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March 19, 2019
Don’t Run from Pain
The doctor found some pre-cancerous cells on my back and last Wednesday she cut out a chunk of my skin. (She assures me that she got it all and I will be fine.) She had to use five large stitches to pull my dermas together, and six stitches to connect the epidermis. My new best friend is Lidocaine; what an amazing drug to numb the skin so I don’t feel the cutting and stitching.
The problem, of course, is that the Lidocaine wears off and the itchiness and irritation begins. But that is a good thing. The one thing I can’t do is stretch or twist my back. If you are familiar with this procedure, you know that the dermas has to be pulled and stretched to cover the entire area that was cut out, about a square inch and a half. If I stretch or twist, it will rip the sutures and open the wound. So how do I remember not to stretch?
At this point, pain is my friend. Every time I lean over to type or pick up something or get into the car, the pain tells me to be careful, to move slowly, and don’t try to tie my own shoelaces. As long as I couldn’t feel the pain, I was in greater danger, but now the pain keeps me safe and I am in fact learning what proper posture feels like as I sit up straight and don’t slump over the keyboard.
Compare this to the person suffering from CIP (congenital insensitivity to pain, or congenital analgesia). They feel no pain and are therefore in constant danger of physical harm. Because they cannot feel pain, they have no warning system of impending danger.
The analogy to our spiritual life is obvious. Pain tells me when I am headed down the wrong path, or that the Lord wants my attention. Pain is the main tool he uses to teach me spiritual truths because the pain gets my attention.
I don’t know of anyone who enjoys pain (I have no friends who are truly masochistic), but what do you do when it comes? The fact of the matter is that pain -- physical, emotional, spiritual -- is one of the greatest tools the Lord has to conform us to the image of his Son, to grow us up spiritually. The absence of pain is not God’s greatest good; I don’t see it listed anywhere in the Bible as a good thing. The goal of life is to grow in the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) and so grow into the likeness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). Pain helps us do this.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from spiritual CIP. For whatever reason, they are somewhat insulated from pain or are able to medicate much of it or have deluded themselves into thinking it is always a bad thing. Of course, eventually, pain catches up with all people, even the rich, if not in life then in death.
Everyone experiences pain. For Robin and me, the greatest pain was the death of two infant daughters and a horrific church experience. And just because God can work his good in the midst of pain (Romans 8:28–29), it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt or the offending parties are not guilty. It hurts, but what should last is not the pain itself but what the Lord is teaching us in the midst of the pain.
My mom used to tell the story of the man who couldn’t get his donkey to drink from the stream. Another man came up, hit the donkey with a big stick, whispered something to the donkey, and the donkey drank. The first man asked the second what he had said. He replied, “The stick was to get the donkey’s attention, then I could tell him he needs to drink.” Mom often had to get my attention so I would listen.
The same is true of the Lord’s discipline. He wants to get our attention. If we aren’t listening, he will use other circumstances such as pain to get our attention, and then he whispers in our ears that he loves us, that he never promised to keep us from pain but that he promised to always walk with us through pain, and we come out the other side looking more like Jesus.
Psalm 62:11b–12 says,
“One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
‘Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’;
and, ‘You reward everyone
according to what they have done.’”
I love the collocation of ideas.
- God has the power, which means he can do whatever he wishes.
- He loves, so he is motivated to care for his children. (“Love” translates ḥeseḏ, which refers to God’s special love for his covenantal people, not people in general.)
- His desire is to reward his children.
So God has the power and is enabled by his love to reward his obedient children. How does this happen? My experience is that as God and I walk through pain, I am being “disciplined” (Heb 12:6–8) whether I have done some wrong or not, and my reward is the resulting spiritual growth.
I would much rather work through pain and come out looking like Jesus than not experiencing pain, not hearing my Savior’s voice, and remaining a spiritual infant. I would much rather experience God’s power, motivated by love, to bless me as I walk through pain.