Funny how things in your life collide.
I grew up as the sickly, skinny little asthma boy with dark circles under his eyes, who carried his inhaler to school every day. I learned to play guitar because I couldn’t run and play outside much without having an asthma attack. I learned to enjoy reading because I was confined to the bed and to homemade ‘tents’ for the majority of my preschool and elementary years. Well-meaning parents and doctors repeatedly told me to ‘take it easy’ and ‘don’t push too hard’. I only played two seasons’ worth of little league baseball and never played any organized football. Now after 40 years, I’m 4 days away from participating in my first half-marathon. To say I’m excited would be like saying the sun is a little warm.
It’s hard to explain, but I’ve never understood it until lately. I like running (I think I’m becoming addicted, actually) because it’s a challenge. If you run hard, there’s definitely pain – and you’ve got to work your way through the pain. Lately it seems all I’ve heard is ‘Don’t overdo it’ and ‘Don’t push yourself.’ which is, well, ….moronic. If you push the human body, it will respond. Your threshold for physical pain raises, as well as your mental threshold. You realize that God designed our bodies to withstand and work in the midst of pain, sometimes with amazing results. Yet we’ve developed a fear of pain and a need to avoid it.
I remember when we were pregnant with our first child. We took childbirth classes at a Waco hospital. During the first night, we met a 15-year-old mom-to-be and her mother in our class. After watching the first video (you know the one!), the girl turned to her mother and said, "I don’t think I can do this…". Lovingly, her mom replied, "Sure you can. There will be lots of pain, but you’ll do fine." You could almost see the message on her face as she wished that birth control could somehow be retroactive..or that she could simply hit fast-forward and skip over the labor pains.
Church is much like that as well.
We forget that progress is not painless. Many times what we want is some kind of spiritual birth control– where we can fast forward through all the church’s failures and frustrations and get to being this deeper, wiser, group of God-like beings. (i.e. give birth to great things without having birth pains or doo-doo to clean up).
It’s good to remember that just because church people have the ability to match their clothes, facilitate some great small group, or belt out on-key worship lyrics does not necessarily mean they have pure thought lives, a solid marriage, or the ability to always act like true representatives of God. I would think that this is obvious. However, whenever we experience pain at the fallibility of the church, we are still surprised. Apparently, the fact that the humans who run the church are flawed is a new revelation to some. And the pain that brings is suprising.
While imprisoned by other Christians, the 16th century priest St. John of the Cross, wrote a series of reflections entitled the Dark Night of the Soul. In it, he described how the pain present in our normal life routines is a useful element of the Christian experience. As the pain slows us down and forces us into sometimes tense reflection, we often see things in the darkness that we would never see in the light.
Paul says, in effect, that our suffering leads to hope (Romans 5:3-5) I’m beginning to believe that painful moments define the Church just as much or more than the bright ones. Those moments of pain also define us as well. Tyler Durden calls it ‘premature enlightenment’.
As Three Days Grace so aptly puts it in the video below, "I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.."