5 Lessons About Overcoming Pain and Embracing Joy

by Michael Pruett

( As originally featured in OnFaith magazine )

When Christians talk about God, it is typical to hear Him described as Love. This concept is found throughout Scripture, and even for many nonreligious people, Love being the force behind the universe is appealing. Most Christians believe that to truly know God means to feel this love. But then, where does this leave us with the question of pain? In some religious circles, pain is unavoidable and suffering what God uses to teach us about humility. The reality of pain has also caused many of us to turn away from the Church, or worse, faith in God. Unanswered questions have plagued us all. How could a good God allow such pain in the world, so much war and disease and genocide? can’t say that I know what so many others have failed to answer, but what I do know is that in the midst of human suffering God is still good and that to live fully, we must be willing to face our fear of pain. 

Michael being received into University of Utah hospital after his near-fatal motorcycle accident.

Michael being received into University of Utah hospital after his near-fatal motorcycle accident.

Embracing pain is difficult for all of us—especially a self-made man like me. Graduating from Vanderbilt at the top of my class, marrying my high school sweetheart, and receiving a top sales job right out of college was a source of pride. Then everything fell apart. I entered a desert experience twenty years long that involved divorce, near bankruptcy, and distance from God. My near-death experience as told in The Hard Roadreleasing April 28, 2015, unexpectedly catapulted me into facing the pain I had run away from and, strangely, allowed me to enter into deeper relationship with God and a life full of joy. Many of us have gone through similar trauma, and as I look back, I realize that if I hadn’t gone through it, I may not have ever been able to move into His glory that was waiting on “the other side of the cross.” Here are five things I learned about conquering pain and finding joy  

1. Surrender Pride and Let Go of Control 

“I’ve got this,” was what I’d say when I felt God nudge me about something that wasn’t quite right. I thought it was up to me to make things happen. This is difficult for men. We feel like we need to have it all together, especially when we are the breadwinners and need to take care of our wives and children. The fact is that things I had hoped and waited for, like reconciliation with my stepdaughters, happened while I was incapacitated. They didn’t occur as a result of my efforts. God showed me that He was the one managing my life timeline, and He was the only one who could make things happen for me.  

2God is a Good God 

What has baffled my mind every day since I woke up from a coma is the idea that God cares about the details of our lives. When my family and I look back at all of the circumstances that led to my rescue, we know they were not accidental. They were strategic and on purpose—from the first responders who happened to be fifty feet away at a restaurant, the ambulance that was filling up with gas a block away, the safekeeping of my nearly severed spine, to the doctor who stated, “You must have a guardian angel.” If we truly believe that He is a good God, then He has our best interest in mind and will cause good to come out of tragedy. We either believe this or we don’t—and this is the true test of our faith. 

 3. Don’t ask “Why?” but rather “What?” 

Michael in the University of Utah hospital with his wife, Dawn, during his long recovery.

Michael in the University of Utah hospital with his wife, Dawn, during his long recovery.

So many of us approach tragedy asking, “Why?” “Why did this happen to ‘so and so’ or to me?” We take on a victim mentality that makes us feel like we can’t do anything about our circumstances. Despite suffering in this world, God is on our side just as He was with His Son. When we are in pain, we should look to Him to witness His deliverance, not asking, “Why?” but “What are you doing, Father?” He will invite us to see Him, His light, goodness, and love even in the midst of despair. He will lead each of us to true, full, and fulfilling life, making us new along the way. There is an answer…it just may not look like what we expect. 

4. If We Want a Deeper Relationship with God, We Will Suffer 

For my heart to remain alive to divine love, it must engage in joy and sorrow. A heart that is fully awake to love cannot disown pain, and to believe that Christians will not suffer is naïve. God is a jealous God, and we are His “Beloved.” Much like a jealous husband, He will furiously protect us from that which separates us from His love. “Jealousy is a husband’s fury. Therefore, he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” Sometimes the Father’s jealous guarding will cause us pain because He is bringing us back from our choices that have led us astray to the place of pure love. Sometimes righting our path means that other things must fall away or be left behind.  

5. The Only Way to Overcome Pain is with Him 

Dawn and Michael at the book signing for The Hard Road on April 22.

Dawn and Michael at the book signing for The Hard Road on April 22.

God has given us the perfect example with His Son. His Son cried out to be saved from the cross, yet was fully surrendered to His Father even in His greatest pain. He endured the cross because He knew there would be joy on the other side of pain. The only way in which we can deal with pain in a healthy manner is to do it with Him, the One who underwent more grief than we could ever understand. When we embrace God’s love, allowing Him to love us fully, all other forms of love pale in comparison. If we but believe in it, that everything in the universe exists to display it to us, we will catch glimpses of it and come to know Him. For “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Without coming to know His love, our souls die. 

