Saturday, 6 August 2016

No Pain No Gain


A man went to a tattooist to have a lion tattooed on his back. He’d always wanted a picture of a lion on his body, because he thought himself to be fierce and brave like a lion.

The tattooist hadn’t been working for long before the man shouted, “Ouch! You’re hurting me! Which part of the lion are you doing now?”

“I’m doing his tail,” said the tattoo artist.

“Well you’d better leave the tail off, I don’t want a lion with a tail.”

The tattoo artist continued, but not for long. No sooner had he felt a few more needle pricks than the man shouted again, “This is killing me! Which part of the lion are you doing now?”

“I’m just getting started on the mane,” replied the tattooist.

“don’t bother with the mane,” I don’t want a lion with a mane!”

The tattooist complied with the man’s wishes, and began work on another part of his back. Once again, after a few moments, the man shouted, almost weeping. “This is intolerable! I can’t bear the pain! Which bit of the lion are doing now?”

“I’m doing the belly.”

“Then stop doing the belly! I don’t want a lion with a belly!”

The tattoo artist put down his equipment. “You want a lion with no tail, no main, and no belly! Who could draw such a creature? Even God couldn’t do it! I think you should leave and come back when you are a bit braver.”

from "The Shortest Distance" by Bill Darlison

My personal trainer works me really hard. It is tough at times but I do stick at it no matter what. The results we are getting together are quite amazing. He told me recently that he had never worked with anyone so determined. I smiled at this. If there is one thing that has grown in me these last few years it is the capacity to stick at things no matter what. To me this is the essential ingredient of the faith I have found. The God of my understanding enables me to do things and stick at things no matter what. In the past this is the one thing that was probably lacking in my life. God doesn’t do it for me, God enables me to do what life asks of me. I have faith to stick at anything despite the pain and suffering involved, whether that be mental, emotional, physical or spiritual.

Well the other day he came to our session in some obvious pain and discomfort. He had recently had a new tattoo done, on his scalp. As he described the process, he had gone through, I found myself wincing at the pain of it all. It has only just begun as well. He will be going through even more pain before it is fully completed. I said to him “No pain, no gain” and he grinned knowingly and then spent the next hour putting me through a gruelling regime. As he did so and as I have continued my daily exercises that little mantra has kept on ringing in my ears. I am continuing to gain in health and fitness and flexibility day by day. I’ve even grown about an inch as my posture has improved and spine has straightened, something I never thought would be possible. The work we are doing is relieving me of some deep rooted pain and shame dating right back to childhood.

Facebook reminded me of a pain I went through last year. only the other day. It was right at the beginning of my weight loss journey. I used to spend a great deal of time in coffee shops. Often meeting and talking with people but also writing. I still do quite often but my habits have changed. Just over a year ago I would probably consume at least a dozen full fat Café Lattes a week. I used to drink an awful lot of milk and it was one of many contributing factors to my weight problem. Well a year ago I decided that I would, at least for a short time, give them up. I thought I’d go the whole hog and give up caffeine completely. Well I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. The first few days were agony. It began with the headaches but then the pain spread to my whole lower body, the symptoms were very similar to a severe bout of flu as my lower back and upper legs were in agony. Historically the two areas of physical weakness and shame in my body. This lasted about five days but eventually subsided and I was soon reaping the benefits of becoming more energised and sleeping beautifully. I have stuck with being caffeine free and am loving it. Yes I had to go through pain to get there, but my word the results have been wonderful. Yes the gain was most certainly worth the pain.

I remember a few years ago, early in my ministry, a colleague telling that when they were a student a senior colleague had warned then to be careful not to reveal to much about themselves to the people they serve, especially when creating worship. I don’t know if they were attempting to subtly warn me about being too open. If they were I ignored them. I don’t think I could do this work without bringing my whole self into the worship I create. How can others relate to something unless you put human flesh on the words. I have not been afraid to show my pain and joy and struggle and confusion at times, to reveal all that I have gained and learned too. Hopefully this has not been in a self-indulgent way, but in an attempt to show to others that I am as human as they are and to encourage faith in them. If I can anyone can I am as human as the next person.

I don’t pour out my pain on the people I serve. Instead I have people to turn to to in my pain and confusion and joy and suffering. In fact in recent times I have noticed that I can do this more easily than perhaps in the past. I thank God for this. The worst kind of pain is the pain of loneliness and isolation. There are many blessings of ministry but one of its curses is the loneliness that can be experienced at times. This I know is caused by not owning and coming to terms with your own suffering.

