The Purpose of Pain

Much ink has been spilled on the topic of pain and suffering in Jewish thought and lore. I will leave the “in-depth” philosophy and theology discussion to the experts. Today I want to focus on one very simple element, how it can help us and serve us.

One of the most basic uses for pain is to let you know you have a problem. If we didn’t feel the heat of a hot oven on our hands, we wouldn’t know to avoid it until it was too late. If our heart didn’t race, we wouldn’t be on the alert for a cardiovascular problem.

This is true beyond the physical pain we endure but the emotional pain we experience. If we are worried, scared, stressed or anxious, that is an indication that there is a concern in the air. We need to be curious and explore that. These feelings will guide us and instruct what things we should avoid, what we should just “buck up” and push through.

Regardless we need to have these feelings to helps us navigate next steps. Stop a certain behavior, or gird our loins to have the energy to conquer an upcoming challenge.

There is yet a deeper value that only life will teach. These experiences of pain – all of them – help us to realize that we have reservoirs of strength that we didn’t know we had and were previously untapped. Without the pain, we wouldn’t even have mined our souls to search for these super-powers because life was humming along just fine.

It is, in fact, the pain that exposes the treasure that was hidden beneath.

Think of a oil exploration beneath the earths surface.

I grew up in Long Beach, California and there were these horse-shaped oil wells that were pumping and pulling oil from deep within the earth. They were always fascinating and wonderful to watch. You saw something majestic happening even if you couldn’t see the whole process of the pumping horses to the filling up the gas tank of your car.

How did the oil companies know where to strategically place those oil wells? While not an expert on this topic, I’ve watched how they drill tiny holes deep into the ground and bring up small samples of what lies beneath before investing the many thousands of dollars needed to install these pumping stations.

Yet we human beings have been blessed – though it usually doesn’t feel that way at the time – with a Divine drill that does that exploration for us and saves us that step in the process. He – the big HE – God, lets us know that there is (liquid) gold deep inside of us. He sends us pain. Experiential, physical or emotional pain to let us know exactly where to start digging to find the treasure within.

We can get overwhelmed by the work involved mining for the treasure; the woe unto me and the tears and pain, or we can dig deep – pun intended – to bring out His gift that he is giving us.

There is a Jewish expression, “lo m’duvsheich v’lo m’uktzeich” which means I don’t need your honey and I don’t need your sting. This is a prayer to God not to give us so many treasures and not so much pain. Yet if He in his infinite wisdom thinks we can handle it, it must mean there is a really great treasured deep inside of us.

May we know no pain or suffering.


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