No Pain, No Gain

I can remember in my Junior Tennis days running what was surely my 50th suicide drill on the tennis court, and hearing my coach yelling those words across the court, “no pain, no gain.” I didn’t like the phrase then (or the suicide drills) and I surely don’t like it now.

What do we really gain from the “pains” of being human?

After the Boston bombing last week, I wish I could storm heaven’s gates like an angry fishwife and confront God about the brutal suffering so many of creation must endure. Why cancer? Why miscarriages? Why bombs, betrayals, and depression? Why do we have to hurt so? It makes me angry, quickly reveals my helplessness, and knots my faith in fragile threads of fear. I have watched so many endure what surely should have killed them—the loss of a child, pain in the body so brutal that you no longer fear death, and disappointments that cover the spirit like a shroud. And yet, it is often in the dark chaos of pain, that we encounter God in the most profound way.

In a sermon, Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and one of my favorite authors, shared the story of one of her parishioners in the last stages of life. A fellow member of the church arrived to the dying woman’s bedside carrying a polished stone with a hole in it. No one understood the gift at first. It wasn’t until the woman brought the stone up to her eye and looked through the hole that she got the message. She said, “Now I see. This is the way through.” At some point on the pilgrimage of life every single one of us must find our way through pain. The question is what can we gain along the way.

The Greek philosopher Plato said, “Pain restores order to the soul.” I have a hard time disagreeing with him. If I am honest, it has been in the clutches of pain that I have seen God most clearly. Pain peels the onion, gets us down to the marrow of our humanity. The dark hole of pain can be scary, humbling, but often a place of epiphanies, even miracles.

Let’s face it-we humans can be awfully stubborn, blind, and self-absorbed. Pain and suffering get our attention. Suffering strips the blinders so we can see more as God sees—life as the sacred thing that it is—every breath, tear, smile, and embrace.

I have no answers for why suffering is inherent to being human. I don’t know why mommas have to say goodbye to their babies too soon, or how a 19 year old with his whole life ahead of him would strap a bomb to his back, or why I was born into a life of such immense blessings when another woman, just as beautifully and divinely made, suffers in every breath under a brutal African sun. And yet, I do believe we were created with resilient spirits. Our eternal soul, not our sufferings define us. God made sure we were wired with courage, resilience, and the divine promise, “I am with you always” so that when pain rears its ugly head, we can endure, even daresay, gain in our suffering. That’s the beauty of divine grace.

The gain in “no pain, no gain” is God. It is life’s greatest surprise and gift. Pain becomes an opportunity for God to show us why He has the title “Almighty” before his holy name. Pain quickly reveals what is of true value on this side of heaven, and most importantly, it proves that love prevails. If we allow God to see us through the hole in the stone, then something miraculous happens—We make it through!

Live in Hope,



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