Does your life hurt? Mine does, too.

We live in a world at war. Until God’s final restoration of the heavens and the earth, angst and struggle are baked into the human experience. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus promised (John 16:33), and Peter added, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you” (I Peter 4:12).

This is good news. We shouldn’t automatically read pain like a parking ticket—a kind of cosmic proof that we’re doing something wrong. Put another way, not all pain comes wrapped in consequences. On the other hand, there are always consequences for the way we handle our pain. 

I’ve noticed how vital it is to manage both my reaction to pain (which is immediate) and my response to pain (the aftermath). I pray that by cracking open my ribcage to give you a good look at me, you’ll find some guidance and hope for yourself. Here are two keys to process your pain for healing and growth.

Reaction: Choosing engagement over escapism

My wife and I have been surprised by some serious pain the past few days, and it’s left us feeling gutted, numb, and raw.

The day “it” happened, I found myself alone in the house after Shauna went to bed. You know what I felt? Done. I felt spent, and the last thing I wanted to do was think or pray about my pain.

You know what I wanted to do? Play a few rounds of Fortnite online. To forget, to escape, to distract myself long enough that I could crash into the covers and konk out without having to process how I was feeling. That’s called escapism, and Fortnite was my drug of choice.

You know what a large part of me didn’t want to do? Talk to Jesus about it. It’s true. 

I was angry, and to be honest, I wanted to be. Plus, given what happened, I should have been!  So I didn’t feel ready to forgive. I felt like the rogue prophet Jonah, who said, “This is exactly what I thought you’d do, Lord… That’s why I ran away… For I knew you were a gracious God, merciful, slow to get angry, and full of kindness…” (Jonah 4:1,2, Living Bible). Jonah ran from God because God deals with stuff, and Jonah wasn’t ready to deal. 

Thankfully, I gave into the Holy Spirit’s prompting to lean into the Father before bed. Now, understand: Part of me wanted to do this, but a large part of me didn’t. I went with the part of me that did, because I knew that part of me was the real me, my new self. It was my flesh that didn’t want to deal. If I’d given into my flesh, even for an evening, I would have “let the sun go down while (I) was still angry,” and by doing that, I would have “(given) the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26,27). 

I was too exhausted to process my pain fully, so I focused on forgiveness first. This took me to the cross to deal with my anger, which restored some much needed perspective in my soul. By the way, my new book, Deeply Devoted, includes some golden instructions about how to process anger and forgiveness with God.

Then it was time to go to bed.

Response: Choosing prayer over rumination.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, one sense of the word ruminate is “to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed: chew the cud.” 

That’s how I began my day the next morning: I replayed what happened over and over, circling around it, shaking my head, muttering to myself… until I realized what I was doing. It was time to come to God once again.

I began by inviting him into my process—deeper into me:

“Father, would you come and be perfectly one with me in this pain and angst in my soul? Thank-you. Come, Holy Spirit, come.”

And then I sat for a moment, resting and giving God space to do just that. Side note: As believers, God is already one with us in spirit (I Corinthians 6:17) and with our bodies (I Corinthians 6:19). It’s our soul (mind, will, emotions) that are often at odds with him and need his renewal (Romans 12:2).

As I became present to God, I also became present to my soul. I realized I wasn’t mad anymore—but I was confused, hurting, and flailing for some kind of perspective. As I invited the Father into those things, an idea came to me—a truth to stand on. I wrote this down, and as I did, another truth came. Before long, I was writing madly in my journal to keep up with the train of thought the Holy Spirit was ‘downloading’ for me. 

When I was done, I re-read what I’d written, evaluating whether it meshed with scripture. It certainly did. It also challenged me, gave me peace, and provided some kind of place to stand moving forward. It also led to some pretty powerful prayers I wouldn’t have thought to bring to God had I not let him into my pain and anger.

The key here is, don’t just think about it, pray about it. And don’t just pray about it, pray through it. And don’t just talk, listen.  

What about you?

 Are you in pain right now? How have you been dealing with it? Have you given in to escapism or rumination? How’s that working for you? Remember, there are always consequences for the way we handle our pain. It’s vital to manage both your reaction (which is immediate) and your response (the aftermath). Lean into God, and let him guide you through your anger and confusion.

Even our pain can deepen our intimacy with him. 

Oh, how I love him!