When I look back at my story today, my eyes still well up with tears. These tears are not from sorrow. They are from a deep and personal actualization of a Father’s love through my near-death experience. My hope is that those who read my book will also experience love as a son or daughter from a good and jealous Father 


The Hard Road is currently available in stores everywhere. 

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AN INTERVIEW WITH CARRIE LLOYD, author of The Virgin Monologues

by Jennifer Westbrook

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The word virgin isn’t necessarily a dirty word (how could it be?), but it is an odd one and certainly casts a shadow in today’s modern world.  In the 1995 movie, Clueless, 15-year-old Cher is forced to defend herself against a peer’s shock at her virginity:

“What,” she asks, a little embarrassed, “You see how picky I am about my shoes, and they only go on my feet.” 

The movie, though nearing a twenty-year anniversary, still holds up, and the classic line, “You’re a virgin who can’t drive,” is still an effective insult.  But what kind of society have we created where a girl who isn’t old enough for a driver’s license has to explain why she isn’t ready to have sex? 

In her new book, The Virgin Monologues, Carrie Lloyd describes being one of those girls growing up in England, a student at an all-girl school with limited access to the opposite sex. “At five o’clock in the evening we would put layers of makeup on our faces and go out into the town square and meet the boys.  Quite literally, the bell would ring and there we were.  We didn’t know what intimacy meant—we were fourteen.  And, of course, I was the one who would have a boyfriend for about six weeks before he would realize I wasn’t going to give anything away, so I would share them with my girlfriends who would.”

Though she wasn’t necessarily bullied about her boundaries, she was teased about them. 

“I got the words tight and rigid all the time.  No one saw it as having value for myself, of me saying, ‘No you don’t get to touch that part of me, thanks very much.’ They saw it as being scared.  There’s this idea that we’re limited in some way from real love if we aren’t having sex.”

But my concern isn’t so much whether girls should or shouldn’t have sex, as it is why virginity in our culture is something to lose as quickly as possible, and I’m curious to know Carrie’s opinion about why this is so.

“Getting rid of virginity is considered a gateway to adulthood. It’s strange that innocence means you’re a child, and therefore losing virginity must mean you’re an adult.  It’s not true.  It’s the same with marriage.  If I’m still in my thirties and forties and not married, somehow that must mean that I’m unlovable because no one has chosen to love me. That’s just not true.”

Carrie is 34, beautiful, stylish, newly single, and most importantly, unwilling to rush into marriage despite internal and external pressure to do so.

 “There’s this idea that our life doesn’t start until we get married.  We have a desire for companionship, but the push so early on when we’re still trying to work out who we are and what we want just allows dependency to get involved.  I don’t believe we’re all supposed to be married at 22.  I’ve got female friends who feel they don’t carry as much weight because they aren’t married, but some of my favorite marriages started when they were 50.  My heart is not ‘how do you find a man?’  It’s ‘how do you know yourself?’”

As great as that sounds, I’m left to wonder how exactly a young woman in today’s world goes about doing that.  Aren’t we all trying to find out who we really are based on what everyone tells us we should be? 

Carrie admits that comparison is almost always the culprit for discontentment, whether with our bodies, our mates, or our lives in general, and this comparison goes beyond the ads we are bombarded with every hour. We compare ourselves to our actual connections now more than commercials.

“You see pictures on Facebook of these couples in matching outfits on the Alps, and then the next thing you find out, they’re divorced.  ‘But you were in matching jumpers!  You were the ones I was comparing myself to, emulating myself after, and you weren’t being honest!’  It feels like the whole thing about social media is that we want to be seen, but we only let people see the weird bits.  It feels like a strange peep show.  You can see everything but my face.  What people don’t realize is it’s supposed to be messy.  Christ’s life was messy.  Our lives will be messy.  We don’t know that it’s okay for it to be that way. There are so many of these pictures online, but no one is really telling the truth.”

Obviously comparison is a move away from the genuine and toward the unrealistic.  The conclusions I come to about my life are almost always based on where I think I should be by a certain age, but where am I getting that information? Carrie’s search is for the honest answers, but lately I suspect that my true goal is only to be understood in a broad and collective sense, to be acceptable and normal, even if I can conclude that “normal” doesn’t exist, especially when it comes to relationships. 

“The finest relationships are the ones where the two aren’t going from a need.  A want—yes—but not a need. The two parties know that their individual needs are going to constantly change, so they come in from a position of serving the other person.  I know that I can bring some things to the table now, but I’ve got another fifty years where I will still be bringing stuff to the table.  I love seeing when couples actually look physically better ten years after getting married; they’ve grown so much and achieved so much.”

