Processing Pain

How to Process Pain without Sinking into Depression

When difficulties pile on me like a heap of bricks, sometimes it feels better to just ignore the painful feelings that come as a result. Sometimes it feels like ignoring the pain is my only path to sanity. If I can just think positively and keep myself distracted, I will make it through, right? Unfortunately, no. This avoidance will not turn out well in the long run. I can try to cover up my pain with a band-aid, but it will not deal with the infection underneath. Eventually, I will have to do something about the infection or it will impact me and ultimately everyone around me very negatively. I must process my pain. That is the path to sanity and peace.

But, there are reasons I would rather avoid the pain. For me, it is often that the path of processing the pain looks like a dark alleyway into insanity that will lead to nothing but depression. Well, the truth is, it can be, which is why it is important that I process pain in a healthy way.  So, how do I process pain without sinking into depression?

God has been so gracious to show me the path to healing in the midst of great difficulty. And, He wants to show you too. As I pondered the most important aspects of processing pain healthily, I realized it boils down to one thing: I must diligently seek truth no matter what.

If given full reign, my feelings tell me all sorts of things: “My life is over”; “I will never make it through this”; “God does not care about me”, and on and on… I am a very emotional, unstable person apart from God’s work in my life. And, I must choose to replace the lies with truth. I cannot just ignore the feelings and the pain. I have to be deliberate about seeking truth by walking through it, not around it.

But, how do I know what the truth is? How do I find truth? Well, the encouraging thing is that the more I walk through pain healthily, the easier it gets because I can draw from a wealth of past experiences that remind me of truth. I remember God’s faithfulness to me in the past, which gives me reassurance that He will be faithful to me this time too. But, everyone has to start somewhere. I did. A verse God gave me when I was first walking through an extremely difficult situation and striving to find the truth in it was this:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”-Romans 15:13

What stood out to me in this verse was: “as you trust in Him”. As I trust in Him, He fills me with joy and peace. And, He is the God of hope. I could not see myself ever feeling hope in the midst of this situation, so it encouraged me to know that the power of the Holy Spirit could give me hope!

Those are the types of encouraging truths God has given me in the midst of darkness. But, I have to be seeking truth and willing to apply it. It starts with getting to know God. I get to know God by reading His Word, talking to Him, listening to Him, and obeying Him. As the old pastor once said: “I won’t trust God if I don’t know Him because I don’t trust those I don’t know.”

One of the ways God has spoken truth to me in the midst of pain is through music.  It seems every time I have been walking through darkness, He has put a song in my path that really encouraged me throughout the storm.  Songs like…

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, Just because He lives!”

Another way God has spoken truth to me in these times is through Scripture. I noted the verse He gave me in Romans. But, the Bible is packed full of truth and includes many accounts of God’s people walking through painful situations and seeing truth in the midst of it: Job, Joseph, David, the apostles, and so many others. God’s truth is poured into every page.

The Psalms are very encouraging to read, as David often shares his pain very openly with God and at the same time comes back to truth.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”- Psalm 42:11

God has also spoken truth to me through people. It has been vital that I draw into safe people that will listen as I process and encourage my healing and growth as I walk the path. The Bible speaks regularly about our need to be in fellowship with one another.

These are just some of the ways God spoke to me in the midst of pain, and it was these things that helped me get to know who God was. But, I cannot emphasize it enough that we have to be listening. We must seek Him.

As we listen to God and apply the truths He shows us in the midst of pain, we will come out on the other side as victors, not victims. God will give us the strength. Romans 8:37 tells us “…we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

None of this is to say that we will get to a place where we are not impacted by the pain. Not at all. We will feel the pain, but we will be able to see the truth in the midst of it. We will be able to forgive and have joy despite the pain. Very painful things never truly go away, especially if they are not resolved (i.e. divorce, loss of other relationships, etc.). And, none of this will be a one-time decision. In every painful situation, we will have to make the choice over and over to come back to truth. And, we will face many painful times. Life is painful. We long for the day when our tears will be wiped away, but for now, all we can do is praise the Lord for His love and remind ourselves that He is in control. I am never really the same person after a very painful event, but that does not need to be a bad thing. I can allow God to work on me and He will bring hope and a future… even if it looks different than I expected.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

So, let us process our pain and let us seek truth while we do. We do not need to process everything at once.  Unless it is an emergency, we do not need to make big decisions right away. In fact, we should avoid making any life altering decisions while we are in the midst of extreme pain. All we need to do is focus on doing the next right thing, one day at a time.

We do need to be cautious about getting stuck in our pain. Sometimes I focus too much on processing every detail of my pain over an extended period of time believing that will eventually bring healing. But, I have found that I get stuck in that. There is a time for pausing and processing our pain and then there is a time for moving forward in the joy and hope God gives us.

Sometimes I smile when I think back to how God reached out to me in my darkest moments. God has taught me so much through pain. It is not a very enjoyable way to learn, but it certainly helped me understand truths that shape me today. We truly will become bitter or better in the storm; the outcome is up to each one of us.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30