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How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord; within their hearts are the highways of holiness! [6] Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain … . [7] They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward, and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.

Psalm 84:5-7 TPT

I have spent a lot of time in my life trying to avoid pain. Much like the character Joy from the movie Inside Out, my attempts to be positive make me resist anything (or anyone) that brings negative feelings into my life. 

But this passage tells me that God gives us supernatural strength to walk through darkness and difficulties with our heads held high. He makes us stronger through them, giving us depth and the ability to find a “pleasant pool” where we otherwise might see only pain.

Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.

Ecclesiastes 7:3 NLT

One certainty in life is that we will experience troubles and sorrow (John 16:27), but we don’t have to be afraid of or avoid them. As the Bible says (and Inside Out’s Joy herself learned), sad feelings are not always bad for us

Our human instinct is to protect ourselves from anything that might be painful or sad, but Jesus taught us to live a courageous life in which we can embrace suffering:

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?

Luke 9:23-27 MSG

Running from suffering causes spiritual and emotional problems. It makes us calloused and hardened, unable to feel compassion for others. It makes us live small lives where we avoid any possible negative experiences. It makes us controlling and self-protective. 

I have had to learn from the Scriptures that I don’t need to avoid pain because God will use it to transform me into the person he wants me to be. Free from my fear of suffering, I can walk through life trusting that God will transform my troubles into something good.

I will … transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.

Hosea 2:15 NLT

Troubles can lead to transformation, and if we avoid uncomfortable or negative feelings we will also miss out on the growth God is trying to help us experience. 

There are three main types of pain I run from: guilt, sadness, and failure. Let’s learn how God can transform us through these difficult feelings so that we don’t have to avoid them anymore. Then we can move forward stronger, ready to face anything that comes our way.

Facing our guilt leads us to God’s forgiveness.

Guilt causes distress and sadness. Yes, much of the pain that comes from guilt is self-inflicted, but it’s still pain. Although guilt is painful and uncomfortable, it can prompt us to open our hearts to God and find freedom—if we let it. 

Psalm 107 gives a good description of how guilt affects us:

There were those who lived in darkness and in the shadow of death, Prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God and rejected the plan of the Most High. 

[13] Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them from their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death And broke their bands apart.

Psalm 107:9-11,13-14 NASB

To “sin” is to do things our way (Galatians 5:19-25) and rebel against the words of God (which can be found in the Bible), as this passage describes. Even if we don’t know God’s commands, our consciences will tell us when we do something sinful (Romans 2:14-15), which leads to feelings of guilt.

Guilt is miserable, and it chains us to regret. We carry our sinful choices with us like chains around our necks, and we often get scared to own up to these choices because it feels too painful. We don’t want to see the pain we may have caused people or God. 

I have spent a lot of time in my life trying to avoid and run from guilt because it makes me feel so bad. I have lied about my guilt, rationalized my guilt, blamed others for my guilt, and tried to distract myself from my guilt. But I have learned that as hard as I may try to ignore it, the guilt is still there.

The good news about guilt is that it can push us to cry out to God for help, and God can remove it all.

Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! [3] When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. [4] Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude [5] Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 

Psalm 32:2-5 NLT

When we own up to our guilt and confess it to God, he can clear it away. Feeling guilty is definitely unpleasant, but it can lead to a spiritual breakthrough. It alerts us that we need God’s help, much like a ‘check engine’ light in our car alerts us that we need a mechanic. 

Rather than running from guilt, we can grow by listening to what it’s telling us and taking it to God in honest prayer. 

Pause and reflect

  • What chains of guilt do I need God to snap for me?

Facing our pain leads to God’s healing. 

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.

Psalm 147:3 NLT

Pain is an unfortunate part of life human life, but luckily God is a healer. In our physical bodies, pain usually alerts us to an injury or something in need of attention. Sometimes  pain is good, because it means our nervous or immune system is working—as when our throat hurts, because our immune system is fighting off an infection from a cold. 

Similarly, emotional pain alerts us of areas that need healing from God. If we ignore or avoid our emotional pain, we will never find the healing God desires to give us. 

Superficial laughter can hide a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the pain resurfaces.

