Home & Family Department Chair
Derrel Higgins is a full time faculty member in the department of home and family. Before coming to teach at BYU-I five years ago, he taught at Glendale Community College in Arizona. Prior to that, he worked as a marriage and family therapist with LDS Family Services.
Brother Higgins earned his bachelor’s degree in family resources and human development from Arizona State University and his master’s and doctorate degrees in marriage and family therapy from BYU-Provo.
Brother Higgins has been married to his sweetheart, Heidi, for almost 21 years and they have three sons and one daughter.
Please respond to the questions below on the devotional discussion board:
When I was a boy growing up with seven brothers (and one sister… yes, poor girl) I learned many things to not do from the experience of pain. For example, I learned that jumping off the roof onto a trampoline was not good if your little brother was already on the trampoline. I learned this specifically when he flew up from my bounce and his hard head bloodied and almost broke my nose.
Tell me about a time when you have learned something from the experience of pain. What did your pain teach you?
Think of a recent time you have experienced pain. Here are a few of my recent experiences. A few years ago, I was whittling a stick with my son, and for some reason I absent-mindedly cut at the stick towards myself. It didn’t end well—with a slice in my own finger. Thankfully it wasn’t too deep, but it really did hurt. Just a few months ago, I walked around the back of my vehicle, forgetting that I had a trailer hitch sticking out, which my shin promptly found. When my boys were young, they had a knack for leaving Lego “landmines” on the floor that I somehow found in the dark with my bare feet. I’ve had my share of headaches, back problems, sickness, and even slipping on the ice.
I don’t like to feel pain. I don’t like to be in pain. I am guessing that none of you like experiencing pain either. In fact, we spend billions of dollars each year to avoid pain. One of the highest-paid specialties in medicine is anesthesiology. In my work as a marriage and family therapist, I would say that most if not all of my clients came to see me because of pain they were experiencing.
There are different types of pain. I typically first think of physical pain. But there are many other types of pain. We can experience emotional pain in the form of rejection, heartache, sadness, loss, grief, hate, or fear. We can experience mental pain in the form of worry; indecisiveness; having negative thoughts about life, yourself, or others; believing that you are not worthwhile, even believing life is not worth living, and feeling so very hopeless.
Another type of pain that we often don’t think of is spiritual pain. Our spirit can hurt. Listen to the words of Alma the Younger as he spoke to his son Helaman about his realization of doing wrong:
When I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more. But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, . . . I was tormented with the pains of hell . . . . Yea, . . . the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body. 
Alma the Younger experienced fear, “torment,” the harrowing of his soul, and having his soul “[racked] with inexpressible horror.” Alma experienced fierce spiritual pain.
We experience different types of pain. We also have some typical reactions to pain—at least I do. Here are some of the things that I do when I experience different types of pain: I ignore it (until it goes away or gets worse so I can’t ignore it any longer). Often I numb or deaden it; for example, I take an Aspirin, Tylenol, or ibuprofen. I have also been known to try to distract myself by turning to other activities that take my attention away from it, like games, texting, Netflix binge-watching, shopping, eating, and, well, the list goes on. One common thing I do is complain. While in my thirties, I complained to a friend about some pain associated with growing older. He responded, “Just wait until your forties; everything starts falling apart.” Of this statement I have already gained a testimony. When my pains are more intense, I sometimes complain in the form of a question: “Why is this happening to me?” or “Why do I have to deal with this?” There have even been times in my life when I have unwittingly turned inward and become very self-centered in an attempt to cope with and even understand my pain.
What is the purpose of pain? I want you to ponder this question for a few moments.
Now I would like you to have a discussion with those around you. Turn to a few people in the row in front of you or the row behind you and make a group of about three to five people. Please introduce yourselves to each other, then discuss this question for the next 45 seconds: What is the purpose of pain? Go ahead.
I like the discussion that I am hearing! Now I want you to have another brief discussion with those same people. I want you to consider what might happen if you were actually unable to feel pain. Even though this may sound like a wonderful problem to have, it is a real disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain.  Turn to your group again and discuss the following question: What problems could arise from not being able to feel pain? Please discuss this question for a few moments.
I appreciate the great conversation! Let’s come back together.
Again, even though it may sound like a wonderful condition to not feel pain, can you imagine the problems that could arise? Would you know if your hot chocolate was too hot? How would you finally notice that you have a bad blister on your foot during a long hike? What if you stepped on a nail that went through your shoe? Could you tell if you were getting a fever? What about biting your tongue or cheek while you are eating, or partially tearing a tendon in your knee playing sports? These small problems could easily and quickly become big problems that could even turn dangerous. In fact, individuals with this health condition often have shortened life expectancy due to repeated injuries. 
