When a pain finally is acknowledged by your brain, your body responds to protect itself by pulling away. Once, when I was just a preteen, I accidentally stepped on the sharpened end of a pencil that pierced deep into my foot. Before my foot went all the way to the floor, my foot immediately pulled away from the pencil before I had time to think about what had happened. It was a natural reaction that required no forethought because my body was trying to protect itself. Likely you have experienced many instances in your life of the same principle.
Relationships are no different. When we experience pain in them, and yes it’s a “when” and not an “if” statement, you likely will pull away from that relationship because of a pain or perceived pain you have experienced; that’s normal. We have a tendency, a propensity if you will, towards running away from pain. It not only allows us to avoid an initial pain, but if we do it well, we end up avoiding the source of that pain and any future pain it may cause us. This is where I think we err. We think that by running away permanently, we avoid any future pain that source can cause us and subsequently are running towards a happier or better life.
Late last year, I got into running. I found that something I had previously hated had started to become a rather enjoyable experience. It allowed me some solitude, some time to think and pray, and a chance to push my boundaries and grow. It was also about this time that my wife and I started to confront some issues that had come up in our marriage that was a source of pain. I found running easier than dealing with those issues. My running began to be more than just about running. I was running away from pain.
But what I eventually had to learn was that in order to run further and farther, to get to that finish line, I had to embrace pain. It’s a lesson I constantly have to relearn. Running long distances, I’ve had to learn that you’ll eventually start to feel the strain on your body. That pain is inevitable if you want to keep on running and to cross that finish line. It’s when you learn this that the initial desire to run from pain loses its appeal. Yeah, you’ll likely pull back when hurt. Sometimes in relationships when you are hurt deeply, you’ll pull back for an extended period of time to recoup and handle the pain. And on occasion, when a relationship is obviously very toxic that time away may be indefinite until reconciliation can happen.
But relationships are meant to be a source of imagery to God’s ability for reconciliation and unity. Relationships are a place where as Christians we can model love and forgiveness and reconciliation despite the pain inflicted upon us. Because if this is what Jesus has done for us in reconciling us to him through death and suffering, we as his image-bearers need to strap on our running shoes and prepare to run towards pain. I’m still trying to learn what that looks like. My wife has been patient with me as I’ve tried to figure that out in our ten years of marriage. She’s modeled well what it looks like to pursue me, to run towards me even when it hurts. Let us then run this race towards pain with endurance, seeking to cross that finish line to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).