A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.  Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.  So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.  Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”  I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.  Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.  And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!  So let me explain it by some development.

For sure, every adult knows what pain means.  It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.  There is physical pain; we all know this.  There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.  There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.  Not everyone thinks there is such a thing as “spiritual.”  I happen to think there is a spiritual dimension in our lives and it is possible for that dimension to be “pained.”

When I say, “a pain is not a pain,” however, I do not want to focus on pain the way I just described it in the above paragraph.  That is just one way to think about pain.  So there is pain---physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I have experienced all three kinds of pain.  Pain hurts.  Pain is real.  If I am in pain, I would like to get out of it!  At every level, there is nothing positive or redemptive about this kind of pain.  It is hard for me to imagine anybody saying, “Sure, I like pain!  Bring it on!”  So pain in this sense is pain.  This is comparable to a rose being a rose. 

I can think of two other kinds of pain which led me to say, “a pain is not a pain.”  Allow me to identify a second kind of pain.  This is the kind of pain referred to in the saying, “pain in the butt.”  Many times I have heard someone say, “he is a pain in the butt.”  A pain in the butt is not limited to other people.  Sometimes people have a task or a job to do that is “a pain in the butt.”  I have had a few of those tasks in my life!

Generally, when someone describes “a pain in the butt,” she or he is not literally describing a pain in the sense above (physical, emotional, or spiritual).  A pain in the butt is more like an annoyance or irritation.  It does not literally hurt.  It may not even be literally true.  But it is perceived as annoying, irritating, or inconveniencing.  Ironically, I can say it is a pain, but it does not hurt!

A pain in the butt is typically my interpretation of my predicament.  Someone else in the very same situation may not experience it as a pain in the butt.  Some are less irritable than I, more tolerant, or more forgiving.  A good example is my neighbor’s dog.  She loves her dog.  She dotes on that dog.  That dog is a pain in the butt, as far as I am concerned!  I do not find the barking amusing.  I am not entertained by any canine tricks.  It is a pain in the butt. 

And then there is a third kind of pain.  This kind of pain is ultimately positive.  It may be redemptive.  It is the kind of pain that may well hurt---and maybe hurt badly.  But it is the kind of pain in which we say in some sense, “bring it on.”  For example, I think about my daughter giving birth recently.  I am not a woman; I have not given birth.  But the average birth story does entail some pain---some real, hurtful pain. 

But this kind of ”purposeful pain,” as I choose to call it, is the kind of pain that folks willingly endure.  I am sure my daughter willingly hung in there in order to birth that little girl.  It was pain, but it was not a pain in the butt.  A pain is not a pain.

This third kind of pain surely is the kind of pain Christians understand to be at stake in the crucifixion of Jesus.  Surely, there was pain---physical, emotional and spiritual.  Perhaps, Jesus even thought to himself” “well, this certainly is a pain in the butt!  Those crazy people who wandered so far from God now leads me to this!” 

But it is the third level of pain that enables me truly to begin glimpsing what the cross must mean for some Christians.  The cross is analogous to giving birth.  It was a pain that Jesus endured.  Ironically, it was a positive and redemptive pain.  I am sure I don’t fully understand it---or, likely, appreciate it.  It was a pain---but a purposeful pain.

Again, a rose may be a rose, but I am convinced a pain is not a pain.  Hopefully, this helps know how to deal with pain.

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