When considering what would happen if we could not feel pain, it becomes apparent that one of the primary functions of pain is to protect.  Pain is a message that something is wrong. Physical pain is an indicator of damage or impending damage to tissue.
Here’s a quick and cute example of the protective function of pain.
If Charlie bit any harder or for any longer, damage to his brother’s finger may have resulted! You can see the moment when Charlie’s brother becomes keenly aware of this fact by the look on his face. And like a true little brother, Charlie finds some humor, and perhaps a moment of power, in that fact also. 
What are some of the other purposes of pain? What else does pain do for us? Here are a few purposes related to that protective function. Pain is a signal; it helps us to know when we need to change something, like reflexively taking your hand off of a hot stove. Pain motivates us—to start doing something, like going to the dentist for tooth pain, or to stop doing something, like playing sports with an injury.
Pain can refine us and clarify what is truly important in our lives. President James E. Faust stated:
In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong. In this way the divine image can be mirrored from the soul. It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd. 
Pain can help us to seek God in our lives.
Pain often humbles us. We can quickly become aware of how fragile life can be and how mortal our bodies are at times.
Pain can soften us by helping us understand other people’s suffering. Perhaps this is like the invitation last week from Brother John Parker to put on our “compassion glasses” and write down the names of a few people you can lift this Christmas season.  By understanding the suffering of others, pain can connect us. Have you ever had an experience where you were not close to someone but then you found out that they had gone through a very painful experience similar to yours? We sometimes can feel an almost instant connection because this person “gets me.” They know us because they know our experience.
Pain can actually help us know and experience its opposite. Sadness helps us know joy; distress helps us know peace; loneliness helps us to know connection. Honestly, most days, I don’t notice that I am healthy, but when I have been sick, I notice the moment I start feeling better, and appreciate feeling healthy. Lehi teaches this to his son Jacob when he states, “[There] needs be . . . an opposition in all things. If not so, . . . righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” 
Even though pain can soften us, help us to connect to others, and know joy, interestingly, pain can also lead to the opposite of each of these things:
- Sometimes we can freeze in the face of pain and do nothing.
- Sometimes we choose to continue doing something even though it is painful (most often because we have figured out how to distract ourselves from it or we numb it).
- Sometimes we lose our motivation because of pain.
- Sometimes we become self-centered and bitter when in pain.
Times of great pain (or in other words, trials and suffering) become crossroads in our lives. What will my life be because of this? Am I going to be better from this or bitter?
A great example of this crossroad is in the book of Alma:
Because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility. 
So what should we do when experiencing pain?
First, figure out what the pain is trying to tell you. What is the purpose of that particular pain? Pain is typically protective. What is this pain trying to protect? What type of pain is it: physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual? In this we need to be insightful. Sometimes pain in one area is actually being caused by pain in another area. For example, someone who is heartbroken can actually get physically ill. We can feel physically achy when we are depressed, or have tight muscles when we are anxious. Get to the origin of it. That is the first step. When we are honest with ourselves, we typically know what we need to do. If you are having trouble figuring out what your pain is trying to tell you, talk to those who have stewardship over you and those that love you; they can help you gain insight about your pain.
Second, have hope. It will get better. “This, too, shall pass.” You will get through this (even if you don’t feel like you can)! Remember that you are built to heal. If you somehow got a large, deep cut on your leg, what would you do? Most would go to the emergency room to get medical help. What would the physician at the emergency room do? The physician would clean the wound to prevent dirt and bacteria from getting in the way of the healing process. The physician may choose to put in stitches if that would help the wound heal more quickly. The physician does not heal; the body heals itself. The physician simply decides what to do to allow the best way for the healing to take place. The body heals the wound. We are built to heal. I believe we are also built to heal from all types of wounds: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. However, just like getting medical attention, sometimes the wound is big enough that we should seek others to help us clear the way for the healing to happen.
Third, ask yourself, What is this trial about? Under the topic of adversity, the website LDS.org has a powerful and insightful statement:
Adversity comes from different sources. Trials may come as a consequence of a person's own pride and disobedience. These trials can be avoided through righteous living. Other trials are simply a natural part of life and may come at times when people are living righteously. For example, people may experience trials in times of sickness or uncertainty or at the deaths of loved ones. Adversity may sometimes come because of others' poor choices and hurtful words and actions. Suffering may also come through a loving Heavenly Father as a tutoring experience. 
So from this quote, we learn that pain can be caused by:
- a person’s own pride and disobedience,
- a natural part of life,
- others’ poor choices and hurtful words and actions, or
- a tutoring experience from a loving Heavenly Father.
Each of these sources of pain informs our next step.
