Anyone living in Ontario, Canada, will agree that this was one of the coldest and the snowiest winter they can remember. Although this is only the third winter I have experienced here in Ontario, I can say that it most definitely was the harshest winter I have ever experienced in my life. It was also one of the most physically painful one.
Being a novice to snow shoveling, I naturally gave my full effort, thrusting myself into it like I do everything else, to make sure I do it with excellence (some would call it AR). I did well with the first few snow falls, clearing my long drive way of any sign of snow. Then I would go to the office, and usually being the first one there, I would get the shovel out and work on clearing the path for others to be able to walk in without difficulty.
After about the third time, it happened – my right shoulder began to hurt badly. I tried to nurse it to heal, thinking it was simply a muscle ache, but even after a month or so, the pain just wouldn’t go away. So, I made an appointment with a doctor to see about my shoulder. After a battery of tests, they determined that I had injured my rotator cuff and there were three small tears. So, I’ve been going through physiotherapy (physical therapy for those in the U.S.) for the past two months.
Although I have been faithful to the exercises that my therapist has been giving me, I felt like my progress was a bit slow. Then it dawn on me yesterday morning – my progress is slow because I am not pushing myself beyond the threshold of pain. In fact, I had been avoiding pain altogether. I was doing the exercises only to the point where the pain was telling me to stop. I spoke to my therapist about this, and he agreed with me that, in fact, pain is a sign that my shoulder is healing, so he encouraged me to push a little harder. He reminded me that the the pain will eventually go away, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have healed. I can focus on avoiding pain, or I can heal to have full range of motion with my shoulder. If I can push myself a bit, without over doing it, he told me that I can play softball this season. The choice is mine.
Too often, in an attempt to avoid pain, we stunt our growth. It’s not just physical. Those who were hurt emotionally try to avoid similar circumstances so that their hearts will not break again. One of the ways that this plays out is in relationships. When one is hurt by someone they care deeply about, one is not willing to put oneself in a similiar relationship. In fact, too often, that person shuts him/herself off from getting close to anyone for fear of pain.
We avoid spiritual pain, too. I remember being hurt by people who spoke in tongues when they prayed. One woman whom I was dating broke up with me; in her mind I was not a mature Christian, because I didn’t speak in tongues. Another person tried to teach me how to speak in tongues and made me feel like a failure when the Holy Spirit did not bestow that gift on me. The pain was real, and for a while, I did everything I can to avoid that particular issue.
Whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual, avoiding pain often gets us nowhere. I can settle for slow recovery of my shoulder, which will limit my movement, or push my shoulder to a higher threshold of pain so that I can play softball again. I can wallow in my emotional pain of relational break up and not let anyone into my heart like that again, or learn what I need to learn, and risk again. And I can avoid any tongue speakers or avoid the subject and stay in my comfort zone of spirituality, or I can search the Bible to see what it really says and grow.
It has been a harsh and painful winter. But I am glad for the physical pain that has allowed me to reflect on this. I am choosing to push through the pain so that I can be ready for the softball season that is fast approaching. How about you? What pain are you avoiding? Are you ready for something better than being comfortably numb? Come on. Get your glove. Join me!