The Pain Shift (and why I paint)

This Boy. He holds a whole lot of sunshine, but he does not wear rose-colored glasses. He looks like his daddy, but he has a whole lot of his mama in him.  If I had to guess we even share an enneagram number. Us 4’s love/hate to feel and dig into our feelings. A few days ago we were walking together and he told me he’d love to have that problem where you don’t feel any pain. I was immediately transported back to 1991 when I was holding my dad’s hand, crossing the street on our way home from the playground. I told my dad almost the exact same thing. He very sweetly told me about a little girl that had the disease and that pain is important and that if we didn’t feel it, our bodies wouldn’t know how to react and we wouldn’t get the treatment we need to stay alive. It made sense, but I didn’t like it.

It was like a time bomb. Here I am, now the adult, entering into the same conversation with my child. And I still feel that pull of wanting and longing for a way out of pain. The reality is, as Prince Humperdink says, ‘Life is pain, Highness.’

It’s cancer spreading like wildfire, taking the life of one you love. Its living life without that person, the incredible emptiness that lingers because of the void that can be filled by no one else. It’s having to deliver your child, knowing that all your labor will only birth death. It’s dealing with postpartum and no baby to swaddle and breathe in the sweet smell of the top of its head. It’s someone’s hands on your body with whom you have not given consent, and the nights spend in complete fear afterwards. It’s a vicious cycle of unemployment and mental health issues. It’s broken relationships and dogs being hit by cars. It’s persecution and broken hearts. We all know pain in one way or a million ways.

Pain has been such a familiar thing for me that frankly I tend to be uncomfortable in its rare absence. In that absence, I scan the sky frantically, wondering when the next trauma or heartache will fall. I’m more comfortable with the old familiar pains, and I’ve had my fill, I don’t want any new ones.

I was once told that someday I will thank God for the pain in my life. The woman that told me this was trying to help me. It never sat right with me. I have thought it over many times, for years. I just don’t find comfort in this. It makes me sad, it makes the pain feel worse. Didn’t Jesus come to die for sin and death and pain? Didn’t he hang on a cross in excruciating exile and death for the promise of a life to come without pain? Why on earth would I praise him, or thank him for the pain? Thank him for something he came to save? But what about the nature of pain? What about the little girl with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain disease?

What do our bodies physically do when pain is present? They respond. This is amazing news. You see, God created our bodies, our intricate nervous system to react to pain. If I walk into an open cupboard door and smash my forehead, I immediately grab my forehead. And if there is blood, I’ll find the first aid kit and get a Band-Aid, and as it continues to ache and throb I’ll grab an icepack. My body screams at me, ‘take care of yourself!! Do something!!’

So there it is, this golden little shift in seeing God’s kindness. Its not in the pain itself, that’s a given, and that’s because it’s a fallen world. He weeps with us and his heart breaks over the pain. His kindness is in creating us with the capacity and ability to respond and take care of ourselves. Our bodies have an innate desire to want to keep living and keep thriving.

This is the shift. So much freedom here. Pain cannot claim us. This is what He came for. To end all pain. Like C.S.Lewis says, we are on the wrong side of the door, but it will not always be so. We will walk through that door, into the complete absence of pain and brokenness. But while we are here, on this side of things, we can breathe deep.

I know this is easier said than done. And it is ok, if when you are in the trenches of depression the best that you can do is lay on the couch in your pajamas. There is space for that. Sit in the quiet and let yourself feel this shift, hang out with this golden nugget of promise. He has made you for more. You are not a slave to pain.

Here is the amazing part. This shift, if we sit with it long enough, it starts to tint our glasses a bit rosy. We begin to give room for beauty to grow. We take notice of the simple breeze with fresh lilac on its breath. We see the power of the ocean and feel it swell in our souls, letting it’s beauty speak to something deeper. We can hear the birds chirping, whispering in our ear, ‘You are golden’.

This is the true essence of beauty. Its not beauty in the pain or because of the pain. It’s simply beauty. It holds its head high, it grounds you, even when pain is a rushing flood. This, in a nutshell, is why I paint. I get the privilege of submersing myself into beauty. It’s a privilege and life raft for me.

So, to my boy, yes. I want that disease too, but where the real problem is, isn’t that she cannot feel the pain, its that her body cannot properly respond to it. That’s the problem, she is missing a beautiful gift. It’s heartbreaking. But we have all the beauty to look too, here and now. And soon enough, we will pass into, and become a part of it. All because the most beautiful One came to break pain and death and sickness and depression and anxiety.  Forever.

Yes, Baby Boy, pain hurts, but we are going to be just fine.

Kate Thomas