Is There a Grading Scale for Pain?

Is There a Grading Scale for Pain?

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To be quite honest, this summer has been the most difficult two months of my life. Much worse than anything I've ever gone through before.

Over the course of the last couple of years I've been faced with the fact that my plans haven't at all gone the way I thought they would. And as each plan seemed to fall apart, the emotions that resulted began to impact other areas of life too. Disappointment turned into frustration, frustration turned into confusion, confusion turned into hurt, and this summer hurt turned into the deepest pain I've ever felt.

I've had to take a good look at myself in the process, and the pain has only increased as I've realized the things I did that played a part in bringing about this trial. I've spent a lot of time in tears, and a lot of time on my knees. It's caused me to do a lot of soul searching, and I've made a lot of changes in my life

I've often had people tell me to try and put it in perspective; to realize that things could be much worse. And yes, there are horrific stories of heartache and anguish taking place all over the world. The news is full of them.

But when I hear that thought process, I can't help but feel that just because my hurt hasn't affected the world doesn't mean it hasn't rocked mine.

I do believe that it's very important to think about the blessings God has given me during a time of pain. So it's not that there isn't truth to the advice to "keep it all in perspective." But I don't think that coping with a difficult situation is that black and white either. After all, when something good happens to someone we don't tell them to take it easy since something even better could have happened to them.

It's a struggle I'm facing daily right now. There are some forms of heartache that most of us will never have to deal with. Does that mean we need to rationalize the pain we do experience?

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  • Comment by  Ruth:

    Rationalizing pain by no means elimates the hurt and issue at hand. This summer I have had some of the greatest trials that I never imagined could be a part of the Christian life. Through it all I have heard all types of "consolations" given from well meaning family and friends. Who is to say how much pain another should be able to bear? I guess that's why in scripture Christians are encouraged to laugh and cry with one another. Rationalizing pain does not eliminate heartache; but companionship and empathy help to eliminate the sting of heartache.

  • Comment by  KW:

    The other day I was pouring my heart out to a friend about how I was still recovering from my "life falling apart" the year I was nineteen (my dad lost his job and was unemployed for two years, I transferred colleges to a completely different part of the country, the church I'd been attending all my life schismed, lost both pastors, and imploded, and I witnessed/was victim to a summer's worth of physical and verbal abuse by a loved family member to other equally loved family members --oh, and my dog died), and how now my husband of 8 months and I are facing unplanned pregnancy, underemployment, moving back in with parents. I realize it's not as bad as it could be, but I was floored when his response was, "Well, I'd take all that over [2 pyscho ex girlfriends] and my mom dying."

    Of course I understand that my loss of security in what my life had been or what I was planning on it being does seem pretty dim against the loss of a parent. But I think part of weeping with those who weep is weeping with those people who have less reason to weep than you... God calls us all to deal with our OWN lives, and to HELP others with their burdens, not say they shouldn't complain because they are too small.

  • Comment by  DEH:

    I heartily agree with Ruth (1): we are called to mourn with those who mourn and to celebrate with those who celebrate.  If a brother or sister in Christ is in pain, we should cry with them, no matter how much other hurt there is in the world.  I don't think trying to quantify or measure pain needs to be a part of that.

  • Comment by  NewBride:

    I've had to many similar seasons of life, and a wonderful mentor friend told me this bit of wisdom as I struggled with feeling like I shouldn't be in so much pain, or hurt, when others have gone through other tragedies seemingly much worse then my own broken dreams.... she said “we are called to share our pain, not compare our pain” that was a release for me. Not to wallow, but to actually allow myself to go through the grief I was experiencing. To share with those close friends, and family, to get the support I needed. It wasn’t a weakness in character, but in fact an actual season of life… Ecclesiastes 3 as I’m sure gets quoted almost too many times, but it did really help, realizing that my season was a time to morn. It wasn’t a time to compare or try to be talked out of, or even a self help motivator book but a time to morn.

    That comparing doesn’t help, but it hinders that healing, as we end up berating ourselves into a place even harder to come from, failure of perfection, that we didn’t go through the tough season just so or handle it the right way. Life is messy, hard, and wonderful, we are to cherish the good we do have indeed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cry through the bad ones too, even when the good and bad are beside each other in life. I do believe we are called to share not compare.

  • Comment by  Holly:


    Rationalizing pain can have its uses if it keeps you from sliding into self-pity.  If you are truly undergoing the worst trial of your life, the current pain will surely keep you from self-pity at later times.  Example:  I used to feel sorry for myself about having biologically-based depression from my kindergarten years, and the way that happiness has been a struggle for me far worse than many people can imagine.  Then I was faced with a friend who lost that battle and committed suicide. Small towns don't have biohazard companies who will touch that.  When you have scraped the brain matter of someone you love off a wall, your inability to go three days without crying ceases to matter so much.

    If you will notice, however, I rationalize the pain I felt in order to help myself manage my own self-pity.  Rationalizing the pain of others, in your own mind or in conversation with them, is a form of self-centeredness.  For others, sorrow, pity, empathy, compassion, etc., can only be full expressions of love when you are thinking about them, not about you.

    In other words, you can take what you are experiencing and metabolize it into two tools -- a disciplinary one for yourself and an empathetic one for others.  

  • Comment by  rachael:

    I'm in a hard season, but today was nice.

    Today I was talking with a woman who told me about a horrible situation she was in (well, horrible of the man she was married to, but it would be absolutely beyond horrible to that situation). And I'm sure glad I am not in that situation.

