I once had a very wise doctor who taught me an important lesson about pain. At the time, he was removing an inch-long metal screw from my hip under local anesthetic. He seemed to be using an ordinary, Home Depot Phillips head screwdriver which rather amused us both. But the novelty of the situation soon gave way to the piercing pain of metal turning against bone. When I began to fidget and moan, the doctor asked me to do him a special favor. He said that he was conducting a research project into the nature of pain and wanted me to carefully describe what I was feeling. I struggled to describe the location and varying pitch of the sensations, whether it throbbed or stung, felt cold or ached or surged. Sooner than expected he tied the last stitch, and I took my shiny souvenir home in a jar.
The funny thing was, he never did compile the results of his meticulous survey. The man had used a benevolent, psychological trick to get me to stop resisting the pain of minor surgery. But in the process I discovered a truth which has been important to me. Instead of panicking and running from the pain, he got me to look at it, even to move toward it. I don’t know that I felt any less agony, but I felt it differently. The pain was less like a monster attacking from the outside than it was a peculiar part of my own being which could be touched and explored. I found the same kind of meditation very useful in other situations, including the natural delivery of two children.
Pain, like other difficult circumstances in life, can be fled or it can be explored. One can fight and flail against the inevitable, or one can accept and even find peace inside the dreaded cavern. In her beautiful book, The Scent of Water, Elizabeth Goudge describes depression as a dark cave. But she points out that many scholars believe the stable where Christ was born was a cave, and also the tomb where He was buried. If depression is a cave and pain is a cavern, they are inhabited by One who is well acquainted with the layout.
Christ dwells wherever we do, at the bottom of the ocean, the end of the world or the darkest pit. He offers us His companionship and strength. When we stop running from all our pain — emotional, spiritual and physical — and explore it to the edges, we can find many truths inside it. It is Christ in you who paints the ceiling with glowing crystals. It is Christ’s arm which keeps your foot from slipping in the dark. It is the presence of Christ which turns cold desperation into peculiar fellowship. And it is Christ’s love which places daily treasures for you to mine. God can sculpt the stalagmites of your grief into monuments of His glory. It is a trick of the mind to stop fighting the pain; it is a truth of the heart to find God inside it.
Not only the comfortable, good and happy walk with Christ. In fact, they mostly ignore Him. The next time you feel the walls of pain closing in on your soul, try taking a good look around in there. You might be surprised at what you find. Or Who you find.
This is the third in a series of blogs about chronic pain of all kinds. Go back to the first one here.