The Meaning of Pain


In the end, adversity finds us all.

For the past five years, I’ve struggled through various physical, debilitating pains – first a hip surgery that left me unable to run, then a permanent toe fracture, and now a neuroma/plantar fasciitis/metatarsalgia (depending on which of the five (six?) doctors I’ve seen in the last year you ask).

To suffer through any type of pain is a test of endurance, whether it’s the physical kind or the wrenching heartbreak you experience through a broken relationship or death. Sometimes it’s the repeated hope and disappointment of fertility tests or surgeries that fail and fail again. Sometimes they’re all intertwined. Sometimes we plead with God to take it away. Sometimes we don’t see the point of living any more.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that we’re above the pain, that we’ve moved on and it can’t touch us. I find this works on most days when it happens to be a busy time at work or when Little V is yelling for attention. But when it’s calm, an unsettling feeling starts inside of me..

What if there’s no meaning to any of this?

Meaning justifies our pain. If life was merely about living, suffering, and dying, then I think the joke is on us.

But how do we find meaning, especially if we’re going through something difficult in the present? When I had my hip issues, I found myself talking about arthritis with people more than twice my age. It was both funny and not. Did my pain happen so that I could empathize with the elderly? Was God teaching me to be grateful with what I had and have? Just what was the point? I wanted answers, and I wanted them as quickly as possible. Preferably now.

The problem is that I am frequently unable to look past the present. When I limp around the house, feeling sorry for myself that even walking to the bathroom is a chore, and that no one my age has to deal with this on a daily basis (likely untrue), I end up depressed and angry. I isolate myself from the people I love, and what started purely as a physical challenge is now combined with a mental battle.

Maybe meaning eventually cumulates over time. When Mr. Wonderful and I went through a marriage crisis, it was a terrible period of anguish and trial. We wouldn’t want anyone to ever go through the same. And yet it has profoundly connected us with people who may otherwise have remained only acquaintances. In a strange, twisted way, adversity binds us together. It creates community. It is through common pain and suffering that deep relationships can happen. Perhaps it is a way to let love, even more love than was there before, to grow and flourish.

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  1. says

    Gosh, you’ve been through quite a lot! I guess pain happens to all of us in some way. I actually find living is more painful than enjoyable most days. But I have been noticing that every time I’m at my lowest, something unexpected happens, where I feel the presence of a bigger love to get me through it. I usually don’t realize it until time has passed and I reflect back. There is a bigger love! Sending you a virtual hug! You are strong my friend!

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing your heart, Jen. The questions around pain and suffering are, I think, some of the oldest human questions in existence. I always found it interesting and appropriate that Job is believed to be the oldest book in the bible, and it is basically a book about a man and his family and friends questioning the meaning of pain and suffering.

    I am currently reading a book called “A Balm for Gilead,” which is a composite of thoughts and meditations about being in the medical field. While a lot of it feels over my head or too clinical, I have found some meaningful insights in it. Two interesting themes that the book seems to come back to multiple times are (1) this idea that we too have died with Christ (Romans 6:8, which I always took to be a spiritual metaphor, but he talks about it like for some, their suffering on earth may create a physical and spiritual connection to that death experience), and (2) that an encounter with the sick or suffering is in some way an encounter with Christ himself (a different angle on Matthew 25:36 meeting “the least of these”.) Anyway, I don’t know if either of those concepts will strike a nerve with you, but I have found the way the author expounds on them to be moving. They have prompted some interesting prayers times for me as I think about pain and suffering.

    Finally, for some reason, one of the stories that is shared in the book popped into my mind as I read your blog post. I am not sure if you will find it meaningful or not, but I thought I would share just in case. It’s about “Hermann the Cripple.” Here is a link to the passage in the book:

    • lifeunrefined says

      Thank you, I’ll check out the story! It looks like I’m unable to access it from your link but perhaps I’ll check out the book. :)

  3. Janice says

    I am excited about how this suffering will shine light on fashion and beautiful adornments and vice versa. Sometimes the two seem incompatible, but here they exist together. I think about how often dressing up has made me feel stronger when I’m sad, or how simple, almost frivolous pleasures, can help me to remember the levity of life. But here, they are juxtaposed, and beauty, in all forms, means something deeper because more is at stake. It can even possibly take a really dark turn (considering all the dark things about fashion), but your resilience and eyes searching for light gives me hope that you will find something none of us can see just yet. Looking forward to following what you find in this wrestling!

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