No pain, no gain is a popular fitness adage, but discriminating between constructive pain (discomfort as you stretch your limitations) and harmful pain (ignoring warning signs that you’re damaging your body) is essential. Agony makes me think of writhing pain, which I’ve only felt a couple times in my life.
I ran track when I was in junior high, and I was a pretty good sprinter. Near the beginning of practice one day, I approached the curve, running a 200-meter leg of a relay. It happened quickly, but I remember feeling a clicking in my right hip for a few steps and then a loud pop, which threw me to the ground. I was in agony, feeling as if my hip had exploded. A couple teammates immediately ran to me, and the coach wasn’t far behind. I gave her the best explanation I could about what happened, and she proceeded to yell at me, insisting I hadn’t warmed up well. Let me just say that whether I did or didn’t warm up well wasn’t going to help my hip pain at all!
My friends helped me off the track, and my mom picked me up to take me home. I grew up in a wait-and-see-how-you-feel-in-the-morning household, but when I couldn’t walk the next morning, it was time to go to the doctor, who sent me directly to a specialist. Apparently, my hip joint had grown faster than my leg bone, and the pressure of running made it move around enough that it just popped out. It had already popped back into place and not caused any bone damage – just some torn tendons and strained muscles that would take time to heal. I left with crutches and the satisfaction of telling my coach it was something more serious than inadequate warm-ups.
I wouldn’t have been able to run if I had wanted to, but I’ll admit, there have been many times I’ve pushed through pain when I should have stopped. I enjoy pushing limits, so it’s a fine line for me. When my legs are on fire from a hard workout on the elliptical, I’ll continue to push to reach a specific time or distance. That’s not a bad thing. But when I feel the pain of an old injury but continue to jog anyway, even when I know it might mean I won’t be able to jog again for a few days, it’s a bad thing.
Life isn’t pain free. We can’t avoid discomfort. Growth is uncomfortable. We might love the end result, but when we’re in the middle of it, we can easily feel our spiritual muscles burning. We feel as if a weight is crushing us and we can’t possibly withstand any more.
Perhaps you know the Bible verse that says, “God will never give you more than you can bear.” It doesn’t exist. Surprised? Here’s the verse that gets misquoted:
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
The weight we feel (in this case, temptation) isn’t about what God gives us. It’s about what God provides for us as we deal with the burden. It’s about our response to the weight, not the weight itself. We get so focused on the weight itself. We weaken under it and wonder why God would give us such a heavy burden. We try to rationalize that we must be able to handle it, since God gave it to us. Yet Scripture doesn’t say God gave it to us!
When you’re in spiritual agony, you must discern: Is the pain you feel harmful to your relationship with God, and is enduring it going to harm your relationship? Or, is the pain going to challenge you to grow through endurance and patience as you seek God’s will, understanding and peace?