How do we cope with suffering? How do we deal with our pain?
I think one of the main ways we do it is by covering it up with pleasurable feelings.
Eating spicy food can sometimes give people a little “buzz.” Why? Because the capsaicin in the spicy chilies* is what makes them hot. It sets off the pain receptors in your brain. Your brain acts like you are hurt. So it releases endorphins, which offer you pleasure. So sometimes when your munching on Thai chiles for fun, you might feel a little buzzed.
Aside from that physiological reaction, you can curb the spiciness in your food or even on your tongue by adding some sugar. Try it sometime. Eat something spicy, then chase it with a spoonful of sugar. That’s one reason why the heat of sriracha is palatable, because it has lots of sugar in it**!
We can cover up our pain with some pleasure and sometimes that’s OK. Sometimes our pain is too much to bear so we need a little extra ice cream, some dark chocolate, maybe a bowl of Skittles (also, wanna fun party trick: mix Skittles and M&Ms in the same bowl—it’s hilarious). It’s OK to avoid things that hurt you too. But avoidance or coping alone doesn’t solve our problem.
I think it’s OK to not endure all the pain we experience, and numbing ourselves to it makes sense sometimes. Our bodies already do that for us. There is nothing, in my opinion, intrinsically beneficial to suffering. But there’s no running from it. I promise you, if you are here in this world, watching this video, or at our community at Circle of Hope, you’ll experience it. You’ll get hurt. I’m sorry. Relationships do that. Community does that.
A Lenten fast can be about taking away some of those mechanisms to allow us to embrace our suffering, or what may end up being the sum of our limits. Intentionally experiencing suffering gives us a chance to use it well, perhaps to display the mighty works of God.
*That’s just in peppers, not in mustard, horseradish, wasabi which have a different chemical called isothiocyanate, or ginger which has gingerol, or peppercorns which have piperine.
**Also, a few more tips, add salt to make bitter food less bitter. Introducing bitterness curbs sweetness, introduce some sourness to make food that tastes too salty taste less salty, and—it does not reduce the sodium content of the food, so chill.