The first source of pain is “a consequence of a person’s own pride and disobedience.” We have all experienced this pain due to our imperfection. The brother of Jared asks the Lord to “not be angry . . . because of his weakness” and acknowledges that “we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually.”  We will make mistakes. We will hurt ourselves and others by our words and actions. Thankfully, we can repent and forsake these imperfections. We can choose to become obedient by “[yielding] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit . . . and [become] as a child, . . . willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us].”  The sun sets each day and rises again. Why? I believe the Lord is trying to teach us to be present. Take one day at a time. The Lord taught us to “take no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  In other words, don’t get stuck in the past or worry about the future. You have today. Do your best today. Don’t save change for tomorrow. It will never be tomorrow; it is always today.
The second source of pain comes in the form of “trials [that] are simply a natural part of life and may come at times when people are living righteously.” Part of the plan of mortality was that we would come to earth and experience having an imperfect, mortal body. Each of us will experience pain, sickness, physical afflictions, mental afflictions, disease, and death simply as part of this mortal experience. These are a “natural part of life.” There may be no specific lesson to learn. This is not a punishment. It is simply the experience of having a mortal, imperfect body. However, I must comment that our Father does not waste any experiences, as he has said, “All these things will give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”  However, the Lord wants us to “endure it well.” 
The third source of pain and adversity “may sometimes come because of others' poor choices and hurtful words and actions.” Just as we will cause pain to others, they will also cause pain to us. I don’t want to downplay this source of pain. I believe it to be one of the most difficult and heaviest crosses we will bear in this life. Think of the events in your life that have caused you the most pain. Are not some of the worst due to others’ poor choices and hurtful words and actions? Some of you now sit with secrets that if revealed would cause tremendous pain to those you love. You may think by keeping the secret you are sparing someone the pain. This is a lie. The injury has already happened, and the pain that follows injury is inevitable and will come sooner or later. If you are carrying a secret, get it out. I plead with you to shine light into the dark corners of your life. Get it all out on the table and deal with the pain in a healthy way. The healing cannot start until the injury is known. Please understand that mistakes don’t kill relationships; secrets kill relationships. For those of you on the receiving end of heartbreak, know that a precious portion of the Atonement is for you. Jacob spoke to the “pure in heart,” promising that if you “look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, . . . he will console you in your afflictions,” and that you can “feast upon his love, . . . if your minds are firm, forever.” 
Last, “suffering may also come through a loving Heavenly Father as a tutoring experience.” “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”  If this is the case for you, remember that a tutor only sticks around as long as he or she is needed. Learn what the Lord desires you to learn. Elder D. Todd Christofferson has used the term divine chastening to describe the loving correction that the Lord sends our way at times. Elder Christofferson further states, “Though it is often difficult to endure, truly we ought to rejoice that God considers us worth the time and trouble to correct.” 
Pain connects us by helping us to understand the suffering of others. Alma taught of Jesus that “he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. . . . And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. 
I promise you that there is one person who knows your pain perfectly. I invite you to look to Him as the children of Israel did to be healed.  Reach for Him as the woman with an issue of blood, that you may touch even the hem of His garment and be healed.  Allow the process of His healing to happen as the blind man who was blessed by the Savior and was partially healed, stating that he “[saw] men as trees, walking.”  He was blessed again by the Savior to complete the healing. The Atonement covers all pain: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. He took upon Him pains, afflictions, sickness, and temptations. There is no pain that He does not know. At this time of celebrating His birth, may we understand His gift of pain that He has given to us, may we seek His comfort, and may we be His hands  as we seek to succor others in their pain, in the name of our Savior, even Jesus the very Christ, amen.
 Alma 36:11-16.
 See “Congenital insensitivity to pain,” National Library of Medicine; ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/congenital-insensitivity-to-pain.
 See Gebhart GF, “Scientific Issues of Pain and Distress,” National Research Council (US) Committee on Regulatory Issues in Animal Care and Use; ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK99533/.
 See “Charlie bit my finger - again !,” YouTube, 2007; youtu.be/_OBlgSz8sSM.
 James E. Faust, “The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign, May 1979; lds.org/general-conference/1979/04/the-refiners-fire?lang=eng.
 John Parker, “Light the World,” BYUI devotional, Dec. 4, 2018.
 2 Nephi 2:11.
 Alma 62:41.
 “Adversity,” Topics, LDS.org; lds.org/topics/adversity?lang=eng.
 Ether 3:2.
 Mosiah 3:19.
 Matthew 6:34.
 Doctrine and Covenants 122:7.
 Doctrine and Covenants 121:8.
 Jacob 3:1-2.
 Hebrews 12:6.
 D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten,” Ensign, May 2011.
 Alma 7:11-12.
 See Numbers 21:8-9.
 See Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:26-34; Luke 8:43-48.
 Mark 8:22-25.
 See Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “You Are My Hands,” Ensign, May 2010.