As much as we hate to admit it, pain or discomfort does produce change. If it doesn’t break you, it produces character as reinforced by the popular phrase: What doesn’t break you makes you stronger. Chand reminds of some important principles of pain:
- “The longer I avoid a problem, the bigger it generally becomes.
- Pain is a part of progress.
- Often the difference between where I am and where God wants me to be is the pain I’m unwilling to endure.
- God is always faithful.”
The final principle of God’s faithfulness is a hopeful ending to an otherwise dismal prospect of pain and its necessary presence for growth. Simply stated, God makes pain bearable.
Pain comes in stages, and we must go through the uncomfortable stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and sadness before it reaches acceptance. We all want that coveted stage of acceptance, but no one wants to go through the dark valley of death and loss to reach that final stage. And the mind protects you from going through the stages until you are emotionally and physically strong enough to handle it.
Clinically, I have been working with a 25-year-old woman who was tragically abused when she was 20 years old. When she started seeing me, she was unable to discuss or remember much of the abuse she experienced physically and emotionally. I reassured her this was normal, she would remember the trauma when she was ready to heal and to not fear the memories when they surfaced as they were a good indicator she was healing. It has taken her five years to remember and recount the terrors she experienced, and although she shakes when she recalls them, she was comforted by the fact that she is at her strongest as she heals through her recovered memories.
Our bodies have an amazing ability to heal and work through the pain when we are ready, and often allow us to operate in a dissociative state until we are prepared to walk through the dark valley of death and loss. “Pain is meant to wake us up.” and let us know “we’re moving in the right direction.” When we choose to live disassociated from pain, ignore it, or distract ourselves with addictive behavior, our avoidance of pain becomes our “greatest limitation.” Those who face pain are courageous and committed to wholehearted living.
Today I received a call from a recent ministry graduate who was experiencing the stages of grief and bravely expressing it. She had recently taken a Family Life position at her home church that had made a huge impact on her family’s life and their spiritual development. Between her tears and breaking sobs, she recounted the shocking reality they did not consider her a pastor because she was a woman and refused to give her the title due to her gender. Her ministry education encouraged her to be a pastor, despite her gender, so she was shocked at the position her church held on women. She felt betrayed, rejected, and deeply wounded at the discrimination of not being honored like the other men on staff with the deserved title. When she confronted the lead pastor about this, he used scripture to deny her the title, declaring a variety of reasons for his discriminatory behavior. To hear her tearful voice and the undeniable wounded-ness of one who was experiencing shock, anger, and pain at her mistreatment, felt like an unnecessary pain for a beautiful, gifted pastor who has one of the four toughest jobs in America.
When we finished talking, she said, “I’m really sad you had to experience painful leadership experiences in church, but I’m grateful you did so you could help me.” I was reminded of Chand’s principles he offers to confront pain so it will not overcome you:
“1. See pain as your greatest teacher.
2. Let your vision drive you. Keep the vision fresh and strong.
3. Have a rigorous personal development plan.”
Through my leadership experiences, I have seen pain as a great teacher. It has taught me empathy for others, given me compassion for the hurting, and has been a great motivator to develop a vision that helps others recover from the effects of pain. In my personal and professional life, I have learned to confront pain head on and to express it with my words, tears, and creations. Journaling, art, and music composition has been a healing development plan that turns the wounds into scars. Repeatedly, I am reminded that pain is a powerful force that can produce an unlikely result if we allow God to guide the healing process and are committed to reaching radical acceptance. Ultimately, unresolved pain is to be feared greater than the pain itself.
Our hope is we are involved in something greater than ourselves and the pain we encounter, and we are never alone through whatever we experience. We have a Good Shepherd who will never abandon us in our pain as we do kingdom work. “Being a Christian leader in any organization is one of the most difficult jobs in the world—full of risks, strains, and challenges for the leader and his family—but it’s also the one that offers the greatest hope to make a difference both now and for eternity.” I am grateful for the Christian leaders I partner with who regularly remind me to be brave when confronting the inevitable pain we experience in Christian ministry.
 Samuel Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015), 4.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 51.