As I lay with my body in the hands of a Registered Massage Therapist, I sighed with a little disappointment at the gentle pressure she was applying to my lower left back. I grumbled to myself, “I thought I was paying for a deep tissue massage.” She moved from my left hip, up towards my left shoulder and arms and it felt wonderful. Now being a little more content, she started on my right side.
“ARGHH!!!” This time I winced as she massaged the right side of my body, even though she applied the same or less pressure than my left. All that ran through my mind was, “That’s not normal, that pain shouldn’t be there.” My time with my RMT revealed that my problem in my wrist had manifested itself throughout the whole right side of my shoulders and back.
Three types of pain
It was also around this time I became aware the pain that was caused by her massaging was not like other pain. I noted a non-comprehensive list of 3 different types of pain:
1) Pain inflicted against you: When something wrong is done against you.
2) Self-inflicted pain: When you do something you’re not supposed to be doing or failing to do something you were supposed to.
3) Abnormal pain: An abnormal pain caused by the normal pressure or rhythms of life.
The pain I experienced from the pressure was definitely not either of the first two. I knew that if my whole body were as healthy as the left side of my body, the massage on my right side would not have caused me any pain. The pain wasn’t because of the normal pressure but because of the “abnormal” tension in my muscles.
It’s not the pressure of life; it’s your problem heart.
Similarly, there are normal pressures or rhythms of life that should not cause any pain or discomfort in a healthy soul. Hard work, singleness, seeing your friends begin new relationships, growing old—moving through seasons are normal rhythms of life. These specific situations are not sins done against you or sins of omission or commission. They are neutral and normal.
Therefore, singleness is a normal neutral “pressure” or rhythm in life. If you’re experiencing pain or if you’re struggling with singleness, it’s not your singleness that’s the problem. It’s because of an “abnormality” or problem with your heart.
Trying to cure your pain by dealing with your singleness is like telling your RMT to cure your sore shoulder by not touching it. You can’t deal with your struggle with singleness by trying to cure your singleness. Avoiding or escaping your problem doesn’t help either. Your singleness isn’t the problem—your heart is the problem.
Pain untreated will grow chronic
Pain, like sin, does not remain isolated when “untreated.” It will spread and affect other areas of your life. For example, the tendonitis in my lower arm had not only limited my mobility in my wrist, but caused tension to build in my upper arm, which began pulling on my shoulder and gave me and sore back and neck.
Similarly, in my past there have been times I have neglected to deal with my struggles with singleness and truly turn towards God. I found my struggle didn’t go away by itself, but instead became inflamed. It began to affect my identity in Christ and caused me to turn to other people for affirmation instead of God. I found that I started comparing myself with other people instead of comparing myself with Jesus. I sought more to become like other girls by buying clothing or makeup instead of seeking to be more like Christ. My relationship with friends strained under my jealousy, frustration and bitterness, and my ministry and witness suffered.
Pain will happen, but how will you respond to it?
We live in a fallen world and we have all fallen short of the glory of God. At some point the inevitable “RMT” of life will put pressure on an area of your soul and it will reveal you have an underlying heart issue. My struggle with singleness, for example, had more to do with my heart issues of idolatry—trying to find hope and salvation in a spouse and issues with a misplaced identity.
While I lay on the table, I had a choice: I could try to escape the pain from the pressure being placed on me, or I could do my best to persevere in the pain, trusting she knew what was best. In spite of how uncomfortable it felt at times, it would ultimately be for my own good.
How much more can we trust in our Creator God when He allows the pressures of this life to afflict us. Those moments can reveal our idols. They’re opportunities to repent, to seek and trust in our Lord. The more time we spend in the Word and prayer, the more His Holy Spirit can reveal things causing us pain and the more He can minister truth that relieves us of that pain.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, ESV)
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12, ESV)
About Lorraine Yeung: A British girl living in a tiny town in British Columbia. God redeemed Lorraine’s life at 21 and called her to help plant churches, and sure enough God answered her call when He put this city girl on the West Coast of Canada. Right now, she’s learning to juggle a full-time job and a full-time ministry without going too crazy. When she’s free, she loves to stomp around the forest trails with her dog and camera or going on coffee shop crawls with her bible and laptop. Lorraine started documenting and journaling her time in Canada through her blog This Pilgrim’s Progress since 2010, you can also follow her @LorraineYeung.
Photo credit: Sotiris Kousoulos