"Pain is weakness leaving the body" - Gatorade ad campaign
"Discipline is the self coming to terms with the truth that pain is often good for you" - My 59th St. Bridge Revelation
There were moments during my wilderness period where I was so keen to avoid pain that I would avoid my mentors and anyone who I knew would kick my ass about my mind's thoughts and my heart's desires. Then I realized that there's no growth without pain and if I let this become a pattern in my life, I will get nowhere. If spiritual growth, nay, if growth as a human being wasn't a priority to me, I could spend my whole life not facing the music.
I am firmly convicted by the belief that every decision you make in life does two things: It takes you either farther along the road or backwards along that same road. On one end of the road is the likeness of Christ and on the other end is hell. Everything you do will cause you to move either up or down; there are no side-steps. It's like one of those old school side-scroller video games, like Super Mario or Sonic (Note to self: good future sermon illustration); if you're not going forward you're going backwards.
The second thing I believe choice does is it determines trajectory. On that uni-dimensional road called sanctification (or damnation, depending on which way you're going), you gain momentum. There are no harmless choices, no choices you can take a break in, no decisions you can throw the towel in. In every decision you make, you are setting for yourself a precedent by which you make future decisions.
I realized that if I continued to let that antiquated, primitive, primal, animal pain-avoiding instinct guide my actions, I will end up going down towards the wrong end of the path. So I began to face the music. The truth will set you free, says Christ, but it will make you scream and whimper and beg for mercy first.
Today, I have a healthier view of pain. I try to keep the pain-avoiding instinct off unless I am lighting a barbecue grill or taking on Stanley Lee in the Octagon (ironically, it stays off when I'm talking with Stan about life things). But my experience has also opened my eyes to all the people who live like I used to. I guess I never realized this, but there are people who live their entire lives driven by only one motivation: the avoidance of pain. Like squirrels, chipmunks and the like, they scamper at the first hint of danger. What marks a small woodland creature? Cuteness and feebleness. Cuteness because they are small and weak and harmless. Feebleness because they lack the capacity to become fearsome, intimidating; they lack the ability to transcend their limits.
How do we live? There are two ways. One is to see every situation as an opportunity to grow. The other is to see every situation as a potential for pain and discomfort. These principles that govern pain and growth are applicable to our Christian lives. In church issues, it often comes out in the areas of avoiding correction and rebuke. I've seen people who are SO GOOD at doing this, that they not only avoid the situations that might bring about correction, they avoid interaction with godly people altogether. How do I know it happens? Because I was so good at doing that myself.
What marks a small woodland creature? Cuteness and feebleness. And fear. To avoid facing the music, you can't just avoid people, you also have to avoid situations that will require you to open up. You have to avoid admitting your weaknesses, your sin, your sinfulness, your dependence on God. You have to hide away every hint of fallenness away from the rest of the world. And to hide who we are is to always fear that we will be found out for who we are. There is so much insecurity in living a life like that. Every single day it plagues you like an awful smell right under your nose that you can't get rid of. That fear discomforts you, never lets you relax like a wet sock inside a tightly-laced hiking boot.
It is a pathetic existence. To live in fear of pain is to live as if you're always being chased from behind. I don't think I've completely subdued this impulse within me; it is still more natural for me to take the path that avoids pain. I still have to consciously choose the path that leads to growth, even if it means cutting off parts of my body like my hand or my eye. I now I have a willingness to do it. Growth by pain isn't the natural impulse within me, but at least I'm getting better and better at choosing it. And it definitely gets easier over time.