pain, and frustrate the situation. Likewise, making our pain the object of our attention results in the same sense of ever increasing angst.

To keep our pain in-phase requires that we fully surrender it to Christ, knowing that He is with us in it and through it. If the pain is due to sin—whether our own or of others—trusting that He purchased it through the redemptive work of the cross allows us to begin the healing process. Though never easy, it is far less difficult than suffocating under the weight of pain we refuse to address.

Like all other areas of life that are out of phase, freedom is only found it its surrender.

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