Sitting up in the wee hours of the morning wrestling with pain at the back of the throat is not one of life’s most pleasant experiences. It is – on the pain scale – fairly minor, despite the level of discomfort it provides. Minutes seem to feel more like hours as each swallow represents a challenge which belies the ordinary nature of the act. Each swallow is approached with a degree of apprehension directly related to the level of pain experienced.
Pain. One of life’s great enemies. We have developed myriad medicines to reduce its impact, to lessen its intensity. The analgaesics available increase in strength according to the level of trauma. “There is no need to be in pain,” seems to be the catchcry of the modern era. Pain remains – in the mindset of many – one of life’s least welcome intruders. Or is it?
The discomfort generated by pain masks the very important role it has to play. Without pain, we would be much more vulnerable to life and its hazards. It is the inability to feel pain which is the greatest problem faced by sufferers of leprosy – the loss limbs and parts of limbs arises simply because they aren’t equipped with the warning signs offered by pain. Pain is the body’s early-warning system, indicating that there is a problem arising, or a reminder of caution. Pain is one of life’s greatest assets.
We are reminded to be aware of pain levels in our own body – they can be early warning signs to any number of health challenges which would be better met early. But it is not only physical pain that we must learn to read: we are called to be aware of our own emotional and spiritual pain, for in them are keys to health and wholeness. Sadly, the prevailing philosophy seems to dictate that we deaden the pain, rather than be made alive by it. It is spiritual pain that makes us afraid to talk about doubts, about death, about ambiguities in our relationship with God. It is emotional pain that deters us from talking about disappointments, heartbreaks, and betrayals. We similarly treat these types of pain as one of life’s greatest enemies, rather than as an asset.
In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are invited to see pain in a much more positive way. Through his crucifixion, Jesus opens up the way to resurrection and hope. Through betrayal and abandonment, Jesus become a source of new life. The central theme of the christian gospel is that God brings life and hope through the pain, not in spite of it.
Meanwhile, I sit quietly, in dread of any approaching sneeze or cough…
November 25, 2001