Proverbs 14:13 TPT

I remember deciding at 13 years old to stop feeling pain. I grew up in a military family, and we moved around a lot. After multiple instances of having to leave my friends, I learned to shut off my heart because the loss was so painful to me. I also lost a friend who died in a car accident, and I shut off my heart even more because the pain felt too much.

As Proverbs 14:13 says, pain will resurface. I kept finding more and more ways to numb myself so that I wouldn’t have to feel anything, but I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself in the process.

Later, I became a pediatric nurse, and one day, one of my patients died. He was a little boy, and it was tragic, but I could not feel anything. I couldn’t cry. I had been working so hard to numb myself to pain that I had become unnaturally calloused. I had chosen to be a pediatric nurse because I wanted to help people in their times of pain, but how could I provide any comfort or empathy if my own heart was closed?

When someone is hurting or brokenhearted, the Eternal moves in close and revives him in his pain.

Psalm 34:18 Voice

God wants to move in close and revive us in our pain. When I became a Christian, I learned that I did not need to harden my heart to handle the pain of life. Instead, I could pray, and God could revive me. 

Keeping my heart soft and allowing my pain to push me to God is still a daily battle for me. I so often don’t want to pray because I don’t want to feel the pain in my life. But if I stop praying, I will keep God and his healing power at a distance. I will also find other unhealthy ways to manage my pain:

  • Bitterness: Blaming God or others for my pain feels good temporarily, but it poisons my heart in the long run (Hebrews 12:15, Job 36:13). 
  • Sensuality: Living for anything that “feels good” will distract me from my pain temporarily, but it does not heal it. It also causes poor decisions and more problems in the long run (Ephesians 4:17-19).
  • Deceit: Telling myself and others that I am fine might be convincing, but it will not bring healing. I will eventually collapse under the weight of pretending to be something I am not (Isaiah 30:12-14).

When I am brokenhearted, God will move in and revive me in my pain. I have to keep my heart soft though; I have to tell God. I have to let my broken heart lead me to God.

Pause and reflect:

  • What are some sources of pain in your life? How have you been handling them?

Facing our failure leads to God’s help

The LORD is there to rescue all who are discouraged and have given up hope.

Psalm 34:18 CEV 

When hope is crushed, the heart is crushed, but a wish come true fills you with joy.

Proverbs 13:12 GNT 

He does not crush the weak, Or quench the smallest hope; He will end all conflict with his final victory,

Matthew 12:20 TLB 

These verses describe the feelings we often associate with failure — “discouraged,” “given up hope,” and “crushed.”

These emotions make me feel weak, and I am often too prideful to admit that I feel them. I avoid them and quit on whatever I was trying to do because I don’t want to experience failure again. 

But when I am humble, I can learn from failure rather than being overwhelmed by shame and disgrace:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 11:2 NIV

Failures are simply learning experiences. They often teach us that we need more help from God and others. Sometimes our failures teach us that our human strength is not enough, and we need to rely on God’s Word to fight our battles.

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.

Psalm 119:71 NLT

God’s promises in the Bible can always give us hope in times of failure, because they help us believe that God is always working on our behalf. He is not done with us yet; he is still helping us grow into who we are meant to be. 

As the apostle Paul wrote, we may not be perfect, but we can look ahead rather than living in the past.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. [13] No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians 3:12-14 NLT

Pause and reflect

  • In what areas have I experienced failure? How have I been responding?
  • How can I learn to rely on God and his Word through my failures?

Final Thoughts

Your future will be brighter by far than your past

Job 8:7 CEV

We do not need to live our lives afraid of pain in the future or trapped in the pain of the past. Feelings of guilt, pain, and failure do not need to define us, dictate our future or the way we see life. God can work through even our most painful experiences to help us find forgiveness, healing, and hope.

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margo

Margo studied at Presbyterian School of Nursing at Queens University, worked as a pediatric nurse for 3 years before working in the ministry at BACC for the last 25 years. She is a contributor to Deep Spirituality, and has experience working in the ministry and community all over the Bay Area.

margo

Margo studied at Presbyterian School of Nursing at Queens University, worked as a pediatric nurse for 3 years before working in the ministry at BACC for the last 25 years. She is a contributor to Deep Spirituality, and has experience working in the ministry and community all over the Bay Area.

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