The benefits of pain

January 5, 2013

I started this rumination over a week ago and just can’t seem to get through it… Hope it makes sense!

Hello Friends,

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Christmas was a little hectic and frankly I’m struggling with sciatica again. You know what “sciatica” is right? It’s a Latin word that means “Sweet Jesus, Mary mother of God, when will this pain in my back and leg subside! And will I ever sleep again?” Well okay that’s a rather loose translation. A more literal rendering might be “inflammation of the sciatic nerve which emanates from your lower spine and branches off into your lower back and down your legs.” It is caused by several things but usually there is a disc involved in some way. Well, I can tell you this… IT HURTS!!! Or did I mention that already? It makes it difficult to even sit in front of the computer for any length of time. I should add here that I am so thankful for my friend, parishioner and chiropractor Jeff Biddle for his patience and his treatment of me.

You know, it’s easy to think that life would be so much better if we did not experience pain; physical or emotional. The truth of the matter is pain is intended to protect us. Philip Yancey in his book “Where is God When it Hurts” tells the story of a doctor friend who worked at a leper colony. Leprosy or Hansen’s disease is a condition where the nerves in one’s body break down and the flesh dies and becomes putrid. Lepers have less and less feeling in various parts of their bodies as the disease progresses. Yancey’s friend recounted the story of natives in the colony who would inexplicably lose fingers and toes over the course of a night. The doctor decided to stay awake and observe a patient as he slept to try and explain this mystery. In the middle of the night rats came and chewed off fingers and toes of the unfeeling, pain free leper. Pain is not always a bad thing.

Again, imagine what it’s like for those who have rare conditions where they have no feeling in their bodies! What happens if they have appendicitis or other serious internal issues? They die. Again, pain is not always bad. It’s built into the system to warn us that something is abnormal or wrong. That applies to physical and emotional pain.

Pain generally requires a response or a treatment of some sort. What happens if we don’t respond to the pain? Occasionally, we get better over time. But there are other more dreadful possibilities. We can do permanent damage to ourselves if we do not address the reasons for our pain. How many people have died from heart attacks because of lingering “heartburn”? Permanent back problems plague some because of their refusal to get proper treatment. Men seem to be particularly, uh… shall I say… stupid about these things. (The person writing this is one of the dumber ones.) Several years before my father died he began to experience serious problems with his kidneys which eventually landed him on dialysis. On one occasion while he lay in a hospital he looked at me very seriously and said: “Don’t do what I did. Don’t live your life with untreated high blood pressure.” I remember it was a moment of uncomfortable vulnerability and regret for him. He destroyed his own kidneys because of his unwillingness to get treatment.

It’s not so difficult to see the results of untreated physical conditions. But what of emotional disorders and pain? What happens when we experience grief, sorrow, sadness, feelings of abandonment, betrayal and any number of other painful, emotional traumas? What if those symptoms go “untreated?” What if we choose to ignore emotional pain like we ignore “heartburn”? Well once again I suppose it’s possible to slowly recover from these things with few consequences. But it is just as likely that we will carry emotional burdens and scars for years if not for our entire lives. Untreated emotional pain is just as devastating to our system as untreated physical pain. And what’s worse? It is also devastating to those around us as these “pains” turn into anger, bitterness, rage, nagging regret, and any number of other maladies. As if that isn’t difficult enough… it is not always easy to “see” our emotional pain; so it goes untreated simply because we don’t recognize it.

You know the phrase: “Time heals all wounds.” Friends, that is not true! Those who too often quote that phrase simply don’t want to deal with the hard work of confronting pain. Time may cause some wounds to feel less painful, and it may push some so far down into our psyches that we no longer think about them… but they are not healed. I wonder how many of you who have taken the time to read this have unresolved pain in your life? Maybe you were deeply hurt/injured by someone in your past and you have simply allowed it to fester hoping that one day it will just miraculously be gone. Or maybe you just try to ignore it. Hurts by friends, children, parents… they don’t go away by themselves.

So, what do you do? Not to oversimplify things but… FORGIVE THEM. John Eldredge in his book “Wild at Heart” writes a chapter about forgiveness. In particular he is addressing the issue of sons forgiving their fathers but I would guess his observation applies to all of us regardless of relationships. He says that we need to come to the place where we can say “You hurt me. It mattered. I forgive you.” I was by myself on a retreat when I first read those words. I cried like a baby. You can say the words out loud (you can be by yourself). “________________, I forgive you. You hurt me more than I can ever express but I no longer harbor ill will toward you. You are released.” Will your pain be healed immediately? Unlikely… it may take numerous “treatments.” But, your festering anger and bitterness only empowers others, it doesn’t help you. Forgive them and you will also be released.

This forgiveness thing is tricky… and difficult. But my guess is we find it tricky because we just don’t want to do it. Truth is, if you know Jesus… you don’t have any choice.

Here’s to you and your treated pain.

Matthew 6: 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 18: 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.




  • Take a few minutes to discuss the two verses above.
  • How would you respond to this persons question: Can there be forgiveness without healing? I have tried for 5 years and have written the proverbial letters of forgiveness and meant them from my heart, the best i could. Some of the people are no longer walking among us. Some are, but when i feel i have forgiven something will pop up and bite me in the butt, then i wonder if i have really forgiven. Wanting to forgive and actually forgiving don’t always seem to be the same. I hear people say, i have forgiven but will never forget. Forgetting meaning never to ever bring it up to the person again. For me the later was easy, it is easy to keep things stored deeply as you have written here. I know, i have not healed. I believe i think about things too deeply, and i am just crazy waiting to be locked up in the loony bin.
  • Have you ever struggled to forgive someone? If so, why?

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