When I experience pain, my first thought is - make it stop!
I would say I enjoy running, however, there comes a point towards the end of a run, when my body is going through a considerable amount of discomfort, and all I can think of is stopping. I’m doing something I enjoy, yet I’m counting down to when I get to finish.
I find it interesting… why would I even begin something when I know I’ll get part way through and wish that it would stop?
I was at the beach this week - a place I wanted to go, a place meant to bring joy and relaxation, yet even here, there was a mental struggle. I had to make myself stay for what I thought was a reasonable amount of time. To be honest, I was ready to get off that beach after twenty minutes. I liked it, but the hot sun, cold water and sandy irritation meant it wasn’t long before I wished for a shower and a change of clothes.
Does anyone else find the before and after better than the during? The anticipation of a great day and the memories of good times feel, in many ways, better than the experience itself.
It’s like me and roller coasters. I enjoy them most when the ride is over, and I reflect on the thrill with those I’m with.
This could be an indicator of my difficulty with being present. A sign of the strong current around us always pulling us on to the next thing.
Is discomfort necessary?
But it also shows that as excitement increases, so does discomfort. Lazy and bored often equals high comfort. Fun and full-of-life brings with it an amount of risk, pain and longing to be still again.
It seems to me that we need both for a fulfilled life. Neither a life of pure ease nor a life of constant activity brings happiness. It’s a balance to check-in on regularly. What do I need now - more pushing out of my comfort zone, or more stillness?
Furthermore, I’ve been making an effort to embrace the discomfort involved in the activities I love. To accept that enjoying activities involves an element of frustration and pain and to move past this and focus on the good. Good things rarely just happen and an amount of effort is involved. I need to remind myself that it’s worth it. Enduring is necessary to reach the higher potential in what we do.
Lastly, I find I’m a lot more content when I adjust my expectations. Happiness is not found in particular experiences and activities. Living at the beach is not going to make me happier than living in the suburbs. Nor will going out necessarily make me smile more than staying in.
No, we must discover the secret of being content whatever in circumstance we find ourselves. Whether we have little or much. Whether we’re living quietly or at a million miles an hour. It’s not what we do, it’s who we are that deserves more of our attention. Striving for more is not going to make our life better.
We need to start with the knowledge that our next achievement, next purchase or next experience does not hold the answer to making life better.
Life is never going to be perfect. We should try to make it better, but not because we think that we will make things perfect or that it will make our lives mean more.
Instead, I should recognise how my needs are met right now in whatever I’m going through. Within the imperfection. I have enough. Gratitude has a lot to do with it, I think. And embracing the process.
I’m interested - what’s your ‘enough’.
From this place, life becomes richer, more meaningful and more enjoyable. We strive for more, not out of a discontent, but out of the freedom and joy we’re already living in, and simple gratitude that we’re able to give it a go.
What we do doesn’t mean everything. Nor does it mean nothing. We have been given a gift of life, and we get to be a part of it, within a greater setting of all life that is and has been and will be.
Our longings for the pain to go and for things to be right are good. But we should recognise that these longings are part of the process and that a change in our situation isn’t the solution. Right now, whatever we’re doing, whatever we have - this is life. If there are answers and meaning and joy to be found, they can be found right here and now.
Tom Anderson is pioneering www.haventogether.com, an online church plant supported by his in-person church, Catalyst, Ipswich. He has a young, growing family and enjoys playing backyard sport. Tom is a keen long-distance runner, averaging 21km each day last year. He has worked as a teacher for eleven years and enjoys perfecting a flat white on his home espresso machine. Tom would welcome a visit for a coffee some time… or an online catch-up via Zoom. See the Haven Together website to get in touch.