"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pain Is

by Micky Wolf

Pain: localized physical suffering; physical discomfort [as pricking, throbbing, or aching]; typically leading to evasive action; acute mental or emotional distress or suffering; grief; the throes of childbirth [Merriam Webster Dictionary]

As I sit here writing this, I am recovering from a lower back injury—who would have thought the simple task of restacking and storing empty Christmas gift boxes could have instigated this incredibly painful and unpleasant circumstance? 

I’m not a wimp when it comes to pain. Birthing two children and having several surgeries over the years has served to increase my tolerance for pain. And for the most part, I thought I had learned the futility of trying to avoid a little pain in the hope it would not become bigger and nastier. Too late now—I was so thoroughly miserable I would have done just about anything to have some relief from the white hot jabs of fire pulsing through my lower back. No ‘evasive action’ this time—barely able to stand or walk, the extraordinary discomfort was impetus enough to propel me straight to the local urgent care facility to seek help and relief. Two hours later, with three prescriptions in hand to address the inflammation and pain, my husband could not get me to the pharmacy and home fast enough. 

We are a culture mostly uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. And Lord knows we have a multitude of ways—some legal, others not so—to eliminate or minimize anything close to suffering. I will be the first to admit that I don’t go looking for pain. I also acknowledge that some of the most powerful lessons I have learned with regard to being healed—physically, emotionally and spiritually—have come about as I stopped trying to evade or avoid what was causing the pain in the first place. 

As Christians we know we are to lean and rely on God for help in all things. At the same time, our good and gracious God would have us to approach pain, suffering and healing in a balanced manner. To expect the Divine to simply nod from the Heavenlies and eliminate our discomfort is unrealistic, although it is certainly wisdom to allow for His working of miracles in ways He decides are in our best interest. So what are we to do? What is our responsibility? What belongs to God?

Acceptance. Pain is and always will occur as part of our journey through this earthly life. Rather than try and convince ourselves that we are capable of preventing it, we need to accept that it will be present in various forms from time to time until our last breath. 

The question we need to answer in this instance?  Is this healthy or unhealthy pain? 

We reap the consequences of our choices. Too many of our aches and pains are related to unhealthy lifestyles. Yes, we are very busy people, which may appear to be good thing, however, at what cost are we overlooking the need to take care of our bodies—physically, emotionally, spiritually? We do not like being reminded that much of the discomfort we call painful has manifested because of our own poor choices.

I do not know yet exactly what triggered my back pain. [Have two follow-up appointments with physicians in the coming days.] What I do know is there is a likelihood the pain in that area of my body occurred, at least partially, as a result of weak muscles. Simply put: Most of the time I would rather sit in my chair in my study than engage in a moderate and regularly scheduled exercise regimen—healthy pain. That will definitely be changing in the near future.

Diagnosis. Identifying what is causing the pain, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or any other kind, is key to entering a process of healing. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis of the problem will mean getting key professionals involved. If we do not make the choice to recognize our need for qualified counsel, the pain probably isn’t going to simply disappear. If anything, the frequency and intensity will increase.
The question we need to answer in this instance? Am I willing to involve medical professionals? Mental health professionals? Spiritual guides? 

Some folks run to the doctor’s office at the least sign of a sniffle. Others are delivered to emergency rooms on stretchers, having resisted or ignored the discomfort and pain that may have been present for months, even years. Too often, we tend to look the other way when our body, mind, or emotions are sending subtle signals that something is amiss. 
At the same time, the word ‘mental’ is terrifying enough for some people they resist or deny any possibility they could possibly have any ‘head’ issues that would be mitigated by good mental health services or one-on-one counseling with a therapist or psychologist. For others, the mere suggestion that a well-monitored medication protocol could be an important part of a holistic approach will be met with resistance and fear.
The same is true for our spiritual well-being. Sometimes the greatest healing can occur by giving a full confession of what we are thinking and feeling. Whether that happens in the midst of a praise and worship service in a church, in the presence of an ordained clergy, or sitting with a trained spiritual guide who can observe and with whom we can discern our ‘true state of being’, being willing to open ourselves to another can be invaluable in shedding the objective light of truth into the dark corners of our pain. 
Commitment. Once we have accepted that we are in pain and have a reasonably clear understanding of the root cause of our suffering, we have another opportunity to make a choice.
The question we need to answer in this instance?  Am I willing to do my part to regain or maintain physical, emotional and spiritual health?
Commitment is one of those nice sounding words—and one much harder to act upon. How true the old saying that you only get out of something what you are willing to put into it. I have learned that my while my head may be willing to commit to a change process, my heart needs to be fully engaged as well. The will to follow through is only the beginning. Choosing to take one step, then another, day in and day out, will result in the kind of outcomes that we could only dream of while we tried to appease or avoid pain and discomfort in the first place.
Pain can be the greatest incentive we will ever encounter as a means to make personal, positive change in our thoughts, feelings, choices and actions. For whatever else may have instigated my discomfort these past ten days or so, the truth is—pain is part of life. We are not powerless in contending with it. We are, however, responsible for the choices we make which may determine the intensity and duration of the kind of pain we will experience.
No more evasive action. Ouch! Sounds good to me!

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