Whose Pain is Worse — Yours, or Mine?

Roger and I were driving together to Prescott, Arizona.  He was a friend, and the pastor of a church outside of Phoenix.  I was going to be speaking at a retreat he had arranged for the men of his church at a mountain retreat center.


My kids were teenagers at the time, and they were being . . . well, teenagers.  It had been one of those weeks where they were making choices that didn’t make sense to me.

All parents have been there, wondering why the doctor didn’t send home an instruction manual when the kids were born.

In one of our challenging conversations, I couldn’t understand why my kids weren’t accepting my advice (which was very wise, of course, in my own eyes . . . ).  They were such wise and mature kids, but this time they were insistent on making some crazy choices.  At the end of one conversation, my daughter said, “But, Daddy . . . I want to make my own mistakes.”

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24196502Roger offered a good listening ear as I shared my pain.  I knew things would turn out OK, but I was in the middle of the battle — and it was painful.  All I was focused on was my feelings, and Roger helped me gain perspective.

After whining for a half-hour or so, I suddenly felt ashamed.

I was rambling on about the pain I was feeling — pain that would soon pass as my family worked through our issues.  But Roger had an 8-year old son who was dying of cancer, and had about 3 months to live.  Talk about pain . . .

I had been so wrapped up in my own pain that I had forgotten what he was going through.  My pain was temporary; his would be permanent.

I couldn’t believe I had been so uncaring and callous.

“Roger,” I said, “I can’t believe what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been whining about my kids being kids, and you’re about to lose yours.  I’m so sorry . . . my pain is nothing compared to yours, and I haven’t even acknowledged it.”

I’ll never forget his response:

“Don’t worry about it.  Pain is pain.  That’s one thing I’ve learned through all this.  When you hurt, you hurt.  What I’m going through will last longer, but that doesn’t mean you’re hurting any less.”

He continued: “Nobody likes pain.  Yes, I’m going to lose my son, and it hurts like crazy.  Sometimes it’s all I can think about.  But if you break your arm or burn your hand or lose a job, it hurts like crazy.  We can’t compare.  We just care for each other in our pain.”

His words have stuck with me for years.  Here’s what I’ve learned about pain:

  • Pain hurts – no matter where it comes from.
  • If I think my pain is bigger than yours, I’m telling you to suck it up and quit feeling.
  • If I think your pain is bigger than mine, I’ll feel guilty for feeling the way I do.

Your pain is real.  My pain is real.

Maybe we should stop comparing and start caring.

Agree?  Disagree?  I’d love your thoughts and comments . . .

  • Sheri

    you make things so simply seen. This week a friend of mine made what seems to
    me like a tragic decision. I said to her, no matter what counsel you get it
    sounds like you want to do what you want to do. You need to make your own
    way…and need to figure it out through your own mistakes. Why is it so painful
    to stand by and watch others we love dangle their feet off of cliffs and
    sometimes just jump. Why does it take my breath away…when it seems like they
    are breathing just fine….they can’t even smell the danger. I can only imagine
    how God feels watching this happen in tandem on so many levels…and with all
    of us. I think it’s because of love that we hurt. We just have to hang on to
    them and let go at the same time. Need to be there to hold them when they
    return…like the prodigal son or daughter…with pig trough droppings under
    their chin. I remember those who have held me in the same state. It’s the
    caring that mattered…and ultimately taught me of what real love looks like.

    • What a great insight — “It’s because of love that we hurt – we just have to hang on to them and let go at the same time — need to be there to hold them when they return . . . ” I know the people who have the biggest impact on me are the ones who are still there when I’ve messed up. Somebody called them “foxhole friends.” When we hurt, we need arms around us . . .

  • Dorothy Dorse

    Well said, Mike! This has helped me to have a different perspective on comparing pain and hurt with others. You are absolutely right! “Your pain is real. My pain is real. Maybe we should stop comparing and start caring.” Love that. Thank you.

    • Yeah, we all do that. It’s a gift to others to acknowledge the reality of how they feel. Isn’t that what we need from others?

  • Mike, I remember thinking this many years ago about different situations. If I was hurting because of something, I was HURTING, probably very insignificant situation to most who would be an on-looker at my “situation” but still painful to me. I decided right then and there that I would be very careful to categorize pain (my own or that of someone else) on a scale of one to ten. . .
    thanks for this reminder.

    • Good thoughts. Isn’t it amazing that when we’re hurting, it’s hard to see clearly? Others do it to us, we do it to others. I guess it helps us to be OK with the fact that our pain is painful — and let others feel the reality of their pain as well, without comparing. Thanks.

  • Carrell Halley

    Thank you for your message this morning. Your words hit home to me as I have been trying to counsel my son who is going through a tough time right now…on the verge of turning 30 and revisiting his ‘so-called’ mistakes and fearing the future. He often says to me, when I suggest that he talk with someone who has ‘walked the walk’, that what they have gone through is so much more than what he is going through that he would be embarrassed to share or even reach out to them. Of course, I tell him the same thing…’pain is pain’…it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through, or how miniscule you think your ‘pain’ is…it’s real for you and that’s all that matters. It’s not a competition…there is no reason to deny your suffering.

    I am going to copy your posting and send it to him. Maybe if he sees that someone else beside his mother has the same opinion, he might reach out to those who can help him through this rough patch.

    Thank you again for your insight.

    • Thanks for sharing. It’s always tough to see one of our kids struggle, no matter how old they are. We have a few years on them, which doesn’t mean we’re smarter — we just have more perspective. We gained that perspective by going through stuff. Your son is “going through stuff” — so he’ll be growing his own perspective for the future. You’re showing wisdom by coming alongside him as he owns that journey. Good stuff . . .