Monday, February 21, 2011

The benefit of pain

Most of us have heard of the phrase “no pain, no gain”. In the world of exercise and fitness, this is uttered by trainers who encourage their trainees who complain of pain as a result of having activated muscles which have otherwise been unused before. To avoid this pain, many choose not to exercise altogether.

In fact, avoidance of pain seems to be an unspoken quest by millions the world over. Some choose not to enter certain relationships so that ‘pain’ can be avoided. Married couples choose to raise certain ‘painful’ topics which can result in arguments with volcanic repercussions. Various addictions can result from finding in them ways to ‘escape’ facing pains in life.

In the medical world, there exists a condition called CIPA or Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis. This is an extremely rare medical condition where the sufferer is born without the ability to sense pain or extreme temperatures at all. At first glance, it does seem like a good thing, doesn’t it? One can imagine life to be so different and carefree, when one can live life with less care about getting injured, and move about as if one was invincible. No more fearing injections or maybe even going for operations without the need to have anesthesia.

But take it a step further and one can imagine all sorts of complications that can result of being unable to feel pain. Think of little children who walk into rough walls scraping skin and not feeling blood streaming from their forehead, or biting their lips till they bleed, and not stopping because they don’t feel the pain, or literally rubbing their eyes out, of plunging their hands into boiling water without thinking about the pain, but resulting in terrible scalding. Indeed, sensing pain is actually necessary for proper growth and protection in life.

So too for our spiritual lives. There are without doubt, many experiences of pain in our lives. Just go to any Novena session where petitions letters are read out, and you will see the various kinds of pains and sufferings that many are going through daily in their lives. Underlying the letters seems to be a request that these instances of pain be removed from their lives, so that happiness can be attained. I do empathise and do pray for people suffering from pain and have sufferings of various kinds, but I am suggesting that a different approach to suffering can help us in a way that many of us have not thought about. And that approach is to ask “what?” Not “why?”

Asking ‘why is this pain happening in my life’ is a very common question. One doesn’t need to be living on a higher plane of existence to ask this. Anybody experiencing suffering of any sort asks this. But when our spiritual lives begin maturing, we need to change that question to a ‘what’. ‘What can I learn from this pain?’ or ‘what is this suffering teaching me about myself, about life, and about God?’ In my encounter with people, this question is not often asked, but it is a transformative question.

To ask God to remove all our pain could be the worst thing that we can be asking from him. We could be asking him to prevent all possibilities of true growth that comes from our experience of pain and suffering. We could be asking God to give us a case of spiritual CIPA.

Our good Catholic spirituality must instead help us to embrace what is known as ‘Redemptive Suffering’ where suffering becomes transformative not just for ourselves but for the world as well. This is when our suffering is carried with a purpose and a decision to love. It is to offer our suffering to God and ask him to use this in an act of loving surrender.

“No pain; no gain” could thus then be applied to our spiritual lives as well.


  1. My father is now in hospice care. Over the years, we have grown to be much more than "father and daughter"; we are close friends. Losing him will be painful. But to have missed the opportunity to know and love him would have been far worse.

    God has always been - and will always be - a Creator, and I have every confidence that our God will use the pain that has entered our lives creatively for good.

    My father has taught me many important lessons during his lifetime. I've shared some of them in a series of reflections I've written over the course of his last illness. If you would like to read some of these thoughts, visit the links found at "A series special to my heart", which can be found on my sidebar at http:/

    And please pray that God will take my father gently home with Him.

    In Christ's love,


  2. The problem of pain is a subject that is far too deep, too theologically profound for most of us (including me) to grasp fully.

    One thing I do know, however: those friends and relatives of mine who have been through terrible suffering, and yet have steadfastly persevered in their faith, have been a tremendous inspiration to me.

    Too see, firsthand, the grace of God working through and in them is one of life's precious lessons that cannot be found in any textbook.

    God Bless!

  3. Dear Fr Luke

    Thank you for yet another reminder that as Christians we should always stay positive and look upon every situation as an opportunity for spiritual growth and seek God no matter how we feel because to turn away from Him in our pain is to say goodbye to love and hope. Hence we should turn to Him even in times when nothing makes sense and frustrating questions flood our minds: Is it really the will of God or the lunacy of man which had put us in such a state, what is the point of living/carrying on in this way, where is God in all this, and in cases of prolonged excruciating illness 'How much longer, Lord?' It may require a tremendous amount of humility and willingness to surrender before we understand and appreciate the true meaning of the ‘Redemptive Suffering’ you mentioned. While spiritual growth and healing do not eliminate sufferings, they help in ceasing the battle within us somewhat and we are then able to tell the Lord, “I am ready to come home”, home being heaven, paradise or simply an acceptance of Him and His plans for us. All things happen for a reason ~ that sounds so cliché. I prefer to think God allow all things to happen for good reasons.

    God Bless.

  4. So true. If it were not for the pain in my life, I would not be who I am today and where I am today. :)

  5. Thank you Fr Luke for last Wed's session on Reconciliation. As caregiver to a multiple condition spouse of 31 years, I can fully relate to the pain of sorts,especially during the threatening hours where it seems that our Lord is taking him away from us. He had 3 brushes with death - each time, I upheld him to our Lord to allow him to be healed in accordance with His will. It has never failed! He continued to be in gainful employment and headed his department, providing this family with the comforts of life.
    If not for these 3 practices of widowhood, it would be unbearable to shoulder single handedly, the days ahead as he approaches the final lap of his term on earth. May our Lord continue to have mercy on us especially in those final moments, where he would like to pass out at home with me. Should this not be God's will, may the angels come and show him the way to Almighty's kingdom.
    If God willing, I will drive him to Malaysia to rekindle the memories of our wonderful times and family holidays we had over the last 31 years.
    Thank you Lord for the immense strength to journey with my spouse and uphold the fidelity of matrimony. Please help me live my imminent singlehood for the first time, as joyously as You have always blessed me with.
    May I offer my current grief for the betterment of others who need healing of mind, body or spirit.

    Shalom and see you Fr this Wed at St Teresa's