Rationalizing Pain

This morning I sat listening to a popular TV preacher who was speaking about how we need to count our blessings. The central theme of his message was the idea that we should deal with pain by countering negative pain with positive blessings. It occurred to me that this is an unhelpful paradigm because it is a form of rationalization. I liken it to the idea of someone telling a person who smashed their thumb with a hammer that things will be better if they will just focus on their other nine pain-free fingers. This kind of pseudo-rationalization only heaps more pain on the pain.. it is a form of backdoor blame that causes us to feel responsible for pain that we have had no part in. In a sense Job's friends entered into this kind of rationalization when one of them said:
You have taught many people and given strength to feeble hands. When someone stumbled, weak and tired, your words encouraged him to stand. Now it's your turn to be in trouble, and you are too stunned to face it. (Job 4:3-5)
The real problem with this kind of rationalization is that it purports that pain is something that you can think your way out of. It seems to embrace the idea that all you need to have is a positive mental attitude. Consider the idea that Job and his wife lost 10 children in an instant. How do you positively think your way out of that? It is impossible!

I believe that this kind of thinking keeps a hurting person in denial of their plight. It hinders them from processing their pain and getting through it.. it is hurtful and not helpful. Pain is something that must be processed with the heart. The following saying is reflective of what I am trying to say:
“A friend is one to whom you can pour out the contents of your heart, chaff and grain alike. Knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”
Pouring our heart out to a true listening friend is a good way to process pain. Often my conversations with God resemble this kind of pouring out of my heart. When we come to God with our pain we are responding to Jesus when He said:
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
It is so encouraging that Jesus acknowledged our pain in this way and casted an invitation to involve Him in our pain. It reminds me of this passage:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
I close by encouraging you to find a friend today if you are hurting.. someone who will listen to you.. someone who will help you take your pain to Jesus.. someone who will help you find that place of rest in Christ.


  1. I have heard "Deal with depression by giving thanks to God for your blessings" from the pulpit.

    It made me depressed.

  2. We're not looking for comfort, are we? As in "make the suffering not happen?"

    That's not what Scripture tells us. We can plead that our sufferings be taken away, like St. Paul, three times for him, but God tells us that His Grace is sufficient for us, for "His Power is perfected in weakness." (2 Cor)

    We also want to be like St. Paul who knows that his suffering benefits others in the mystical Body of Christ (Eph 3), who "makes up in his sufferings what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His Body, the Church." (Col 1). That we are "heirs with Christ, but only if we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him." (Rom 8). We have to "take up our crosses daily and come after Jesus," and if we don't, we "cannot be His disciples." (Luke 14)

    There is an entire theology of suffering. We are confident through what is revealed in Scripture and by the witness of the Church throughout time that "after we have suffered, the God of all grace will restore, establish and strengthen us."

    It's a terrible glory, but I trust with all my heart that God not only sends me suffering to strengthen my faith, but to bring me closer to Jesus and His Passion.

    We are promised suffering. It is weak preaching to tell people to rely on "positive mental attitude" - (and they accuse ME of "works salvation?")

    I'm with you on the value of companions to share the pain, and I'm aware that I brought my portable soapbox but so many influential preachers today skip over the "hard passages" of Scripture that preach only Jesus and Him crucified!

  3. I've heard (from the pulpit) "If you can't change something, change your attitude to it."

    While I might want to dismiss this as more psychobabble, I think there is a spiritual aspect to this and it is worthy of more consideration.

    O.K. It has its limits; if you were a Jew in 1937 Berlin....

    However, I think it has application and doesn't negate anything Therese said.

  4. I think they go together, doorman-priest (is your name meant to honor the great saint porters?)

    If I have to suffer, then if I can remind myself that I can join that suffering to that of Christ for His Body, the Church, then my suffering isn't "wasted."

    Your "Jew in 1937 Berlin" is a chilling example of quiet martyrdom. It bears meditating upon: how many of them didn't even try to hide or lie, but accepted their fate as from the hand of God?

  5. That message depresses me too Leo :(

    What I mainly tried to communicate with this post is that you can't simply redirect your thinking and get through pain. Pain is something that needs to be processed with our hearts.. and often processed with other people.. it is why shrinks are abundant and successful.. the good ones anyway :)

  6. Having gotten bits and pieces of your own story through your blog, I believe your thoughts definitely carry some weight. I didn't hear the message you were talking about, but from your description, I would think it was just a bit trite.

    It's a pet peeve of mine...I don't like it when someone minimalizes genuine suffering by offering trite answers. So I think you handled the topic with a great amount of grace--probably more than I would have. :) Thanks for this post.


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