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The Purpose of Pain: 3 reasons pain is essential to a healthy life

There is a purpose to pain. What you’re going through is hard, but it serves three distinct purposes that can make you a better person. Ultimately, pain can spur you on to a life you love. Keep reading for three reasons why.

The very first month of 2017 has already brought with it so much pain. I’ve experienced more pain and heartache in the last few months than I have in years. And it seems like everyone I know is living through it too. Job loss, feuds, relationship trauma, relationships coming to a screeching halt. Each of these things falls easily in a category and can be expressed by a single word. But ultimately, each of these “list items” is a deep personal wound that cuts deeply.

One of my best friends sent me a message today that ended with, “I am just tired of life hurting so much”. This is a person I respect to no end. This is someone who never plays the victim. Someone who gives everything he has to keep his life on track. And yet, he’s been knocked down time and time again.

It reminds me of a line from an old song by Thousand Foot Krutch: “It hurts when you need me / And I can’t break your fall”. I remember in high school I played the drums to this song over and over while my heart ached for friends who were being abused, while I could do nothing about it.

There’s not much you can do in moments like this. Sometimes the best we have is to put on the bravest face we have and push forward.

In the midst of all this pain… I have been thinking a lot. I’m convinced that there is more to pain than we see at first glance. In a previous post, I discussed three ways we run from pain. That night, I wrote in my journal “WHY WE NEED PAIN”. I made a list with three items.

When I woke up in the morning, I checked to see if my list was any good. I realized that I had hit on something significant, and I was determined to share it. Without further ado… here are three purposes for the pain in our life. It’s something to hold on to in the midst of heartbreak.


1. Pain is a symptom that helps us diagnose problems with our life or mindset.

I remember the very first time a doctor explained to me the difference between a symptom and a disease.

“It’s very common to treat symptoms. A pill might make your sore throat better, but it may not do anything to the sickness that caused your sore throat. You can feel better and stay sick.”

As a ten-year-old kid, this blew my mind. I had never thought about the world that way.

That was the first time I realized that pain could be a symptom. I had never thought that pain might serve a purpose. But since that day I’ve seen pain serve as a symptom, warning, or message so many times. Pain can reveal so many things about our lives.

Pain can remind us that we still care about someone.

Pain can tell us that we need to take better care of our bodies.

Pain can tell us that we are hurting ourselves and others with our actions.

Pain can tell us that we need to make a change in our lives.

I’ve been thinking about the pain I feel and the messages it might be sending me. Strangely, I’m becoming grateful for pain. It has taught me so much.


2. Pain gives us a challenge, and a challenge gives us a sense of purpose.

I read a great book by Seth Godin called “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)”. In this book, Godin talks about quitting and giving up. He explains that there are times when quitting is vital to our success. Other times, quitting is the worst thing we can do. The best thing to do is to determine when to quit.

Imagine what life would be like if achieving our goals had no challenge. Imagine if you could just say, “I’d like a Ferrari” and get one. Or, “I wish my relationship was better”, and suddenly it was. This might be fun for a short period of time, but it would get old quickly. What would drive us? What would push us forward? Life would turn into an endless series of banal pleasures.

Pain makes us decide what (and who) is worth fighting for. We choose what is worth fighting for; pain provides the opportunity for us to prove it. Pain separates the “wheat from the chaff”, so to speak. There are a billion people (possibly literally) who dream of starting their own business, but the ones who are willing to push through pain are the ones who make the money. Good things come to those who suffer.

It’s good to have challenge in life. It feels purposeful. We all have to frame ourselves as the heroes of our own stories so that we can move forward in life. And when we have pain, we can experience heroism. Otherwise, life is just flash-in-the pan pleasure chasing.


3. Pain’s resistance makes our earned victories so much sweeter.

When I was a kid, a family friend with a garden told me that food toiled for was the most satisfying. I agree.

Having goals, dreams, hopes, and a future gives our life purpose. And as we accomplish each tiny victory, or each large one, our victories feel good because of the pain we went through to achieve them.

As the protagonist of our own stories, we have to make the journey. Ultimately, the journey is what makes the prize worth it. Pain is a huge part of the journey. In fact, it’s what makes the journey, a journey.


The End

I’m not trying to downplay the significance of pain. I don’t want to use pithy ideas to put a positive spin on a deep hurt. I don’t believe it’s effective to force a constant smile and filter everything through the lens of optimism. But I am in the midst of deep pain right now. And in the midst of pain, I am learning to be grateful for what it gives me.

Ultimately, life is what you make it. A good friend, knowing that I am going through a hard time, recently texted me, “Do you know what the difference is between affliction and adventure?”

I texted back, “I’m not sure, what is it?”

He replied, “Attitude.”

I believe this is true. I’m not forcing myself against my will to have a good attitude about pain… merely taking the time to reflect on its purpose.

No matter how it feels right now… a beautiful story can come out of it. Hope is looking at a scar and seeing a story.

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