I had never heard of the term “pain cave” before discovering the world of ultra-runners. I am not an Ultra yet… but by God’s grace, I plan to run my first 50k this year!! As I understand it, the “pain cave” is a dark place your mind enters as you’re training for something and the pain is intense and seems to echo off every wall of your body. It’s a weird situation, however, because if you’re mentally prepared and expecting the pain cave, it is easier to manage and not quit.
Most of my physical pain caves involve running. Running with a double stroller in very hot or cold temps, pushing through sand/mud/snow, and sharp back pain can all lure me into the pain cave. I’ve learned over time to keep running, to keep moving, to focus on the positive and simply hang out in the pain cave as long as it takes. I’ll never forget, last summer I was running up a hill with the double stroller and it was so hot that sweat was blurring my vision. I was in the cave BAD and I had been there for several miles. I had my warrior face on when a group of high school track students ran past me on the way down the hill. One of the students yelled, “You’re running up the hill?! Oh my gosh, you’re a whole ‘nother breed!” He made me smile; somehow my feet felt lighter, and his words stuck with me. A stranger’s encouragement helped me finish strong and power up the rest of the hill.
I think about our kids and the pain caves they are going to experience in life. I know that to develop the courage and strength they’ll need to preserve, they’re going to have to learn to push through the pain. However, forcing myself to allow them the struggle without intervening is not easy. It’s silly things right now that send them into a ”pain cave” since they are only three and two. For example: figuring out how to take off their mittens, how to hang up their coats, learning how to move a chair where they want it, how to put books on the shelf correctly, or how to put train pieces together. These tasks can become intensely difficult for them.
When it gets tough and when they can’t do it, they will most times scream or cry and ask for help. As a mom, I need to teach them how to be independent, how to problem solve, and how to stick with it when it’s hard. We will pray together asking God to help them be patient, creative, or kind. I need them to learn that pain and struggle doesn’t mean something/someone isn’t worth the effort.
If we want to raise kids with strong characters and convictions, we’re going to have to let them experience age-appropriate pain caves. While I can’t rescue my kids from every hardship, you can bet your life that I’ll be outside their pain cave cheering them on as loudly as possible! And sometimes that’s all a person needs when they are in the pain cave- kind words to keep on going.