Posted by: Taylor | February 26, 2015

Tapping Out: Thoughts on Pain, Suffering, and God’s Blessing

Wrestling has an intriguing rule (real wrestling, not the scripted stuff on TV…that’s called wrastling).  In wrestling, when you or your opponent is pinned and cannot move, you can “tap out.”  Tapping out means “I give up, you’ve got me.”  It’s a way to surrender a point to your opponent.  Once you tap out, your opponent must let you go, and then the dance begins again.

Our bodies also have a tap out function.  God created our bodies to shutdown if we experience intense physical pain.  This is called a vasovagal response in medical terms.  Basically, a combination of two of three things are happening during a fainting spell:

  1. A stimulus directly or indirectly triggers the nucleus tractus solitarii of the brainstem which in turn causes simultaneous enhancement of parasympathetic nervous system tone and withdrawal of sympathetic nervous system tone.
  2. This results in a cardioinhibitory or a vasodepressor  response.
    • In a cardioinhibitory response, the heart rate drops significantly causing a person to lose consciousness.  It is believed this occurs because of the enhancement of the parasympathetic nervous system tone.
    • In the vasodepressor response, the blood pressure drops rapidly (possibly as low as 80/20) without a change in heart rate resulting in unconsciousness.  The withdrawal of the sypathetic nervous system tone is believed to cause vasodilation resulting in the rapid decrease in blood pressure.

Aren’t our bodies are amazing!  A fainting spell seems simple, but look and marvel at the level of complexity which goes into something we see as simple.  Life isn’t much different.  Stress, pain, and suffering come our way and we are able to handle it for a time, but eventually, our burden becomes too much.  We start to shutdown.  We can’t go further, and then we tap out.

Maybe we don’t see it as tapping out.  Maybe, we call it by another name like “relieving stress” or “letting off steam,” but essentially, we all have a release valve that acts like a reset button.   This is not necessarily a bad thing.  We can’t go on and on in suffering without rest.  The question is how do we manage pain, stress, and suffering in a biblical way?  How do we honor God even when everything within us tells us to stop and shutdown?

Our mental, emotional, and spiritual instincts are similar to our physiological systems.  When a direct or indirect stimulus overwhelms us beyond our ability to manage it, we will respond in one of three ways.  We will either shutdown completely by shutting out friends, family, and co-workers, find a way to let off steam in an attempt to access and release endorphins to feel better, or turn to God in faith, trusting Him to manage our suffering and pain.

All three of these responses are healthy and legitimate on some level.  Any of these taken to an extreme will be harmful.  Shutting down and shutting out might just be what we need in the moment, but it cannot be a long-term solution.  We can’t just stop, and not go on.  Nor can we continue long without the company of others.  We have been created for community.

Releasing steam or attempting to forget about your problems via distraction, entertainment, or indulgence can be a good way to move beyond being stuck in the moment.  But again, this means of coping can be taken too far.   We could become so distracted and self-involved that we moved right past therapeutic peace and right into sinful solace.  Instead of a time of healing, we enter into a time of narcissistic convalescence where we depend solely upon our own means to cure our deepest needs.

Finding comfort and peace in God’s presence is Biblical, and in fact, is often the last place many of us turn.  But alas, most turn to God with the wrong motives and ideas of who God is.  We think of Him as the “Genie in the lamp,” Santa Claus, or a kindly old grandfather.  We come to Him to get from Him, but not to get Him.  And there in lies the problem.  We don’t want Him.  We want what He can do for us.

This is true of these other coping mechanisms as well.  We turn to them out of selfish desires and need, and we allow ourselves to abuse them past their intended purpose which was to get us past a moment and onto the next stage of our life and development.  The sad reality is that for many of us we tap out too soon.  We give into the temptation to remain stuck in isolation, in distraction and indulgence, and in a relationship with God for what He can do for us and not to know Him.

Consider the woman at the well in John’s Gospel.  Jesus asks her to draw some water from the well for him.  The woman responds to Jesus’ request in astonishment, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?

Jesus tells her how it is possible.  “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  Jesus clearly tells her that He can offer her true drink for her soul, but she is blind to who He is and to the depth of her own needs.

The Samaritan woman only sees a man, and a Jewish man at that.  She did not need anything He could offer her.  We vividly see this in what she says next.  “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.”  This Samaritan woman in one sentence summarizes what we think too.  “You have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.

The idea of God is grand and lofty, but the reality of God is another thing.  When it comes down to hard living, we want something more than pie in the sky promises.  We hear God with His living water, and we too say, “You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep!

God is good for dreams and fairy tales, but what about real life?  Do we believe He is big enough, strong enough, and capable to handle our real needs.  Is He truly able to give us living water?  Or, will we just settle for the dirty well water that we are able to draw up for ourselves?

God desires to use our pain and suffering to pour rivers of living water through us, but we can’t tap out at the first signs of discomfort.  We must be like Jacob who wrestled with God and was blessed.  Read the account below.

Genesis 31:24-28

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,[f] for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Notice a few key elements of Jacobs encounter with God:

  1. Jacob was left alone.  Pain and suffering often causes isolation.  There is a purpose in aloneness.  God desires to sanctify us.  Sanctify simply means to set apart.  God often will set us apart so in the silence of aloneness we can hear His voice.
  2. Jacob wrestles with an unknown assailant.  We have no evidence that Jacob knew who he was fighting, but he fought relentlessly all the same.  He would not give up.  In our fight against pain and suffering, we often don’t understand why we are having to endure these difficult circumstances.  We don’t know who is assailing us, but we must not tap out.  We must fight on and not give up.
  3. Jacob’s assailant deeply wounds him.  For the rest of Jacob’s life, he will walk with a limp, a daily reminder of his struggle from that night.  This point is crucial for two reasons.  First, Jacob continued to endure even once he was  wounded.  He did not give up.  In fact, it would appear that he fought all the more.  Secondly, just because Jacob did endure in his match, it did not mean that his wound would only be temporary.  Jacob suffered the remainder of his life from this conflict.  We cannot expect to walk through suffering with the idea of enduring it and coming out unscathed.  Maybe we will, but most likely we’ll come out scarred and possibly a limp.
  4. Only once Jacob had endured through the night did he discover he was wrestling with God.  Don’t blame satan.  Understand and know with comforting confidence that God is in your mist.  He is in control, and you are wrestling with Him.  Endure until the morning, and don’t tap out!

Read what God spoke to Joshua before he led the Israelites across the Jordan after the death of Moses.

Joshua 1:5-9

5 …I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success[a] wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  The question is not, “Is God with you?”  The question is, “Does your God have something to draw with, or is the well too deep?”  And, are you willing to wrestle with God, or will you just “tap out?”

God’s comfort and peace be with you!


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