Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“Pain nourishes courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” – Mary Tyler Moore

“It won’t hurt forever. I know it’s hard to push through, but you have done hard things before. You can do this.” Those are the words I’ve spoken to my mother more times than I can count over the past week.

She had her knee replaced, and that has meant she’s been stuck with me by her side pretty much all hours of the days and nights. If I don’t push her to flex and straighten, we could end up with big problems, and only seven days out, the pain is much less than it was the first 24 hours.

She isn’t backing down from the pain, and, in fact, it serves as a reminder of the hard work and courage that is necessary to be able to walk well again. My mother hasn’t faded in the face of the pain. She’s winced and groaned, but she hasn’t given up.

It seems that’s the key — we can acknowledge the pain, but we must meet the pain wisely in order to overcome it. Moore’s words are a great reminder that often, working through our pain requires us to be brave, and it’s worth it.

Revisiting Moore’s words, I admit I have had a lot of wonderful things happen to me, but I’ve not had only wonderful things happen to me. In fact, there have been times I thought I might break. I’ve been keeping an eye on a friend who is having lots of not wonderful things happen, and I know that if he is able to call on his courage, he will not only survive but will thrive.

I have learned, however, we can’t save people from their pain, no matter how brave we feel.

That’s where I find myself writing — first about the pain we each go through, how no one chooses pain but how everyone can grow through their painful experiences, both physical and emotional pain, and second about the pain we see others experiencing. We tend to want to save others from their pain, just as I have found myself cutting down my mother’s reps on an exercise when I see she isn’t having fun.

I can assure you Bunny, her physical therapist, isn’t letting Mother’s dislike of the exercises keep her from having her complete the list. She’s teaching me important lessons to share.

What’s the deal with pain? Am I saying it’s both miserable and beneficial? Basically, yes, I am. That doesn’t mean we stand at the door inviting pain to come our way, though. Are you a lover of hot food? If so, you know firsthand of the pain and the pleasure all at once. There is benefit to going through pain, but often we don’t recognize it until after the fact.

Three Areas of Pain

  • · Physical pain - training to run a race, burning your hand on the stove, losing weight for better health
  • · Emotional/Life pain - being rejected by a love interest, not making the basketball team, losing a job, going through a divorce, getting a speeding ticket
  • · Someone else’s pain - child who leaves lunch box or homework at home, friend who develops cancer, parent is dealing with life on their own, a friend who just can’t get their life together

Think of your own life and an experience that was painful. Maybe it was a physical pain, like my mother’s rehab after surgery, or it might have been physical pain because you fell off a ladder and broke your back because you weren’t being careful.

It might be that you can draw on a life experience like being fired from a job or getting in trouble with the police or having your partner ending what you thought was a great relationship. You learned from those painful experiences, most likely, and might have come away seeing that life was actually better. Whether pain serves us as a wakeup call or a slap in the face to change course, more times than not, we can use the anger, devastation, or discomfort to have a better life.

As for those who want to save others from their pain, from their uncomfortable situations, ask yourself: Could anyone else have gone through my pain for me? Maybe someone could have stepped in to save you from having your electricity turned off because you lost your job and couldn’t afford the bill, but really our pain is ours to deal with. No one can go through a divorce for you, or take the pain you feel when the love of your life decides you are not theirs. And that’s how we can know that trying to be someone else’s savior is not a good choice.

The way I was taught was that for the most part we should only do for others what they cannot do for themselves. Your friend with cancer might not have the strength to do five loads of laundry, so pitching in is helpful, but your child who forgot her homework will learn more from the pain of missing recess than from your bailing her out of a jam.

Dealing with pain requires bravery. Being brave isn’t the easiest thing I can think of being, yet it is the place I often find myself, and at the end of a situation, I am so thankful I didn’t give up on myself. I think of when I finally put my head under the water in the swimming pool. I was so proud, despite taking in what felt like an ocean of water through my nose. It was a big deal. The pain of that fear absolutely nourished my courage for years to come in other areas.

It would be nice to have a few more wonderful things happen to me, but each time I hit a roadblock, I try to remember my courage is being nourished.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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