We rarely, if ever, put the idea of blessing into the same realm with pain. They seem opposed to one another, like trying to mix oil and water. But having worked in addiction recovery for the past dozen years, I have discovered uncanny links between them. And if we pay attention to these links, we might find that our pain can have a purpose that is good and redemptive.
Everyone who knocks on the door of our ministry for help does not like the circumstances surrounding their addiction. There are broken relationships, unfulfilled promises, histories of trauma and abuse, and too many lies of self-deception to count. In other words, they are drowning in pain. And they all want one thing: relief!
Of course, we don't like seeing the devastation of what their addiction has caused. It grieves us to see broken families, sexually transmitted infections, and all else that can come from a life of sexual addiction. But if we really want to help these hurting people find true relief, we need to guide them into a bigger understanding of pain's purpose. Otherwise, they may spend the rest of their lives only trying to avoid pain, rather than acquiring the rich blessings that can come from facing their hurt head on.
There are three primary blessings that I believe can come from pain, if you will allow it. And that's the key: to listen to your pain, and thereby receive the blessing hidden within it.
1. Pain ALERTS us of danger.
I previously wrote a blog post that addresses this idea of pain being a warning system, but I want to highlight it again here in the context of blessing. Imagine if unhealthy choices, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual were allowed to occur without warning. What an incredible mess of destruction would follow!
And what if horrible atrocities were conducted against humanity and nature without any feelings of hurt, anguish, or grief? What a sad existence. What a loss of hope for anyone suffering abuse. We need pain to alert us that something is wrong; something needs correction. This is a blessing, because without such pain, we might not even know what kind of trouble we're in.
2. Pain ANNOUNCES our weaknesses.
Similar to alerting us of danger, pain also (and sometimes in very demanding ways) announces where we are weak. I recall a surgery I underwent a couple years ago in which two major incisions were required across my abdomen. For several weeks after the surgery it was excruciating to move; simple actions like getting in and out of chairs became endeavors that required every ounce of energy and attention. The pain was a constant reminder of my weakened condition.
You might be wondering how "announcing our weaknesses" is a blessing. Well, it is a blessing because we were not made to live independent of our Creator, or one another.
Genesis 2:18 - Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him."
Galatians 6:2 - Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Our weakness is opportunity for fellowship with God and one another. When we admit our weakness, it opens us up to the grace of God more fully. We recognize that we don't have to carry the burdens of this life alone. We can't carry them alone. We need help; our frailty in body and mind regularly confirm this.
3. Pain ARMS us for compassion and service.
When you travel the difficult road of heartache, or illness, or addiction, or persecution, or fill in the blank with whatever pain you have faced, you are being trained for compassion and service to others who are in similar pain. Your pain does not have to be seen as a "waste of time" or meaningless.
I started my journey out of secret sexual addiction in August 1999. At that time I couldn't see any good coming out of what my life was up to that point. I was selfish, angry, depressed. I hurt everyone who loved me -- I betrayed them all. I was living in pain, and I had inflicted untold pain on to others. How could anything good come out of something so bad?
Through recovery God started to show me how He could redeem what I had destroyed. He could remake my life, rebuild my relationships, restore my innocence, and even give me a purpose in all of it: to help others who were carrying the same burden.
Believe it or not, when people ask me if I could change anything about my past, I actually say, "No." Why? Because there is no way I could help sex addicts recover like I do today if I had not walked through "the valley of the shadow of death" of my own addiction. The blessing I receive when I look into the tear-stained eyes of a broken man as he embraces hope for the first time just because I shared my story with him is worth all the agonizing tears I shed on my own journey. I could not have the compassion I do for sexually addicted men if I had not lived that pain myself.
What have been your "valleys of death" on your life's journey? What pain have you endured? Are you heeding the alarms your pain might be sounding? Are you allowing God and others to share your burden, acknowledging where you are weak and need help? Will you allow your pain to be used for the good of others, as compassion grows for those with similar weaknesses and struggles?
There is blessing in the pain. May you have the courage to embrace it...