Unfortunately, her approach to marriage is atypical, even in Christian circles.

“I don’t think people have a true idea of what marriage really is or what it really takes.  Dying to each other is not a fun thing to do.  I don’t want to rewrite the past or fix my issues with some guy.  The closer you get to who God really designed you to be, the easier it will be to find someone to match to it.  The better your boundaries will be, the higher your standards will be, the better you’ll love yourself.  Then you won’t be some crazy, manipulative nightmare who is trying to get some guy to fulfill a dream of yours.  Those are the girls I’d like to have a quiet word in the corner with.”

And if she could have a quiet word in the corner with someone like me, the nearing-30-and-not-so-great-with-that girl/woman thing:

“Firstly, I would say that it’s not over.  You can put the razorblades away. You’re fine. And if you are basing your identity on a dream, that’s a bad move.  Your dreams are a part of your journey, but it’s not your whole identity.  You have to turn those dreams for intimacy and marriage and family and manifest them differently, put them into different contexts.  Don’t put them to bed until some guy shows up at your doorstep.  If you have a desire to be maternal, be maternal and pastoral now, not then.  Enjoy your family and community.  Your life will change when you meet your husband, but you actually want to be in a space so enjoyable in your life that things will actually have to move around for him.  He’s not supposed to fill a big, empty space in your life.”

Solid advice from a young woman who knows what it’s like to wonder if she’s “missed the boat,” who constantly gets questions from young twenty-somethings about how she “manages” being unmarried in her thirties.

“I usually say that some days I want to kill myself and other days I don’t.” 

Of course, when the young girl responds with a sympathetic, “Really?!” Carrie leaves them with her true answer, a resounding “No!”

“The truth is I wouldn’t have been able to write a book about singledom if I’d married at 20.  The biological clock is a real thing, though, and I think the problem with turning 30 and not being married is the fear that your ovaries are going to run off into the sunset without you.  I don’t know why it’s this thing.  I’ve got friends who are having children in their forties.  I know it’s not ideal to be late in motherhood, but we can’t let it dictate our decisions.  Trusting in the Author of time doesn’t look like just saying it; it means you actually enjoy your season, whatever that is supposed to be.”

Carrie’s final advice?

“I don’t surround myself with only couples or only single people.  If I surround myself with only married couples, I’ll start comparing myself and feeling like I’m not quite right.  If I surround myself with only the singles, then I’m not really looking at the strong marriages that can teach me something.  Surround yourself with both.”

Carrie’s book, which I read before our time together, is as conversational in tone as speaking with her first-hand.  Perhaps that’s what makes her voice as a writer so charming and relatable.  There’s a lot to be said for a beautiful woman giving the rest of us permission to calm down, to “work on a beautiful rendition” of who we are, and, as Carrie’s life experiences and overall countenance seems to demonstrate, to have fun.

  “Not many girls are having fun because they are so obsessed with finding the right guy, and when they do find him, they are panicky and fearful that they’ll lose him.  We should all just have a barn dance or something.”

Before she leaves, I ask Carrie to give it to me straight: Is 30 really the new 20?

“Amen to that,” she says, smiling but serious, and God help me, I believe her.


ABOUT CARRIE LLOYD

Labeled as “The Christian in Louboutins” by Company Magazine, Carrie uses her wit and wisdom to dally through the daily adventures of Christian relationships in the modern day world. From life coaching for corporate businesses to her experiences in television advertising, she chose to create the blog, Her Glass Slipper, after Grazia Magazine suggested no one was talking about dating and Christians combined. Contributor to magazines like Glamour, GraziaCompanyMagnifyThe Huffington Post, and speaker to thousands of students in UK schools discussing sex, love and communication, she hasn’t given up finding her own prince just yet. Carrie seeks to be fearless voice for healthy relationships within the church in the 21st century, with the aim to: raise up a generation of women who can do the impossible, diminish divorce, abolish sex trafficking to minus numbers, and get people thinking wisely before they put a ring on it.

check out Carrie's book, The Virgin Monologues: Confessions of a Christian Girl in a Twenty-First Century World 

 

RELEASES JANUARY 2015 in the u.s. (Dec. 2014 in UK)!


ABOUT THE WRITER: JENNIFER WESTBROOK

Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Modern Hebrew from Oral Roberts University in 2008, studying abroad at Haifa University in Israel and Oxford University before teaching English and American literature in South Korea for two years. A published poet, Jennifer was awarded for her literary writing and research before stepping into the world of freelance writing with contributions to local publications including This Land Press based in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2011. After relocating to Redding, California, Jennifer joined the Red Arrow Media team and has worked as a writer and editor on five books in 2014. She currently oversees manuscript reviews and helps potential authors develop their projects.