Pleasure Vs. Pain: Face Struggles Soberly and Faithfully

Think of a time you felt pain—even discomfort, fear or inconvenience. How long did you actually feel it before your brain immediately kicked in to start searching for some remedy or weapon to combat the offending feeling? Our weapon of choice has always been a pleasure of the earthly variety. Unwilling or unable to bear even the prospect of pain or discomfort, we sought to beat it out with the club of pleasure. We drenched it in food, alcohol, sex and the soothing distraction of electronics; anything to make us feel good instead of bad.

But the pain kept coming back and soon we were throwing more pleasure on the fire, trying to fix the situation. But in the fight against pain, our pleasure approach was failing. Rather than seek a new approach, we just sought more pleasure.

This is the common formula we used to approach life: we felt pain/discomfort/fear/loneliness and we sought to alleviate the negative emotion with something we thought would replace the pain with pleasure: alcohol, drugs, sex, food, porn, video games—the list could go on and on.

When we look at the situation and our approach with a detached, rational view, we have to ask how we could believe that something like food or sex or drugs could remove fear. Or, how would it be that something like alcohol would alleviate loneliness? It would be similar to taking an antacid for a cold or having sex because we’d missed lunch and were hungry. Anyone would be able to see that we are mismatching our needs and the means by which those needs may be fulfilled.

Welcome to the irrational and inexplicable nature of addiction.

Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. Proverbs 21:17

God created pleasure and therefore pleasure itself is not wrong. But where we find it and how we use it can be. When we expect earthly pleasures to soothe our spiritual pain or to fill our spiritual emptiness we make an idol out of pleasure. We take it beyond God’s intentions for it and it becomes sin.

When you use pleasure to fight pain, pain still wins. You can numb it, defer it, push it aside, or bury it, but it is not cured. It will come back and it will come back worse than before.

It helps if we can take a more rational view of pain. We have lived by our feelings and not our reason. In the face of pain we become frightened and we flee, thinking that pain, discomfort, or inconvenience is something foreign, wrong, or unbearable.

But pain, trials and challenges are all normal aspects of life. They aren’t abnormalities and anomalies to numb or avoid, they are regular parts of regular human existence. We need to bravely dissect the issues we face so that we can begin to cope, deal and confront rather than run, cower or cover up.

There is something interesting that happens when we commit to weathering storms without the crutch that our addictive substances promised (but ultimately failed) to provide—we develop character, endurance and faith. You might be thinking, all that sounds good, but really I’d just rather have the drink. That’s normal, but take a moment to engage your rational capacities. When has drinking actually solved the problem? For most addicts, drinking in response to a problem left them with two problems—the original issue and then the broken sobriety.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:19

We have to look at the normal trials of life in a new way. Hard times are not an excuse to pitch sobriety and get drunk. Rather than fleeing in fear, we move toward confronting in faith. We humble ourselves before God and admit our powerlessness to handle what is in front of us. We ask for guidance, direction, and peace. Then we wait for it. Rather than rushing headlong into a quick fix, we allow God to open the way.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

It also helps to widen the scope of our view. Life is about more than today and the challenges of this present moment. As believers we look forward to a glorious eternity. Your current struggles are preparing you for that end. Don’t run from them or seek to drown them out. Face them soberly and faithfully. God will not forsake you. And He will reward you for your commitment to staying clean and seeking the strength that He provides. You will never be given more than you can handle.