Every step was painful. Raising her shoulder sent flames of fire into her arms. Turning his neck brought needle pricks down his spine. Simply breathing ripped the very fabric of life from his chest. There are countless men and women who live with chronic pain. Simple daily activities like walking, sitting, breathing or shaking hands is an agonizing experience. Until last week, I believed that pain was something to be avoided at all cost and that there was nothing redeeming in physical pain, then I dislocated two of my lower vertebrae. I gained a firsthand experience of excruciating pain.
At first it was unbearable, I couldn’t find any position in which there was relief. I found myself turning more and more inward, trying to focus on controlling the pain and not crying out in pain and tears. But as the last few days have unfolded, the pain hasn’t gone away, but I have been learning some valuable lessons about living life with pain.
First, there is the general sympathy and compassion that I have gained for those who suffer in ways even greater than I am suffering. Pain can’t be turned on or off, sometimes it just is there. I have gained an insight into the burden many who live with chronic suffering bear. It is a reality that can totally incapacitate one for a time. Being able to recognize this reality and respond encouragingly is something that I will continue to grow in, but it is also something that all of us need to be aware of.
Second, there is the often-uttered phrase, “I’ll pray for you.” As I am going through my own experience, while those words are comforting, I am realizing that it may be better not to tell someone they will be prayed for but to actually offer to pray with them right there. Maybe the offer will be accepted, maybe it wont, and they will simply ask to be remembered in your prayers. Either way, the needs of the person suffering are brought forward and made a reality in the present moment. I am learning that the option of having someone pray right now for me and with me is much more powerful for one’s psychology than simply knowing they are being remembered sometime, somewhere.
Third, I am learning that praising God is possible even when pain is present. In fact, it is in the times when I have been found singing worship songs with my children this week that the pain has been at it’s least. That may sound weird but praising God is therapeutic and healing. And if we think about it doesn’t it make sense? Sin is an abnormal focus upon oneself and one’s situation, but worship is a right focus upon God. So, when we are praising God, singing about his goodness, even singing about his providence and his love, even if we are found in physical pain, or emotional pain, then we are ordering life properly. And in a properly ordered life, one can recognize the goodness of God, the greatness of salvation and the fact that any pain I suffer is nothing in comparison to the agony our Lord endured and which is rightfully our due.
Finally, as I have been preparing a sermon on the providence of God this week, I have been forced to confront the fact that “all things, sickness and health, plenty and want, come from the hands of my loving Father.” In suffering this week, though I have the hope that my back will be repaired over the coming weeks, I have chosen to believe that God sent this struggle into my life, as a loving Father, in order to conform me more and more to the image of Christ. He hasn’t forgotten me, he hasn’t forgotten my pain. He isn’t unaware of what is happening and he certainly isn’t impotent to change it. On the contrary, he is God Almighty and all loving and all good, and in his goodness he has chosen to give me this burden in order to bring about a change in my character and perspective.
These are a few of the lessons I have learned about pain and suffering. Might there be similar lessons for each of us? The next time we are found in a difficult situation, reflect on this passage of Scripture:
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness– 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:24-29)