Updated: Nov 1, 2021
It is Satan’s great hope that we isolate ourselves, that we dismiss the good gifts of God, and that we avoid pain at all costs. He knows that when isolated, we, like sheep, will go astray and become our own enemies. He knows that in dismissing Gods good gifts, we will be driven towards filling the void with something less worthy. And he knows that without acknowledging our pain we will be deceived into believing we have no need for healing, no need for God. Satan doesn't want us to feel the bad feelings.
In his book, A Loving Life, Paul Miller encourages us to endure, what he calls, the crucible. That's the yucky, painful bad stuff that will inevitably crop up in our relationships and in our lives. If we don’t endure the crucible, love can’t grow, the good stuff can’t come through. Avoiding the bad feelings is like pulling up the weeds with the flowers. Life is a messy, tangling of roots and for this time here on earth, the bad is inevitably mixed with the good. If we want to experience the good things, we have to be willing to endure through the bad.
When you shut ourselves off to the bad feelings, you will initially feel pretty good about it. Instant relief. Whew. You've avoided pain. You actually feel pretty strong, confident that you've pushed that pain away and showed it who is boss. But because pain is fundamental to life itself, it is impossible to avoid.
Literally, impossible. You haven't rewritten the laws of the universe; you've just deceived yourself into thinking you did. Because when you avoid pain, here's what really happens. You push it down, push it down, push it down, until it compacts like compost, building up, building up, building up until your heart is suffocated with the stuff. Over time, it compacts and hardens your heart and creates a bitter shell that makes your heart impenetrable, even to the good stuff. Closed-off hearts can’t breathe. Bitter hearts can no longer recognize what is good, jeering and mocking love stories or other peoples success or whatever it is we've been disappointed or hurt by. Closed-off hearts become stale, while we initially think that the withholding of tears is a strength, there will come a day when we want to cry and can't. There will come a day when we want to love something or someone, wants to see the world without the eyes of cynicism, want to develop relationships, but can’t. The only solution is dealing with the things which give us pain.
But I don't stuff it down, you say. I walk right past it. You may think that you've circumvented the pain, snuck by so you can continue with your journey, but actually you've sidestepped. You haven't moved forward at all because pain, while relative in its impact, is unavoidable. And every time you genuinely try to move forward, that pain, disappointment, or hurt will be still waiting for you to move through, not around. You might spend your entire life sidestepping and thinking you're doing ok, but that's only a change in scenery. Get to know yourself, and you'll find that pain is still there waiting to be felt and that in the really important things, you haven't moved forward at all.
I just don't feel anything. Maybe that's you, and you claim that even the most cataclysmic events and tragedies in your life simply had no effect. No pain. No crying. No impact. Take a look at the other areas of your life. Do you see an imbalance in reactivity? Meaning, if that cataclysmic event in your life had no impact, but smaller, seemingly less significant events or upsets have the power to unravel and derail you, then it's likely that you're projecting your undealth with pain on these little things. Ever have the kind of day when stubbing your toe leaves you in a puddle of your own tears, or when a strangers thoughtless comment disintegrates you? Sometimes it's hormones, but usually its indicative of some un-dealt-with emotion or pain. So if you think there are no bad feelings or hurt for you to even feel, take inventory of your days and check the balance of reactivity.
One of the most helpful, succinct and influential quotes on the subject of enduring pain in order that we might experience joy and love comes from a book The Four Loves written by C.S. Lewis. he writes:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Satan wants nothing more than for us to close our hearts because it is the very door by which Christ comes in. Feel the bad feelings, move through them, not around them. Endure the crucible, be vulnerable, and ask God to keep your heart soft and moldable in His capable, loving hands,