I skipped my workout this morning. I usually go to the YMCA in Westerly four or five days a week. This morning I woke up and I couldn’t face the pain. If you have ever exercised you know what I am talking about. Whether you are walking on the treadmill, or the elliptical trainer, or riding a bike, or doing some weight training, it doesn’t take long before your body begins to scream at you to stop.

I go to the gym because I know that, despite the pain, I am doing something that is good for me. The workout will increase my strength and promote my overall health.The cardiovascular exercise, even if it is painful in the short run, will help me live a much longer and happier life. It’s also good for my diabetes. In some way that I can’t comprehend, it helps lower my A1C if I do it regularly.

As I was trying to assuage the guilt, it occurred to me that much of our life is driven by two things: Pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. I would be in seventh heaven if I could sit at home and eat hot fudge sundaes and lose weight. If the new healthy patterns program said going to the gym was not as helpful as getting 12 hours of sleep a night, or better yet, riding a rollercoaster at Six Flags, I would sign up in a minute.

I’m told that pain is part of God’s creative genius. It warns us that something is happening. It make us aware of the fact that change and growth are happening. My daughters all went through growth spurts. Many nights my wife would sit with them and rub their legs because of the pain they were experiencing. We were told this pain was natural for children whose legs were growing and stretching. It had to happen for them to mature.

So a few weeks back I was sitting with a few friends and we began discussing politics. I don’t have to tell you that this is not a good idea these days. I began to squirm a bit. Thankfully we didn’t start hurling insults at each other, but I was feeling uncomfortable and wanted to leave. Then a thought hit me. Was this any different from a trip to the gym? Sometimes you have to experience a little pain so you can grow a bit.

It’s easy to surround yourselves with people who think like you do. But is that healthy? I’ve found that the pain caused by engaging in discussions that are uncomfortable can lead to growth. It allows us to relate to others who come at life from a different perspective. Unfortunately too many people engage others solely through social media. That doesn’t help. What we really need to do is to talk to one another face to face.

The Apostle Paul understood this. He never missed the opportunity to engage the Greeks, the Jews, and even his Christian brothers and sisters in conversation on the hot topics of his day. It is important to be able to defend your point of view, but that is not the key to growth. Growth comes from truly hearing what the other person has to say and seeing them as God does.

Too often we look at people who disagree with us as enemies. That is the easy way out. Jesus calls us to do the hard thing. He calls us to love our enemies and pray for them. He knew that in loving them, we might even learn from them and experience growth in our understanding about the grace of God. So here’s my advice. Don’t avoid the pain. Embrace it. Let God’s grace grow in you, not just at the gym, but in all areas of your life.

The Rev. Cal Lord is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Westerly.

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