These thoughts bring to mind some beautiful hard earned words of advice from Henri J. M. Nouwen in his beautiful book “The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom” written as he reflected on his various struggles. In his meditation “Own Your Pain” he wrote:

“The main question is “Do you own your pain?” As long as you do not own your pain—that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world—the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself. When you speak to others about your pain without fully owning it, you expect something from them that they cannot give. As a result, you will feel frustrated, and those you wanted to help will feel confused, disappointed, or even further burdened….

…For you to be able to share your struggle as a service, it is also essential to have people to whom you can go with your own needs. You will always need safe people to whom you can pour out your heart. You will always need people who do not need you but who can receive you and give you back to yourself. You will always need people who can help you own your pain and claim your struggle.

Thus the core question in your ministry is, “Is my sharing of my struggle in the service of the one who seeks my help? This question can only be answered yes when you truly own your pain and expect nothing from those who seek your ministry.”

I believe that I can answer yes to this. I have learnt to own my pain.

No one can escape the pain of life. It is as much a part of living a full life as joy. In trying to avoid pain all we ever succeed in doing is cutting ourselves off from the joy that accompanies the pain of life. In fact there are times in life when we must walk faithfully through the pain to fully experience the joy. . Herman Hesse saw the truth in this when he said:

“Love your suffering. Do not resist it; do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”
It is this aversion that causes the suffering within the suffering. It is this that causes much of what so many people describe as the loneliness of modern life. In trying to suppress our pain all we succeed in doing is to cut ourselves off from the joy of life.

While life does involve pain and suffering, it does not have to involve “the suffering within the suffering”.

Life itself is not suffering.

We need not be identified by our suffering.

Eckhart Tolle suggest that we create needless suffering when we blame others for all our personal pain. He claims that the habit of blaming and cultivating outrage, anger, resentment and other negative emotions, what he has termed our “pathological ego” is what blocks us from knowing the truth about ourselves and the human condition.

He explains that although we do suffer, we are not our suffering, it is not our whole identity. The trouble is that we can become trapped in it and then it identifies all that we are. He calls this the “pain body”. He claims that we can step outside of this and become children of love with worth and dignity. This though is not achieved by simply ignoring the pain and hoping it will just go away.

That said we do not need to go looking for it and it does not justify receiving unnecessary pain and or abuse. There are forms of suffering that cannot to be justified. There are times when passive acceptance of all forms of suffering is not the answer. Dorothy Soelle , amongst others, criticised the claim that suffering is justified because it was the only way to achieve Salvation or Nirvana. As she said

“No heaven can rectify Auschwitz”.

She did not believe that suffering was ordained by God. Instead she saw God within the suffering. For her God suffered with humanity. For her salvation was achieved through experiencing God within humanities suffering, not as a result of it. She saw God as being in solidarity with the victims of oppression in human society. Therefore in her view to fully experience salvation is to work for liberation of the oppressed and to end man made suffering, not passively endure it.

That said we cannot escape all suffering it is a part of life. In fact perhaps it is through our shared suffering that we can come closer together and develop compassion for one another and all living beings, as the Buddhist suggest.

May Sarton saw the truth in this when in “Recovering, A Journal” she wrote

“I woke before dawn with this thought. Joy, happiness, are what we take and do not question. They are beyond question, maybe. A matter of being. But pain forces us to think, and to make connections, to sort out what is what, to discover what has been happening to cause it. And, curiously enough, pain draws us to other human beings in a significant way, whereas joy or happiness to some extent, isolates.”

It is through owning our pain and suffering, growing through it faithfully and passing on what it has taught us that compassion grows and we can truly serve, minister, to one another and the wider world. In many ways this the purpose of a spiritual community. A religious community has to be one of compassion.

Compassion means to suffer with. We can learn to be with others in their suffering and with ourselves in our own. Interestingly the opposite of compassion is apathy.. To be apathetic to the suffering not only of ourselves but to the pain of others is the worst kind of hell any one can suffer from, it’s inhuman, it creates our loneliness and it creates our isolation.

To suffer with is to experience compassion it is the gateway to love and service.

So let us stand in solidarity with ourselves and with one another in our pain and suffering. In doing so we will know the full meaning of compassionate living and in doing so we will fully experience the joy that life offers to us.

And when we do we will know God, we will know love.

Amen and blessed be.


  1. Such beautiful and heartfelt words that touch the soul. I have a full sleeve of tattoo's but nothing compares to the pain of anxiety x

  2. Thank you Judy and Natasha...Blessings to you both...Blessings to all...