December 13, 2017
The Gifts of Pain
There are many things in our life that cause us to feel pain. Physical pain and discomfort may result from a broken bone, a muscle strain, a cut, bruise, heart attack, and all kinds of disorders and diseases. There is also emotional pain felt in broken relationship, personal failure, fear, and the like. In addition, pain can be preventable, short-lived, chronic, or permanent. We prefer to avoid pain, but we would do well also to consider the gifts of pain as it reminds us of the need for care, prayer, and despair.
Care: Pain is a wonderful wake-up call that we need to take care of something in our life, our relationships, habits, or physical condition. This is the kind of pain that is often preventable and temporary, or at least can be lessened with certain changes. Proverbs 4:21-22 tells the reader to “keep (God’s Words) within your heart, for they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh.” Much pain is preventable is we take care to mind what brings health. Whatever causes us to make better choices and habits is a gift.
Prayer: Some pain is neither preventable nor curable. No medicine will make it go away. Those who suffer pain because of their faith are said to be “carrying their cross”. Jesus promised persecution, suffering, and tribulation in this life. For some, he prescribed it, as with St. Paul, who suffered a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming proud. To his request for relief from the pain God said, “No, you have may grace. That is enough.” Jesus and others tell us to count it all joy when life is painful, for that works Godly qualities in us. It also demands a life of prayer to be able to live with the pain. Whatever leads us to more faithful prayer is a gift.
Despair: That sounds like nothing positive, but chronic pain, whether of the emotions, mind, or body can remind us that this life is not our final home. We can and should despair of ever finding complete joy in this life, but rather long even more for the life to come. Thus we will not cling to the things of this world, but realize the things of this world are fading and we ought not to make gods of them or pin our security on them. The ultimate spiritual pain was the cry of Paul who despaired that he could not do the good he wanted to do, but rather did the evil he did not want. He called himself “wretched” beyond all hope of getting it right. But that led him to celebrate Jesus Christ, who rescues sinners from the despair of their helplessness with the all sufficiency of his sacrifice for sin. Anything that causes us to despair of our own righteousness and by faith cling to the righteousness God gives in Christ is a gift.
May your pains lead you to take better care, to enter deeper prayer, and to despair of all but the righteousness of Christ that will open to you the gates of God’s pain-free paradise.