Pain Nourishes Your Courage

“Pain nourishes your courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” I love that quote. Mary Tyler Moore said it.

Her sentiments mimicked what I felt in the middle of a sprint triathlon race – of all things.

It’s the hardest part of the race. The first mile of the run – right after the bike ride. If I’m going to stop and quit at any part of the race, that first mile will be it. If I’m going to have any mind failure…it’s there. But I’ve also had the most amazing thoughts at this point in the race. And it’s there that this thought came to me:

It Takes Courage To Fail.

The year before, I’d done very well in this small local race. I’d taken first place in my age group. Pretty good for my first time. But now – it’s the second time around. My legs and my heart screamed at me simultaneously.

What if I don’t even medal this time?
What if I can’t even finish the race?
What was I thinking – even getting into this sport? I hate this race.
It’s hot out here. My legs hurt and my back hurts.
I’m never doing this race again…knowing that failure could be so easy.

And then I realized…
“It takes courage to fail” wasn’t really about the race at all.
This was about my life and what lie ahead.

I finished the race and my love for the sport returned after a few days. I don’t even remember what place I got that year. (I guess that shows how unimportant it was…) But I could not shake the thought that the potential for failure took so much courage. And I gave the epiphany more attention now that my legs weren’t on fire.

Pain and failure had come from a 20 year marriage ending. Not just ending, but all the pain of it trying to survive. And the micro failures along the way.  And now, just two years out from the divorce, I was dating someone who I really cared about. Maybe even loved.

What am I thinking?
How can I even consider getting into another “race”?

The statistics for a second marriage are even worse than the first. 70% failure. My soul was still aching from the battle I’d just come through. Why would I even think about playing on this field again?

Dating again was going to take a great deal of courage.
And how do I know the difference between courage and, well…stupidity?

I kept picturing a mountain biker mid air over some great chasm of rocks. With the tagline at the bottom of the inspirational poster that says something about courage.

Was I being stupid?
Or was the pain I had already been through offering some sort of perspective – “nourishment” as Mary Tyler Moore put it. “Nothing could be that bad,” or “I’ll never let that happen again.”

Another pain chapter was ahead of me when my kids’ father committed suicide that following winter. The ripple effects of such a tragedy continued for quite some time. I was never quite sure if pain was paralyzing me or if it was blinding me to wisdom in my decisions about moving forward in my life.

Unfortunately, I kept running across James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials…because you know that the testing…produces perseverance…so that you may be mature and complete…”
This is where I felt like swearing.

Screw character.
I’m so sick of getting more “perseverance.”
I’m so life tired.
When will I get out of this awful leg of the race?
I don’t want to be “mature” or “complete”.
And I’m not joyful – at all.

When I was in the middle of such a dark chapter, it seemed to go on forever and I could have cared less about how much stronger my courage, perseverance and patience muscles were getting. And if you’re reading this post and you’re in the middle of one of those hard chapters, that’s the last thing you want to hear. “Just think of how strong you’ll be!”  It’s true. But it’s not really what you want to hear right now. I get it. And I’m sorry.

But at some point, I started to realize that the more I was learning from my pain – which would take a lot of time (and let’s be honest…a lot of counseling), the more courage I had. And the less stupid I hoped I would be.

It takes a lot of courage to start dating again.
It takes a lot of stupidity to start dating again.

It’s like putting on a pair of high heels that I know hurt my feet. I look at them, waiting there in my closet.  And I think, “Oh but they’re so cute! Maybe they don’t hurt as much as I remember.” Then two hours later, I’m dying. “Oh yeah…that’s why I don’t wear these anymore.”  And suddenly those high heels aren’t so cute.

Some of my divorced friends start dating right away. Jump straight from pain to stupidity. There’s little time to grieve and to learn about who they really are without the mind numbing blanket of love and relationship. Some of them are encouraged by their friends who have been in long, successful marriages.  “Go on! You’ll find someone else! Get back out there!”  Uugh. Those well intentioned “been-married-forever” friends have no idea what’s at stake here.

I have other divorced friends who go the rest of their lives never even considering dating. The pain was so severe, they are completely and entirely committed to single life. They admit they are lonely, but are happy about not taking that risk. And I understand that.

What if this ends in divorce again?
Worse yet, what if we just keep dating and dating and dating and never get married?
Ahhh! What if he becomes my “significant other” and not my “husband”?
And I’ve wasted all this time? And my heart?
What if we don’t keep dating or don’t get married?
What if we break up and I find out I really love him?
What if he loves me but hurts my kids?
What if my kids get attached to him? And then he leaves?

So much risk. So much to lose.
The potential for failure takes so much courage to even try.

I often think about the returning Gold medalist in the Olympics. Out of all the athletes, they impress me the most. They have the most to lose. They show the greatest amount of courage — and humility. It doesn’t take much courage to show up at the Olympics and know there is no way you’re going to win. You’re the last guy coming in on the last lap and you’re just happy you got to be there. Or even if it’s their first time to the Olympics and they’re tagged a “medal contender”. Even those athletes don’t have to find the same amount of courage as the returning Gold Medalist. So much to lose.

Time and distance from the pain provided me more clarity on courage and stupidity. I began to reflect on how much courage it takes for God to love us. To love me. Actually, it’s almost stupid, right? There’s such a high risk of being rejected… Every. Single. Day. His pain is real. His courage to love me is amazing. He gets back in the race with me every morning, knowing full well, I may quit during the pain. Or I may forget Him in thrill of the race.

This God of mine…He gets it.
He gets me.
He knows how risky – how vulnerable, how scary – it is to get out there and try again.

And that’s where I became more fortified.

It wasn’t about the character I was building. It wasn’t that I had a guarantee there would be no pain and no rejection. My courage to try again came when I realized I had a friend that understood my fear, understood all I was risking and would be there no matter what happened. He didn’t promise me that I’d get married. Or that even if I did, the marriage would be happy and healthy. He didn’t promise me that jumping in again wouldn’t leave its own wounds. He only promised me that He would walk with me. If my heart got broken again, if I found myself in divorce court again or if I found myself dating for years on end with no commitment, He would be there.

And so I jumped in again.



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