Friday, August 6, 2010

The Clarity Gain of Pain

Several weeks ago, from about mid-June through parts of July, I experienced some of the worst physical pain I have ever felt.  During those days, I began a post to remind myself and share with you some things I was learning through that difficult time.  However, the pain was so intense that I began this post in late June and did not return to it.  Until now.

Here is a portion of what I wrote.  I say a portion because the other parts are unintelligible (just kidding):

Although the last three days have shown slight improvement, today marks two weeks of pain in my left upper back due to a pinched nerve.  As I write, I am in pain.  It has been near constant, gnawing, sometimes piercing, and at intervals excruciating, pain.  I can certainly imagine worse pain, but don’t desire to experience it.

In order to relieve some of the pain, I have tried every way I can imagine to reposition my body.  I have laid down.  I have sat as tall and straight as I can.  I have slumped.  I have paced the halls at the office and at home.  I have stretched and stretched.  Almost no relief.  I have tried acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and then tried alternating the two.  Nothing.

With this type of discomfort, it is phenomenal how much of one’s life it takes over.  My wife can tell you that there have been long stretches of these days when I have been basically helpless—and useless!  It has even placed a strain on our interaction.  For most of the day, I have not been able to mentally concentrate, and very little physical activity has taken place as well.  Several nights I have paced the floor at 1 or 2am trying to reposition my neck and back to ease the pinched nerve, before falling over into our guest bed and crying in pain.  I mean tears.  I had prayed about it, but not “cried out” to God.  In these instances, I quite literally cried out to Him....

Where was I going with the above post?  I wanted to remind myself, during the few daily moments when I could focus my attention, that God was teaching me about my dependence on Him.  Continually on my mind were all the folks around us who have chronic pain.  God was giving me a reminder, once I (hopefully) exited on the other side of those tough days, that I could do nothing unless God granted it.

It was during those few moments when I wasn’t focused on the pain that I was able to regain an acute clarity of all the things I needed and wanted to accomplish just as soon as the pain was over.

And so I developed plans, in my head, of goals and tasks that I needed to complete if and when I regained the ability to do them.  The pain was acute and necessary to remind me just how miserable it felt to be personally incapable—apart from ability that God graciously provides.  Eventually a team of chiropractors was able to help fix me.  But the whole episode gave me perhaps the best clarity I have discerned in several years regarding what matters most, and that I cannot squander any of the days of my life and the opportunities they offer—all of which are precious gifts from our Creator.

So teach us to number our days
That we may gain a heart of wisdom
(Psalm 90.12, NKJV).

There is of course an old, frustrating clich√© that says, “No pain, no gain.”  It’s annoying primarily because it’s true.  And I pray I don’t forget it.