Forty-eight miles into a recent backpacking trip my feet started to scream. “You have worn away all cushion,” they claimed. “It is time to quit.” My back joined the protest, “This pack weighs too much. Just empty it out and leave all the contents where you stand.” Shoulders ached. Hands developed hot spots from the hiking poles. I was definitely tempted to give up, pack it in, call a helicopter to save me from my misery. But then I remembered my surroundings.
If I gave up, I realized, I would miss out on so much beauty. I looked around and noticed how the light danced off the canyon walls, illuminating streaks of color in surprising hues. The gurgling stream we followed sang soothingly beside us. Wild flowers bloomed. Vibrant fuchsia prickly pears dotted the cactus. I marveled at the roaring waterfalls and thrilled at the trickling ones. If I quit, I would miss out on the magnificent environment and suddenly I didn’t want the journey to end. The aching in my muscles seemed to abate as my senses absorbed an absolutely gorgeous journey.
Often in life we experience pain so intense, we want to give up, pack it in, quit and call a helicopter to rescue us. Sometimes the pain is physical, such as with chronic illness. Sometimes the pain is emotional, as in the case of major depressive disorder. When the pain seems unbearable, the thought of quitting will fleet through our minds.
Tempted to Quit
A woman experiencing the pain of pregnancy and delivery often wishes she could just “get this over with.” Whether it is morning sickness, a full nine months of nausea, an aching back, varicose veins, a cumbersome belly, contractions, or labor pains, mothers-to-be may wonder if such misery is really worth it.
The moment her baby finally enters the world, and rests it’s tiny head in the crook of mother’s arm, Mom knows the answer. Of course it is worth it. As time passes and the baby gives her grief, through colic, or illness, or sleepless nights or defiance, Mom focuses on the joys. She can celebrate the baby’s milestones, laugh at the funny things he says, rejoice in his ability to learn and progress and repent and contribute. It is totally worth it.
Sometimes it seems like the balance between “not worth it” and “worth it” gets tipped in the wrong direction. Sometimes it seems like the pain in life outweighs the joy. On such occasions we naturally take deliberate steps to re-balance life’s “worth it” equation. In an effort to re-balance we most often focus on reducing the pain. We may visit the doctor, or a series of doctors, take pills or have operations to alleviate physical pain. We may take pills to dull emotional pain as well. We may try any number of methods of “checking out.” Popular ways to check-out include over-sleeping, over-eating, over-drinking, over-gaming, music with a over-powering beat and of course over-medicating in both legal and illegal ways.
The Whole Equation
Legitimate attempts to reduce pain are welcome and often heaven-sent. Successful surgeries, miracle cures, miracle drugs, can be blessings God has provided for the pains life inevitably brings. Should legitimate pain-relief prove inadequate, we can also re-balance the equation by focusing on healthy pleasures.
The arts often provide tremendous relief from the vicissitudes of life. Music, literature, drama can help validate pain, put it in perspective, offer hope and comfort. Visual arts such as painting, photography, sculpting, quilting, and other handiwork provide a reprieve for for those experiencing pain. Some of the world’s most poignant art has been born of the artist’s pain.
In an attempt to make oneself feel better, pleasure-seekers can risk re-balancing the pain-pleasure equation to the extreme. Instead of watching one wholesome movie, pleasure-seekers may binge on an entire weekend of television. Instead of reading one escape novel, pleasure seekers may read constantly neglecting virtually all else. For pleasure to effectively balance pain we want to avoid extremes or it just leads to more grief.
One of the absolutely best ways to deal with the trials life drops upon us is to fully appreciate the splendor of the world we live in. Participating in nature provides healing like nothing else can. Physical pain is often accompanied by emotional pain, and even when the physical pain can not be removed, the emotional pain can subside with the help of this incredible planet we live on.
Every single day wakes with a resplendent sunrise, and sleeps with a breathtaking sunset. The days themselves are filled with evidence of God’s grandeur: scented lilies and roses, hummingbirds and butterflies, giant live oaks whose branches brush the ground, strawberry picking, a child’s laughter, a thunderstorm where lightening streaks across the horizon. Even the night is decorated with a canopy of stars in their varied patterns and temperature.
In a recent bestseller a blind girl grieves at the disappearance of her father. For weeks she refuses to leave her room until her caretaker introduces her to the seashore. Anthony Doerr writes, “She misses Papa, Paris, …the gardens, her books, her pinecones–all are holes in her life. But over these past few weeks, her existence has become tolerable. At least, out on the beaches, her privation and fear are rinsed away by wind and color and light.”
When we are hurt, when we are in pain, when we are grieving, we can rinse away so much of that pain when we focus on the wind, and color and light. Recall President Hinckley’s comparison of life to a railroad journey. It is full of delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts. However, these are balanced by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Her most recent book, Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance can be found at www.amazon.com