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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pain Too Big to Ignore

By Micky Wolf

I’m pretty good about sucking up physical pain and pressing on—most of the time. However, there are those occasions, one a couple months ago, when my best efforts to ignore the ache in the lower, left area of my back over the hip joint was mostly futile. Swallowing a couple of over-the-counter meds every few hours didn’t help much either.

Ruling out the need for medical attention, I finally decided I had a choice. Okay, I can be rather slow on the uptake at times—could either sit in my chair, continuing to bemoan [higher quality of whining, by the way] the situation, or, I could do what my beloved often says, in the midst of a smile, “well, this will probably end up somewhere in your writing.” Obviously, this and somewhere covers a multitude of circumstances and no less a number of sins (be not afraid, mostly mine).

Size is subjective…

What any of us consider to be painful can be vastly different. The kid who crashes into the door frame head-first while being chased by a squealing sibling is convinced death is imminent. On the other hand, the elderly woman who collapses on the carpet with a broken hip may be much more concerned with the potential pain, in her words, of “incarceration in a nursing home” than anything associated with having a shattered bone.

Pain of any sort, plain and simple, is uncomfortable, no matter how you try to accept it, live with it, or let others know about your state of being. There are those who barely allow a groan to pass their lips and those for whom suffering has become more akin to an idol of sorts. And then there are those occasions when having passed through our misery can be a signpost of perseverance. In this instance, I’m reminded of some women who, in having given birth, seemingly take delicious delight in reciting a litany of gory and lengthy [always lengthy] details of the process. It’s enough to make any mother-to-be run screaming to the hills for fear of even surviving the ordeal at all.

Nevertheless, in choosing to respect each person and their experiences, sooner or later each of us is likely to have pain—physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological—that is too big to ignore. What then?

Getting to the root…

The reality of life is we will experience pain from time to time. As reasonable, intelligent adults, we need to assess the situation for an explanation as self-care is important to long term health.

When I nicked the tip of an index finger a couple of weeks ago as I chopped vegetables for dinner, it was obvious what happened. Knife. Sharp blade. Hand in the wrong place. Thankfully, the cut wasn’t deep and a quick rinse in cold water took care of the situation.

But what happens when we haven’t a clue as to why we are in pain, which seemed to be the issue with my lower back? No outward manifestation of problems and no recollection of doing anything to precipitate the discomfort, however, try convincing all those tiny, inflamed cells that were so miserable.

When we don’t know the why, we need to focus on the Who. Say what?

When we don’t know why we are in pain, we need to focus on the One who understands us in all ways, even if that is no guarantee the pain is going to vanish in an instant.

"...for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin." [Hebrews 4:15]

“Well thank you very much!” we mumble under our breath and sigh. “You’re such a big help, God.”

Real mercy, real grace, timely help…

What we tend to forget is the Greater Mystery that is God. And believe me, how I need reminded of this from time to time. Yes, we have plenty of resources at hand—Bibles, devotional books, theology, doctrine, ritual, spiritual practices of one sort or another—all good and beneficial for the growing and maturing of our soul.

By the same token, storehouses of knowledge, in whatever manner or form, will never serve the purpose of putting everything about God, the Trinity, and the work of the Alpha and Omega into neatly arranged compartments of ‘download this, google that’, and so forth. As vast a cyber-Cloud of data storage we may be able to create, it will always be finite in the presence of the One who is the definition of Infinity.

Our best response? Now that is clearly spelled out:

“So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” [Hebrews 4:16]

Real mercy. Real grace. Timely help. Yet not a specific single word about “when” or “in what way”. That’s the hard part. We want relief now. Yesterday. Or better yet, we would rather not experience most any kind of pain, but if we must, make it as brief as possible, please. What God does assure is that help will be timely. His time. Not yours. Not mine.

A choice to make…

In my case, writing about the pain was helpful, although not a cure in itself. The question would become, would I make another choice?—would I confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help? Eventually, I did. Eventually—make that about three weeks—the pain disappeared. Why the time? Why not sooner? Sometimes it’s all about remembering who is God, and who is not, and that His ways are not our ways. For reasons we will never know while on this Earth. Mystery.

How do I deal with pain?

Is my pain physical, emotional, spiritual?

How do I feel about letting God show me the root of my pain?

How do I feel about the ‘throne of grace’ as the source for timely help?

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