Catholic · Faith · forgiveness · Happiness

No Pain, No Gain


Dear Anne,

The other day I was listening to my guru Dennis Prager’s “happiness hour” on the radio and he was talking about bringing the athletic concept of “no pain no gain” to our personal lives. Specifically, he was talking about how children ultimately lose opportunities for growth (and therefore happiness) when well-intentioned parents shelter them from the natural pain of life. I’ve been thinking about life’s struggles recently, with the 9/11 anniversary, news from friends about heartbreaking,  life-altering events and of course the problems in our Church. As I pondered Prager’s message, I realized that it holds a wisdom not only for parenting, but for the Church’s situation and for the personal pain we all struggle with. 

I think all of us are reeling to some extent over the latest abuse scandal in the Church, and like most scandals, it’s about the cover up as much as the original crimes. I’ve written before about how close to home the whole situation has come for me, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say I want every case, every memo, everything out in the open. Like parents shielding a child from painful, but natural and appropriate consequences, pastors, bishops and cardinals have guarded the institution from a painful housecleaning that should have occurred decades ago. It would have been hard, yes, but avoiding that pain has not only harmed so many more individuals, but it also robbed the Church of a chance to learn from the sins of the past and to learn how to prevent them in the future. Growth doesn’t come in the good times, it comes in the hard lessons and the Church has missed this lesson time and again.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts”
Romans 5:3-5

It can be tempting to do the same thing when grief and disappointment arrive in our own lives. Life is not a pain-free zone, but pain is not the opposite of happiness; it’s how we respond to painful events that will define us, not the events themselves. If we react with bitterness, feeling like a victim, we harden our hearts, make ourselves and those around us miserable and close ourselves off from life’s lessons. If we respond (like Church hierarchy) with denial and avoidance, we exacerbate the situation. But if we face reality, accept our difficulties, even our tragedies, with a heart open to growth, then we give a purpose to the pain.

I’m living a season of pain right now because of the struggles and pain of a loved one. I can’t fix their situation. I can’t take their pain away and worrying will not help. So I have to trust in God’s plan, pray, and hope to learn the hard lessons (for me) of patience and relinquishing control of life. I have to find some “good” in a hard situation, in part because I know there is a larger plan, but also because I have an obligation to other family members and friends to try to be as happy as possible, even in painful times. If I let my troubles affect others, then I just create unhappiness.

So like an old Nike ad, I have to work through the pain while focusing on the gain. Life lessons don’t come cheap, and sometimes it’s tempting to hide from the challenge, to stick with the status quo of life. But if we are going to call for our Church leadership to embrace the pain, to learn the hard lessons, shouldn’t we?



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