    ...I think there is some level of encouragement in knowing there are situations that I would deem as 'worse'.

    Comparing isn't the ultimate answer, of course, though. There might be a sliver of comfort in those mind games, though; I think my mom has played mind games like that (thinking of people in 'worse' situations) with herself.

    That said, I don't think we can always know what is 'worse'. Maybe someone in a "worse" (from-the-outside perspective)situation might not feel that he or she is in any worse situation or even a bad situation.

    Comparisons are relative, at least to a degree.

    Pain is pain, big or small. What would be considered 'minor' to one could be a crisis for another.

  • Comment by  Esther:

    In just the last few days I've been wrestling with heartache seeing something that I've wanted very much come to someone that I care about, but not too me. While I'm delighted for her, it's hard to know what to do with my own pain. I know that many things are going well for me and that lots of people have much more difficult things to deal with, but I'm reminded of Hannah, who though she had a loving husband, still cried out in anguish for a child, and the Lord recognized her pain. He truly is the God who sees the burdens we carry and knows the difficult paths we walk, though they may seem insignificant to other people. My pain still hurts, and I admit I've wept bitterly to myself, while rejoicing with my friend's happiness. I think that's OK. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha, even when he knew he would raise Lazarus in a few minutes. He was a man of sorrows and aquainted with grief.

  • Comment by  Kathy:

    Wow. Thank you so much for your brutal honesty in this post. I really appreciate it, having myself been through a devastating couple of years in my own life. I tried to power through it all by rationalizing my pain and my ability to get through it on my own strength, but it was not long before I found myself in bed one night sobbing uncontrollably without even being able to tell anyone why. Sure I could point to the general reasons, but in that moment the pain was so acute, so real that even those reasons couldn't really explain why I was crying. I just ached. It was at that moment that I realized that I was broken far beyond what I had previously thought.

    It was also in that same time that I came across an article that meant the world to me because, in essence, it validated the uniqueness of my pain. It was an article that started out with a horrific illustration in which a kidnapping of a young girl had been solved through her DNA found on the shoulder strap of a seat belt.  It had been left there through the tears she had cried during her terrifying experience. The author brilliantly pointed out how this is a perfect illustration of how personal our pain really is, and makes even more powerful the image given in Revelation of God wiping away every tear. It will not be general pain that He takes away, but the specific pain that is so personal, so unique that it is intertwined with our DNA.

    I am still broken. But everyday I see God put one tiny piece after another back together in a process that has been long, slow and even painful at times. But I never would have reached the point where I realized I was broken had I continued to rationalize things; neither would I be able to appreciate my unique healing process that God is bringing me through if I were to constantly compare myself to others.    

  • Comment by  ElizabethB:

    Reading The Gospel According to Job by Mike Mason has helped me and taught me so much.

  • Comment by  Kathryn:

    I reckon that rationalising my pain can cause more self pity, Holly (#5). Not that you didn't make great points! But for myself, I find that if I start comparing it to third world kids in Africa dying of starvation, I then start to feel guilty that I'm upset... etc.

    Rather, I tell myself it's ok to be sad/angry/hurt. But I need to deal with it in appropriate ways - such as talking to a trusted friend and praying about it. And that it takes time.

    Thank you for this post Nathan. All life is painful thanks to the Fall. But through this pain, I hope that you will find comfort in God's promises that he is working this for your good; working through this to bring all things under Christ; and that one day God himself will wipe away your tears.

  • Comment by  Chris:

    Hey Nathan,

    As I was thinking of what to pen down, an image of clay came to mind. Each of us are started of the same, a pile of clay that has no shape, no purpose, just a lump of clay. But as we grow with Lord, He is the potter, and we clay. He will mold us into a specific shape and give us a specific purpose. But we as clays, we have to be loose and not stiff to His molding, and its not easy too!Because we will be pushed and pulled, so that we may be molded into His image of the perfect plan He has for EACH of us.

    He knows my name,

    He knows my every thought,

    He sees each tear that falls,

    And~ He hears me when I call...

    Will keep you in my prayers bro.(:


  • Comment by  BDB:

    Several of my friends and family members have cancer.  Given a wider perspective, I find that the inconveniences in my life are too small to cause me any pain - or to complain about.

  • Comment by  CharlotteC:

    Thank you for sharing this. This summer has been quite a painful yet refreshing summer for me as well.

    1# Ruth is right. We should be able to laugh with one another and cry with one other. It's bad to try compare your pain with someone else's and say what they are going through is nothing. Hardship IS hardship.

    Rationalizing pain could equal to  ignoring the pain but we should be open about it. We should tell someone about or tell God about it. The only thing that we shouldn't do is dwell too much on it that we wallow ourselves in it, because it'll put you deeper and deeper down a dark hole of despair. It's okay to feel pain but not for too long.

    I'm recovering from pain and heartache as well these days and in time where I'm in pain and hopelessness, I remind myself that I'm not alone and that Jesus knows what I'm going through. It brings comfort to know that Jesus knows my pains and heartache, and I am filled with hope and joy again.

    I pray that Jesus comforts you and lifts you up in your daily struggles. :)

  • Comment by  Jenna:

    Your situation is valid. Don't write it off as not being important because someone else has experienced worse.

  • Comment by  ShiNa:

    thanks for writing this posy. I feel the same way too. At least I know I'm not alone

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