A headache built slowly as I continued to chat with friends and play with the kids. When it reached the stage where I could no longer laugh at old jokes or clear plates from the table, I retired to the coolness of the basement guestroom where I was staying. As more hours passed, the dull throbbing in my temples turned into exquisite agony, not just behind my eyes but over the entire surface of my head. The medication which usually helped my migraines couldn’t touch it. To lay on a pillow or lean against the wall was impossible because the pressure was too excruciating. Around midnight I began to vomit, so sleep was out of the question anyway.
Perhaps you think that’s a strange opening for a blog about the gifts of pain. However, that long, sleepless night, spent alone and in anguish, is one of the sweetest experiences I’ve ever had of the Presence of God. He gave me many assurances of His love and care for me as I sang hymns (maybe I only sang inside my head, I’m not sure) and rocked myself through the small hours. Telling the story reminds me that God is at work in all my experiences of pain, even when He is not comforting me supernaturally as on that night.
Here are a few of the gifts pain has left for me in its wake, like beautiful, costly presents found under a black and twisted tree.
- Pain strips us of our superficial concerns. It is hard to worry about having a bad hair day when you have to focus on walking from the car to the office without falling or crying out. It’s hard to care about the latest celebrity scandal when you are preparing for the next operation.
- Pain reminds us of our frailty. We all have the tendency to believe we are “fine,” that we can do this thing called life on our own, that we don’t need help from anyone, not even from God. Pain reminds us: this is always a lie. As Tim Keller wrote, “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”
- Pain causes us to pray. I pray more times a day related to my physical struggles than I do for any other reason. I wish it were not so, but in the end, I spend much more time with my Lord than I would otherwise, and I cannot wish that away.
- Pain has the power to give us empathy. If we allow it, our own tenderness can give us a tender heart for others. The key is to remember the subjectivity of pain and to assume that others suffer in significant ways, even as we do.
- Pain gives us a truer picture of the cross. No one can suffer as Jesus did (physically, psychologically or spiritually) when He bore the sins of the world in His final agony or compare their pain to His. But our temporal suffering gives us a small window into the sacrifice He made for our sakes. Pain can be a place of worship.
The psalmists felt their pain was an appropriate sacrifice to bring before the Lord, and ours is, too. We can only give God what He has given us. If we believe He gives us good health and earthly blessings, then we must also believe that He withholds them, leaving us the pain which colors each of our stories in a different way. It can be a curse suffered wretchedly and in anger. Or pain can be an opportunity for grace, a means of knowing Christ better and a place of worship.
The box quotes throughout this post have been contributed by real sufferers. Please contribute your own thoughts and ideas, especially if you live with chronic pain, by clicking the “Reply” link at the top of the page or the “Comment” box at the bottom.
- A Story about God and Pain – Gospel Coalition
- Drowning in Pain – Joni Tada
- Your Pain Has a Greater Purpose – Crosswalk