What if pain is necessary?

“Instead of constantly working to get comfortable in my relationship and feeling that something is wrong because I can’t ever quite get there, I can relate with instability as a strange invitation to remain awake in love. So if you were ever thinking ‘When am I ever going to get comfortable in this relationship?’ I invite you to consider that the answer might be ‘Never.’
I’ve come to think that the most deeply loving gesture I can make with my relationship is to tolerate my own discomfort; to recognize my feelings and leave the story behind; to cease and desist from threatening my husband with consequences should he fail to be the person I need him to be rather than the person he is.
There is something magical–yes, magical–about this discomfort. You are right there, never quite in your comfort zone. There is no possibility of falling asleep. You are always a tiny bit on the edge, as if you are trying something new for the very first time. When it comes to love, this is not such a bad approach. Brilliance and inspiration and everything fresh are discovered on this edge, including how to open your heart beyond what you ever thought possible. This is the noble experiment of love.”
–Susan Piver

 

If I were to write a mission statement for every relationship I’ve ever been in, it would go something like this:

“Cultivate a relationship in which we both seek to understand the other and work toward never hurting each other.”

Sounds like a damn good goal to me. After all, I certainly don’t want to hurt my person, and I don’t want to be hurt, so why shouldn’t that be the goal? But over the last few weeks, I’ve come to understand something:

My partner is never going to be able to keep from hurting me.

I mean, sure, there are things she can do to avoid hurting my feelings and things she can do to make me feel loved, but I have never yet been in a relationship where pain wasn’t present, and working to avoid pain and trying to make my partner change to keep me from feeling it has only ever led to distance, discord, and, eventually, a breakup. Yesterday, as I thought about this, the realization struck me:

I have accepted work as a necessary part of loving someone. Can I accept pain the same way?

Granted, not all pain ought to be accepted, and some differences are too great to overcome, but when there are things my person needs that put me in that place of pain, can I stop and ask myself whether it’s a pain I’m willing to accept for her sake and for the sake of our relationship? What if there are things my person needs that will hurt me? What if there are things she wants in her life that—rightly or wrongly—cause me pain, and if I were to ask her to give those things up, I would be placing her in a position of losing something important to her? If I make pain avoidance my goal, I am left with only two choices:

A. Force her to give up the things she needs and wants or
B. End the relationship.

But what if there is a third choice?

What if I can accept pain, for the sake of love?

What if that’s part of what Jesus meant when he said:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.)

I can’t help but think that Jesus meant something much more than physical death. After all, very few of us are ever placed in life or death situations with our friends, but how often does giving someone what they need involve sacrifice? How often does love mean laying aside our own desires or preferences for the good of someone else?

What if pain is a price we pay for unconditional, sacrificial love? I wrote this years ago, but I don’t think I fully understood it until now:

“I’ve come to believe that pain and love are bound together in our experience of this world. I’ve come to believe that the only way to truly accept love is to accept the pain that necessarily accompanies relationships with fallible human beings. God’s own love for us was made manifest on the cross of Jesus, through unimaginable suffering and the ultimate sacrifice of his own life. I think true love is the act of laying our hearts wide open and giving others not just power, but permission to wound us. To resist the temptation to close ourselves against the very people our soul wants most to open up to. To allow ourselves to experience pain not as a force of destruction but as a refining fire.”

What if pain is not just unavoidable? What if it’s necessary?

 

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