Monday, October 25, 2004

The Power of Pain

Pain is simply painful.

Medical textbooks are rife with definitions of pain. The American Society of Anesthesiologists define it as an unpleasant sensory or emotional experience, associated with actual or potential damage, or described in the terms of such damage. You mean like a slap in the face, or a dagger in the heart? Nice.

We all know what pain is anyway. It's dealing with pain that's the big question.

As a physician, I appreciate what pain does for the patient. Without it, patients would never turn up to have their medical condition investigated. The pattern of pain tells us the likely cause. And pain gives us a useful way to monitor the severity of the problem and how it's responding to our treatment.

But when we're in emotional/psychological pain, it's hard to make sense of it. Why is this happening to me? We ask. In prolonged suffering we question, is there a purpose for this pain?

Is this some kind of divine retribution from God? Am I being punished for some serious sin? This is highly unfair, where is God in all this? Why is He giving me such a hard time?

Personally, I've come to the conclusion that it isn't always helpful to ask these questions. Pain simply has to finish its course and reach its end for it do the work for which it was intended.

God sometimes has to light a fire under our butt to get us going. Like a tea bag, you will never know what you're made of until put in hot water. A great many things we can only learn through mistakes - in fact we learn better through fumbling and faltering than being right all the time. Most of all pain perfects our character, James says (Jam 1:2). Trials are put in our way not to stop us but to bring the best out of us.

Life always seems unfair in our time. But in God's time - well, we're promised that the future glory 'far outweighs' and can't be compared to the suffering (Rom 8:18). So while eternity is being worked out, I think there's only two things to do - trust and listen.

TRUST - holding on for dear life, believing that it's all going to work out for good. And LISTEN - to the pain for clues to where it's leading us.

David Seamands tells us to 'choose our pain' - the pain of grumbling and fighting it, or the pain of understanding it and allowing God to heal and teach us. Henri Nouwen suggests that we turn pain from an enemy into a friend. Instead of pouring all our efforts into eliminating pain as quickly as possible, we can befriend it, listen to it, and let it speak to us of our deepest need and of God's presence in our pain.

While we aren't always given understanding about our pain, we are certainly given HOPE, and His companionship. And I can pray to learn all that I can. I guess you could say, pain - can't beat it, join it!


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