All athletes know pain. Very often, the crossover from simply working out to becoming an athlete runs right through the intersection of pain. People who make a bigger commitment to fitness may not realize they are also making a bigger commitment to pain. As a coach, let me be the first to say not all pain is necessary, or even beneficial for fitness. This kind of pain often leads to injury, reduced range of motion, and loss of strength. Definitely not where you want your journey to take you. Yet well before the threshold of injury lies the battlefield of suffering. It’s here where you’ll discover more about who you are, what you’re capable of, and what really holds you back. And would you believe your closest ally in winning the battle is pain? Let me introduce you to good pain.
I know, it sounds like an oxymoron. Can pain really be good? I’m not going to debate that biologically. Pain is our body’s way of trying to get us to stop what we’re doing. It’s a feedback loop extending our life expectancy. But your neurological system can’t differentiate the stimulus of your pain. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a heavy back squat and a roof collapsing on you. Which is why sometimes I think they feel the same way! Your squat creates the same physical discomfort as the roof, elevating your heart rate, producing lactic acid, fatiguing muscle fibers, all in a coordinated effort by your brain to get you to set the weight down. This is good pain. To use a military term, you embrace the suck.
Good pain provides feedback something is happening to your body. If your workouts were never difficult, you’d never get fit. In other words, what challenges you changes you. Good pain is proof things are happening. It’s also a key component of the process of fitness. The more time you spend under healthy tension, with your ally good pain, doing battle against suffering, the fitter you will get. It’s also why everyone doesn’t get fit. If you don’t understand the process, you’ll end up resenting pain and suffering. When this happens, you’ll either create excuses not to push yourself, or you’ll create excuses not to come to the gym. These are really good guardrails for recognizing you’ve forgotten the process. Every athlete wrestles with these at some point, so don’t beat yourself up, just get in the gym!
When we look at Spiritual Fitness and good pain, there’s often confusion. People will challenge the concept of good pain from the view of major catastrophic life events. What’s good about cancer or divorce or the loss of loved ones? My answer is nothing. Nothing is inherently good about any of those events. But that’s like saying what’s good about getting hit by a car. Getting hit by a car is not good pain. However, all the hours you spent in the gym working through the process of tension, pain, and suffering may have produced a physical result which ultimately keeps you alive even though you’re hit by a car. You were strong enough to sustain the event, but the two are separate. In Spiritual Fitness, good pain is the emotional discomfort brought on by the process of surrendering your innate selfishness and insecurities in favor of God’s joy, peace, and love. It is not an easy process to let go of these desires. Like comfort blankets, you’ve used them for years to insulate yourself from the pain of your past. Or you’ve hidden them to avoid vulnerability for fear of humiliation or rejection. Good pain is part of God’s transformational process for your life. As you surrender your desires and God rebuilds your self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence, you will handle life differently. This is what it means to become spiritually fit, and it’s my prayer for all of you.
Questions for Reflection:
Have you ever tried to give God the desires of your heart? What did the process teach you about yourself?
Do you think suffering in your physical workouts produces benefits which apply to your spiritual life? If so, what are they?