I've been a runner most of my life. Whether playing soccer as a kid, competing in track or cross country as a teenager or jogging through the forested hills of Oregon as an adult, it's something I've done during every season of life. There's something liberating about lacing your shoes and heading out the front door.
Which is why, 10 years ago, I was devastated when a leg injury kept me from running more than a mile at a time. After visiting several doctors and physical therapists, undergoing x-rays and MRIs and experimenting with every conceivable stretch and exercise, the unrelenting pain forced me to hang up my running shoes for good.
But then I got married, and my beautiful bride suggested I try a new strategy.
She told me to run.
Don't quit just because it hurts.
By "run," she didn't mean push through the pain -- that's a sure way to develop a disability. Rather, she suggested I run as much as I could several times a week. Eventually, she explained, my muscles would compensate around any weakness and loosen up where tight, allowing me to run progressively further.
Essentially, she told me that to find healing, I had to first experience more pain.
I was skeptical -- and I didn't refrain from voicing my doubts. In fact, for months I put off her advice. And when I finally gave it a try, I did so skeptically, certain it wouldn't work.
But it did work. After only a couple weeks, I ran two miles. A few weeks later, I ran three miles. A month later, I ran four miles. Another month after that, I ran my first 10K. And just last weekend, I ran my first 10-miler. All without the pain I had previously endured.
It's not difficult to see how this applies to life.
Pain is real and shouldn't be ignored, but engaged.
There are some who believe pain is merely a distraction -- something we must learn to overcome. You'll often hear this sort of advice from macho-types. They advise people to get over their pain and enjoy life, or they proclaim that pain is weakness leaving the body.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Look at it this way. If you suffer a head injury in a car accident, you wouldn't walk around with an open gash, pretending everything's dandy. You would visit a doctor and take the necessary steps to facilitate healing.
It's the same with our internal life. We feel emotional pain because of a trauma we've suffered. And though it's tempting to think we can push through the pain or pretend it doesn't exist, neither of those options produce healing. The pain will always remain just below the surface -- throbbing, aching, pulsating -- influencing everything we do and feel.
Instead, we must embrace the hard work of digging below the surface and engaging the source of our pain.
Healing is a process that always leaves you stronger.
Here's the thing about engaging our wounds. Whatever the cause -- heartbreak, regret, grief, or something else -- the pain is going to get worse. But only for a time.
That's certainly what happened when I started running again. There were plenty of mornings I returned from a run with my head down, discouraged I couldn't make it any further, disheartened I had to walk halfway through.
After a while, though, as you work through the underlying issues, the pain will begin to dissipate as healing gives way to an unexpected gift. Strength.
In a miraculous twist of fate, that which caused your greatest pain will suddenly be the source of your greatest strength.
You are not meant to find healing alone.
Perhaps you don't think you have the courage to face the pain. Maybe you don't have the resources to figure out what's going on inside of you. Maybe you're afraid of what you might discover when you peel back the layers. Maybe you don't even know where to begin.
That's OK -- few can process these issues alone. We all need help.
Don't shy away from reaching out to a friend or loved one. Never be afraid to seek help from a pastor or counselor. There is no shame in admitting brokenness. Everyone has been hurt and wounded, but not everyone is brave enough to seek and find healing.
Most of all, don't be like me and go years without resolving an injury. Listen to your pain and engage it. And don't forget to ask for help along the way. You will find healing and it will leave you stronger.
A version of this post originally appeared at PaulPerkins.com.