I find it bizarre that we often don’t appreciate what we have until we no longer have it. When we possess it, when it’s ours to attend to and enjoy, we ignore it. When it fades away or is ripped from us, this thing we often took no special notice of, we protest. Possessing it wasn’t enough to make us appreciate it. Our perceived lack, our hunger for more, our eyes always roving, never resting, must keep us from recognizing our own expansive form, our true wealth.
I’m having pain and I’ve experienced very little physical pain in my life thus far. I’ve known the blessing of unfettered movement with little complaint from my body. I took morphine during the birth of my first child, but did without for the next two births. Before children, full bottles of pain reliever expired in the drawer. I now stock them for my family, but rarely need to partake. When my son was preschool aged, I remember an instance when he had a high fever. I was up with him all night, uncertain as to what to do. I took him to the doctor in the morning only to be chastised for not giving my child pain relief. I recognize now how dangerous this was and my heart breaks to even think on it. There are tears streaming as I write this. As I’ve been reflecting on my pain, my son’s pain was brought to mind and I was compelled to thank God for protecting my son from his mother’s incompetence. I was ignorant of the need for it and I know that seems impossible to believe, but it’s the truth.
The other day I woke up and my knee was screaming. I felt like someone had pierced it through with an icy spear. I couldn’t walk up and down stairs normally and it hurt even more when I laid it flat to rest it. I’d been to the doctor twice and was told to ride a bike and pop a pill. I took 2 Ibuprofen and experienced no change. At one point, I sobbed into the couch at the unmitigated discomfort I was feeling. I was heading into a couple of night shifts and my job requires me to be able to walk, bend, and crouch freely. If it wasn’t for a TENS machine, I might’ve had to call in sick.
Pain is a signal that something isn’t right and it isn’t. It’s part of the process of decay, a prickly reminder of our rebellion, a loud, ugly signpost to brokenness, suffering, and death. Joy is squelched, peace is lost, and sanity is battered by the presence of pain. It comforts me to know that Jesus spent much of his time on earth banishing it. His thoughts, words, and hands drove it away. The sick gritted their teeth to search him out. Family and friends labored over stretchers to cart their ill loved ones to where Jesus was rumored to be. A hole was made in a roof! Demons causing mischief and misery in the bodies of their captives called out in protest when Jesus arrived. The woman whose ongoing pain sent her on a quest that would exhaust her resources, touched his cloak, not even his skin, but his clothing, and was healed instantly. She didn’t even have to ask. Jesus, emanating with love, compassion and power, repelled pain and people were desperate for his presence.
Our family regularly visits an elderly couple from our church. We ask them about their health as they have ongoing concerns, as so many seniors do. They talked of chronic pain and flagging mobility, as well as acute conditions requiring the care of a physician, medication, and bed rest. Again, I thought of my pain, because I’ve discovered when one has pain, it’s almost impossible not to think about it, and my mind wandered to Romans 8:22 and creation groaning. I thought about a friend of mine for whom pain is an unwelcome, daily companion and pain relief, a savior. I imagined all of us adding our groans to the great groans of creation, all of it rising in anguished waves to the throne of God.
Since that pain-filled day, I’ve learned a couple of things. I have a new respect for those who live graciously with chronic pain. I’m amazed at what they’re able to accomplish despite it. I wish I had understood it and responded with more empathy when those around me were struggling with it, but I didn’t get it. I guess it wasn’t my turn. Now that I’ve had a nibble, I know what it tastes like and God uses our suffering to help others. He gives us comfort and we, like those in a bucket brigade, our supposed to pass it down the line, sloshing it on each other as we go.
I’m also grateful that Jesus knows pain intimately. He gets it. My pain is a paper cut compared to the agony he endured. How incredible it is that this gentle healer, who defeated pain for so many folks on the shores of Galilee, took on torment for the sake of the world. How encouraging it is that this man is not just a good doctor, but the Son of God and the one true King and he’s alive and better than well, reigning in glory, that he has heard our groaning, and one day that nail-scarred hand will respond by wiping pain away forever. There will be no more wishing for what has been lost, only wholeness and pure joy.
Complete the experience. Listen to Tenth Avenue North’s Hold my Heart.