The Presence of Pain

My heart is aching this week. One calamity after another has bombarded me.

Found out that a good friend of mine from high school – a model student, upstanding citizen, infectious laugh – has had a tumultuous 17 years since graduating. He married a wonderful gal, had a couple of children, had a great career. One day while riding his mountain bike, he wrecked and hit his head. This injury helped precipitate the onset of multiple personality disorder.

Over the course of a couple of years, he developed at least five distinct personalities, all warring within his brain. He ended up leaving his wife and children, and has been roaming the streets as a homeless man on the east coast for quite some time. He has no desire to receive treatment, and does not want to come home. He is content to wander and remain within his confusion and pain.

Also this week I found out that a friend of mine from the midwest passed away from cancer. She was the mom of one of the kids I knew from youth group. Wonderful, godly family. She was only six years older than me, and her cancer spread rapidly. I ache for her husband and their children.

On top of that, about 80 coworkers will be losing their jobs sometime within the next few days (possibly me, too) due to corporate downsizing. I don’t have as much at stake as many of the others do. Of course I have bills and a dog to feed and rent to pay, but there are so many single mothers who are extremely nervous about their possible fate. The morale at work is at basement level, and I’m eager to be done with the waiting game.

The common thread passing through each of these experiences is the presence of pain. Pain, while unpleasant, is a vital part to being alive. I’m currently going through Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts. Thus far he points out the physical necessity of pain, how we absolutely must feel pain in order to protect ourselves, to know that danger is imminent. He gave an example of a basketball player whose ankle had been broken while playing an important game. He was the star. Instead of calling it quits while the game was on the line, he went to the locker room and received treatment. He received a shot that completely wiped out any pain that he might feel. He returned to the court and played a bit, but when he came down hard from jumping for a rebound, he landed awkwardly on his ankle, and an echoing “CRACK” was heard throughout the arena. He could not continue to play. His ankle bones disintegrated on impact. The lack of pain caused him to be careless, to think that everything was okay.

While I don’t wish my pain on anybody – the pain of childhood abuse, the pain of losing a parent, the pain of betrayal, the pain of needlessly hurting someone you love, the pain of divorce, the pain of severe clinical depression – the pain I’ve experienced has shown me my severe spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational need for help, for a Savior. While I am not a masochist, I am eternally grateful for the pain that I’ve endured (some of it I heaped upon myself).

Even just in the last three months, I’ve become increasingly thankful for my life’s experiences. A friend of mine challenged me to not waste what I’ve been through. At first I thought his advice was absurd, but I see clearly that all that we are allowed to go through is for our good, for our benefit, for our maturation as believers in Christ.

Pain is an integral, ever-present part of life this side of the grave. But I am holding out hope for the day when the Savior’s touch from Revelation 21:4 comes to fruition – “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…”

Between now and the grave, regardless of my profession (debt collector, editor, teacher, counselor, missionary, pastor), my heart’s desire is to help the hurting make sense of their pain, the pain that reveals our need, points to the cross, leads us to heaven. Thank you, Lord, for not wasting our pain.

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