No-one has ever asked me how I manage to maintain an average-looking frame in our age of indulgence and plenty. But if they did, I'd point them to my intermittent habit of running—a source of much joy and frustration over the past decade.
I've never been a competitive runner by any elongation of the imagination. With a couple of mediocre-times in half-marathons, I can pretend to be more experienced and knowledgeable than I really am—but the reality is, I'm a bit of a runner hack.
One day, while out running, I noticed a funny twinge in the arch of my foot. Bravely, I soldiered on and kept plodding away. Yet, the pain worsened and the next morning I could barely walk. Rest would provide relief from the pain, but as soon as I ventured out for another run it would return with a vengeance.
Eventually—after much stubbornness and delaying—I sought out some professional help; and they told me I was running wrong. My left foot was striking incorrectly, causing stress and pain. My body was trying to help me, by pretending a nail was being jabbed into my foot. I was ignoring it—thinking my body was being a frustration. Instead, it wanted me to grow and improve.
Potential and Pain
As CS Lewis once quipped, 'Pain insists on being attended to.' When we ignore pain, it rarely subsides. Yet when we are caught by pain and address the pain, it often points to a required change, to growth and to new potential. Simply put: physical pain often calls us to something more.
But in life, when we hope and desire for our character to grow—where can the distress hit us? When a headache hits, I can reach for Panadol. When existential angst raises its sneaky head, I can dive into a TV series to distract myself. When loneliness begins to creep in, social media provides a temporary respite from its sting.
The world offers a smorgasbord of false relief from suffering—retail therapy, pornography, dependent relationships, drug-use—all of which can numb the pain but not heal the wound. Writer and pastor Jonathan Grant notes 'we are increasingly becoming an anaesthetised society that will do anything to avoid pain.'
In our quest for numbness, are we actually missing out on opportunity for a deeper, richer growth? Are we substituting an avoidance of pain for true life?
The Suffering Solitude of Scripture
The Biblical story pulls no punches when it comes to pain. Its pages run red with horrifying tales of national genocide, abuse, slavery and oppression. Yet, it also hints that there's a commonality amongst the people who grew amidst times of suffering. They all had periods alone.
In a time of family bickering and fighting, Jacob grew through a lonely encounter in the wilderness. During a period of slavery and abuse, Moses developed in the dreary lonely days of a shepherd. Paul withdrew to the desert, alone, amidst the guilt and suffering of having killed the innocent. And Jesus launched his ministry by seeking forty days of lonely, suffering solitude.
Why? Because in the space of being alone our real pain surfaces. It is in the space of being alone we are reminded of the deeper things in life.
I'm No Storm Chaser
Most of the most pivotal, growing moments of my life have happened from a place of solitude: at the beach, walking the streets, writing or wandering alone.
I remember one dark stormy night—clichéd, yet true—feeling a nudge in my spirit to drive out of Cambridge, and up Maungakawa, our local hill. I hustled into the wet and maneuvered my car up the winding road. Arriving at the top, I ventured out into the dark, windy rain and stood in the midst of the storm.
I heard no voice. I did not get warm fuzzies. But I became incredibly aware of my finiteness, my limitations—my suffering and my personal pain amplified. Yet, in the solitude, I also was called to go deeper and face my pain, and to find growth through it.
A few years ago many Christians were talking about the importance of intentional community. I always baulked at the idea, not because I thought it was bad, but because I knew my spiritual gift of incredible social awkwardness would be highlighted.
Christians would form communities, share goods and care for the community, in a lifestyle resonant of the early church. It was tough, but good.
Yet, I never heard of Christians pursuing intentional aloneness. Perhaps it's my latent introversion speaking, but I didn't hear an equal call for people to pursue solitude, in order to face their suffering and pain, and move deeper through it.
In The Problem of Pain, CS Lewis tells us the way to get to the Promised Land is through the wilderness—through the journey of hardship where our old ways are killed and new, life-giving habits are grown. Often, these wilderness journeys happen in solitude.
This is not a call to be a loner, nor is it an idolisation of isolation. Instead, this is a reminder that pain often precedes progress. In our world of constant connection rhythms of solitude can help to speak through our anaesthetised atmosphere and allow painful truths to strike, sink and seed new life within us.
Jeremy is a student and Innovation Consultant (www.creativate.co.nz) who has managed to maintain an average-looking body for 29 years.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html