Pain Tolerance

I like to fix things. Or, rather, I like to fix people. Someone comes to me with a problem, and I want to make it better—now. But lately, I've watched several friends live through terrible situations: crumbling marriages, failing careers, dying children, withering spirits. And I can't do a thing to make them better.

'I grew up in a Swedish family that didn't do well with emotion, particularly "negative" emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, grief. The Scandinavian way is to push through and do whatever's necessary regardless of feelings. Added to that mindset is my generation's belief that talking about a problem long enough will make it better. As if those propensities weren't enough, I always want to be the friend who gives the best advice, who comes through and saves the day. So because of my Swedish instinct to run from pain, my Gen X desire to discuss a problem's every nuance, and my chronic need to help, I tend to rush people through life's hard parts. As I listen to these friends whose spouses are leaving or whose parents are sick or whose jobs are gone, I have to work hard to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. 'My heritage, age, and personality aren't the only factors that make patience with pain a struggle for me. My faith—at least, the Christian culture surrounding my faith—has done little to help me develop pain tolerance. And I'm not the only one. Anyone who's gone through a difficult situation knows the least helpful words often come from Christians. When my friend suffered a miserable breakup and then saw a promising job offer fall through, the last thing she needed to hear was all this ickiness befell her because "God has something better in store." Yet a well-meaning mutual friend told her exactly that. And it did the opposite of help.

Certainly, I believe God does have something better for my brokenhearted friend. And she believes that as well. But too often, we Christians use such phrases not to shore up someone's hope, but to hurry that person out of her pain. We want to say something—anything—to stop her hurt.

When I try to fix my friends' problems, I'm usually doing so because of my discomfort with their feelings. I actually handle my own pain better than others' pain. Maybe because I want people to think of me as the friend who helped them the most. Maybe because I'm afraid I won't have the emotional energy to be supportive for more than a few days. Or maybe because I like my friends to be happy so they can keep me happy. Whatever the selfish reason behind my efforts to make everything better, they're about me, not my friends.

But when Jesus talked to people in pain, he didn't push them through it. He walked with them as long as needed (John 4:1-26). He asked them questions (John 8:1-11). He shared their sorrow (John 11:1-36). In 2 Corinthians 1:3, Paul writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort." God isn't "the Father of constant happiness and joy." Paul assumes life includes suffering and pain. Joy comes from having a God who cares for us and stays with us no matter what. I want to be that kind of friend. Not a friend who pushes or has all the answers, but a friend who listens and sits and comforts. I want to be a friend like Jesus.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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