The Divine Necessity of Pain

Every profession or artform or craft involves good pain as a key ingredient to the maturation process. Good pain grows us, working new holy habits into mind and muscle. Mortification requires us to understand and use this kind of pain. And this is exactly what athletes do. They exercise, which is another word for inflicting the appropriate amount of pain on oneself. A cross country runner invites pain into her life everyday. She wakes up early, which isn't fun and a little painful. She stretches all the muscles of her legs and back and arms, an uncomfortable straining. Then she runs, which is taxing: her heart beats fast, legs ache, her breathing becomes heavy, her feet grow sore with each stride. Running involves pain. So why does she do it? Because she receives something greater and deeper than pain, she receives fitness, health, and the euphoria of running long distances. But more than this, she receives freedom. And here is where we pause to make one of the most important statements about mortification. We train with Jesus to become free. Many people conceive of discipline as pure restriction, something to be eschewed. However, when they marvel at the grace of a dancer, the agility of an athlete, the precision of an artist, the profundity of a writer–what they enjoy, what inspires them so deeply,  is the outcome of a fruitful discipline. As Richard Foster writes, "Discipline brings freedom."