As much as we avoid pain, there are several benefits to turmoil. Although it hurts, there are a few things that can be gained exclusively (or most effectively) through suffering. It is for these reasons, perhaps, that pain is allowed in our world. It may not be ‘good’ in and of itself, and is certainly something we steer clear of. Yet, the inevitable let downs, disappointments, and traumas of life are a uniquely fertile ground for some of life’s most essential elements.
The best example of this is the development of intimacy. None of us have a person in our lives that we deeply love, who we know truly cares about us, that we haven’t also been through some mess with.
The Bible says that suffering produces character and character produces hope (Romans 5). This is true both for the individual and for relationships. It’s not just a recipe for the heart of a person but for the soul of a relationship.
Suffering produces character within an organization, community, or relationship. It bonds people together in a significant way.
We all sense this. As much as we would like for things to go perfectly all the time, we realize that this is not the way the world works. And when we pretend it can be, we live in a kind of false harmony. There is a magic connection between people who have been through difficulty together. It is why sports teams have two-a-days and gangs have initiations. Even when it is unhealthy, like hazing or the gang thing, we recognize that going through difficult things together develops intimacy.
So why is it that intimacy only comes through persevering in the midst of suffering?
First, it is real. There is nothing more honest, more genuine, more authentic than pain. Our superficial culture is trying so hard to be polished and professional, charming and likable. We put our best foot forward. The problem with all this careful primping is that we do not truly know one another. We know the versions we work so hard to present to one another.
Pain strips us down. It exposes us to one another. Even if the pain causes anger, it is honest, real to the core. Most of us have yelled terrible things at the people we love. And they love us, not just in spite of it, but because of the exposure to our truest selves.
We cannot really love one another if we don’t truly know one another. Pain plunges us into the deep waters. It pushes us past all the careful walls we build up and allows us to see one another, to care for one another in our vulnerability.
This is the ‘magic’ of intimacy. Once someone has seen our truest self and loved us there, everything changes. Even after the pain is over, the experience of having someone care for us in our deepest truth stays with us. It makes us feel seen, valued. And not so damned alone.
In It For The Long Haul
The other reason character develops in intimacy is because it reinforces commitment. Our immediate-gratification, what’s-in-it-for-me society has a big phobia of commitment. And we’ve already mentioned that pain stinks and is to be avoided. So if a pair of humans commits to a relationship in the midst of pain, it baffles our patterned thinking. When everything tells us to bail, we stay. The result is a definitive proof that we are truly committed to making the relationships work.
The difficulties of pain are a unique opportunity to decide what (and who) really matters to us. What survives pain will sprout into character. The other side of pain is either isolation or intimacy. The determining factor is the perspective we take in the midst of pain and the people we experience it with.