We are birthed in pain. We are reared with the threat of physical pain used as a training tool. Parents use physical and emotional pain to correct behavior. Our surroundings threaten us with pain when we touch the stove, when we reach too far and fall, and even when we recklessly pull the cat’s tail. The entire thread of our lives is interwoven with the presence of pain. Still we fear pain, we avoid pain, and we let it control our behavior. Pain has immense power over our lives, yet we find experiencing pain so repulsive that we go to great lengths to avoid every aspect of pain. How we deal with pain is really the only power we have over it.
For the Bible-believer, pain entered the world with the corruption of sin in the Creation narrative. It is worth reviewing the breadth of pain in the Genesis account to understand the encompassing nature of Divine judgement that original sin brought upon humanity:
Genesis 3:16-19 (NLT) “16 Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” 17 And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. 18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. 19 By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
Since Adam and Eve sinned, pain has been the traveling companion of humanity from birth to death. Pain is and will always be an integral part of our walk on earth. We have no power to eliminate and avoid all pain. But, we do have some power over our attitude toward pain.
On a personal note, the pain of major spinal and hip disease recently drove me out of a 20-year career in real estate. The constant presence of chronic pain and disability-related obstacles has brought on an immense dark cloud of depression to accompany the skeletal pain. I have no way around dealing with my pain other than approaching it with a different attitude. Pain is inescapable, but it is teaching me tremendous lessons in life, and for this I am grateful.
One such lesson I learned while watching my cats. Their fear of water piqued my curiosity. I had entirely too much time on my hands, so I thought I would study why cats had such an aversion to water, even though water was necessary and ever-present in their lives. The results of my study paralleled my contemplations about my pain, and compelled me to write about the comparison.
I discovered that not all cats have a natural aversion to water. Even cats that should naturally be averse to water sometimes immerse themselves in the joy of water (smirk). What makes the water-friendly cats different is training, attitude and experience. Arriving at this conclusion gave me the proverbial “ah-ha moment” in my relationship to pain. Perhaps I could actually become pain-friendly with the right training, attitude and experience. The cats deserved more study.
I found that cats have reasons recorded scientifically for why they are so averse to water. A recent article from the Animal Planet website notes,
Scientists contend that cats’ dislike of water comes from house cats’ owners shielding them from the elements since the earliest periods of domestication and from their ancestors — wild cats in Europe, Africa and China’s desert cat — whose limited experience with water did not require adapting and evolving to deal with it. Lions and leopards avoid river-dwelling predators (like crocodiles) by staying away from water” 1
What was also amazing is that many cats have actually moved past their aversion to water, and arrived at a place where they are indeed friendly to it.
One domestic breed, the strikingly beautiful Turkish Van cat, actually delights in getting wet. His ancestors did, too, plunging into lake waters to better cope with the extreme summer heat in the Lake Van region of Turkey, where the breed originated.”1
I was amazed to discover that the effect of pain overcame the Van cat’s fear of water, and they actually delighted in getting wet. Water, they discovered, would relieve the oppressive heat of their native environment. Generations of Van cats have handed down their training to water, their fearless attitude toward it, and lifelong experience in dealing with water to the next generations. From my discovery, I decided this observation, one that originated in the Book of God’s Works, needed a comparison to the Book of God’s Word. As it turns out, the Scriptures supply a bounty of comparative support for my theory.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul writes one of the most poignant passages relating to his pain and his relationship to God. Paul reports,
2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a (NLT) “…So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness…
From my ministry training, I work as a counselor in a recovery program, and this is a familiar passage. I contemplated the passage in relation to my “cat theory”, and decided this was a remarkably sound comparison. The Van cats would undoubtedly never have overcome their fear of water had the journey of their breed not put them in unique circumstances coinciding with the sweltering heat of Turkey. God blessed them with a unique power of the mind to overcome their fear and take control of pain and danger. The pain of heat pushed them into the water, and instead of drowning God forced them to use the natural swimming ability he put inside them. Had the pain of heat not occurred, they would never have overcome their fear and become the breed that is most famous for their delight in swimming.
It’s impossible to know the grand plans God has for each of His creatures. Suffice that He has revealed a great deal of His plans for humanity in His Word. As Paul finishes his discourse about the “thorn in my flesh”, he advances our understanding for the greater plans God has to use our human pain and frailty,
2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 (NLT) “…So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Pain is a purposeful part of our life that has been applied to the experience of every generation of humanity. Most of humanity fears and avoids pain. Still, a unique group of human beings have a different attitude about pain, and that pain teaches them, encourages them, strengthens them and even becomes their friend. For humanity, faith, purpose and ideology can play big factors in their relationship to pain.
Athletes are famous for overcoming pain to achieve great physical and mental accomplishments. This dynamic of pain is recognized in the Bible in several places. For example, Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 9:25-26 (NLT) “25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing”
Even the great leaders of the Bible, people who come from the most inauspicious beginnings, are trained with physical and emotional pain. God used the pain of David’s sin to teach him in greatness, and David actually writes of pain as though it was a treasure in his life,
Psalm 51:7-8 (KJV) “7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.”
From a place of curiosity about cats, and too much time on my hands, I got to experience a journey of understanding the purpose God has behind my pain. Physically, I am in as much pain as I ever was. What makes me less fearful, and more friendly toward the pain is knowing that God has put the pain in my path for a reason greater than I now know. With the power of God, and an attitude of acceptance, my pain is helping me overcome my fear to serve a greater purpose in being the hands and feet of the God I love.
God is sovereign. He can do anything he wants to do. He is also omni-benevolent, that is all-loving. What he does I can always have confidence that it is in my best interests for His purpose. So through a journey of soggy cats and a little research, I’m led to a place of friendship with pain.
Planet, Animal. Do cats really hate water? n.d. http://www.animalplanet.com/pets/healthy-pets/do-cats-really-hate-water/ (accessed 5 30, 2015).