"Embrace the pain." That's what my mom said to me as she was giving me a pep talk before I went to the hospital to have my first child. Having heard the stories that women like to tell about their experiences of child birth, I was understandably a little afraid of the pain. But she was telling me to embrace it.
"The pain is your body getting ready for the baby to be born," she told me. "So when you feel the pain, you are closer to holding your baby. Embrace the pain, it's bringing your baby."
I was reminded of her advice when our pastor said that pursuing godliness is a lot like childbirth. Naturally my mind when to the three times I have experienced the labor and pain of giving birth, each experience so different from the other. The third time was the only time I was able to have anything to lessen the pain. Interestingly, it was the third time that it took me the longest to bond with the baby.
I believe part of the reason it took longer to bond with her was because I didn't feel pain when she was born. One minute my husband and I were playing cards, the next minute the doctor comes in and says "push" and, plop, there she is in my arms. There was no adrenaline rush from embracing the pains of contractions and pushing, waiting, pushing again, finally to hold this baby who I've endured the pain to embrace.
It struck me that sometimes pain is a good thing, and sometimes avoiding the pain can have painful consequences.
So, when the pastor compared pursuing godliness to childbirth, I thought about how pursuing godliness can sometimes be painful, because the right thing can sometimes be the hard thing. Instead of avoiding the pain, I need to embrace it.
That's something that doesn't come naturally to me because I have a tendency to want to avoid conflict. I think I always viewed conflict as bad, as in: we shouldn't experience conflict if we are being good. And, if for some reason there is conflict, you avoid it. And by avoiding it, the conflict will go away.
That sounds so silly when I write it out, but that's what I thought. That's what a lot of people who avoid conflict think, I think. But conflict is not bad. In fact, it can be very, very good. We cannot avoid conflict, it is all around us. So the object should not be to avoid conflict, the object should be to handle conflict well.
For me, this means looking conflict in the face and telling it, "I will not let you paralyze me." It means being honest with myself and others what I am feeling, even if it's not very fun to talk about. It means realizing that the conflict and the pain are momentary. In light of eternity for sure, if not here on earth. And knowing that beyond this momentary pain of conflict is a reward of greater intimacy, having worked through the conflict well and honestly.
Before I had children, I thought that shielding them from pain would be the best thing I could do for them. If my husband and I experienced conflict, I thought the best thing would be to have that conflict behind closed doors. It really bothered me, then, when my husband - who did not share my idyllic, ostrich-like view of conflict - brought something up in front of the children. They needed to see us happily married, I thought, not unhappily disagreeing over something or other. Often I would cave, just to avoid the conflict.
By avoiding the pain, I caused myself more pain as it didn't go away but instead took root in my heart. I caused my marriage pain because I wasn't being honest. And I was teaching my children a very potentially painful lesson as I modeled for them my superior conflict avoiding skills.
Then a most painful thing happened. I couldn't avoid it. I couldn't shield my children from it because it was too big to be covered up. As a family we walked through the pain together.
And then a most marvelous thing happened. Honesty. Congruency. Healing of wounds. Conflict done well.
I learned, again, that sometimes pain can be good. As a wife I shouldn't avoid it. As a parent I should teach my kids to address it well. I can do this first by embracing the pain that comes my way, not avoiding it but finding the good in it, looking towards the other side of the pain to peace. I can do this by not shielding my children from painful situations, but rather teaching them while they are in those situations how to respond well to the pain, to look to the other side of the pain, to learn from it, to be perfected by it.
"Embrace the pain." I think that's something that the baby books don't tell new parents. But it's sound advice that I've learned is pretty important to follow. There will be pain. Embrace it.