One of the next books I plan to feed into my reading cycle is The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis; not only because it had a significant impact on my husband's re-entry into the Church, but because quite honestly, I have a problem with pain. No one enjoys pain (except your average masochist), but I've always veered towards extreme maneuvers to avoid pain since I have the lowest tolerance known to mankind. Example: I once ignored the dentist's chair too many years resulting in seven deep cavities. I then had the obvious epiphany that the dreaded average teeth cleaning is invaluable compared to the horrific drill. In years following, I came to the conclusion that we cannot avoid pain. It is inevitable for every person, even Christians.

Several years ago my family and I were en route to my uncle's house and stopped along the way in the tiny town of Van Alstyne, TX to visit my Nina's grave. My Mom spied a sidewalk strip of cozy antique stores and sweet-talked us into shopping a bit. We stepped out of the car, and in closing my door I managed to shut it completely on my right-hand middle finger. It was just one finger, but the pain was intense and shocking, so much so that instead of opening the door I stood there hypnotized. My Dad looked at my face, then did a double-take as he deciphered my stunned expression. He rushed around the car and opened the door. I seem to recall from biology classes that we have a lush bouquet of nerve endings in our fingers; we must, because after Dad came to my rescue I felt nauseous and sensed a pending black-out. As destiny would have it, we were parked in front of a quaint soda fountain shoppe. We walked inside and purchased a vanilla Coke to spike my blood sugar. My finger was bloody and purplish blue like a mood ring. I was embarrassed that such a small appendage was causing a ruckus. But I did enjoy the soda fountain, and the lyrics of Nanci Griffith's "Love at the Five and Dime" swirled 'round my head in between throbs of pain. The vanilla Coke helped, we visited my Nina's grave, and drove to my uncle's home. Of course, while attending his Church's beautiful Advent service, I had to keep my bandaged finger elevated. There I was, worshipping God, flipping the finger.

Presently, my afternoon snack occurs around 4:30 pm, and I flip on the TV to catch the latest news or hopefully something God-awful like MTV's 8th and Ocean, but eventually I gravitate to Oprah. You know, I am not her biggest fan, but I admit her show is well done and she is good for my internal debating skills. One afternoon I was destined to watch Queen Oprah who was interviewing a unique little girl and her parents. Five year old Gabby has a congenital insensitivity to pain; she can feel no pain, not one bit. Wimp that I am, I may have thought her lucky for one second until I listened to her parents describe day-to-day life with their daughter. She is always injuring herself tragically. She had a broken jaw for a month before her parents knew, and they still don't know how the injury occurred. She burned her hand by grabbing a light bulb because the luminescence was pretty, and grasped too long. She poked out her eye by scratching too hard, and now her parents must insert a glass eyeball into her empty socket every day. She cannot tell when she needs to go to the bathroom. She always wears swimming goggles and is accompanied by one of her parents 24-7. And so on. Turning off the TV, I had a more profound epiphany: pain is a blessing.

All these years I've been giving the finger to God when pain bashed my teeth or my heart. Pain seemed cruel, and due cause for depression and polar-opposite moods. The little painless girl taught me a lesson. I was wrong, primarily because God is God, the Lord Jesus Christ, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, by whom all things were made. Even pain. Not to mention Jesus suffered far worse than I could ever dream in my worst nightmares. And, we are told by St. Peter to "rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy."* I have not mastered the rejoicing, but now in my 30's maybe a seed of maturity is nestled in my soul. Back pain and a stomach ulcer are uncomfortable, and I'm not always pleasant, but when reclining in agony my thoughts flee upward. I pray without ceasing.

This lesson was learned in a most dramatic fashion last year when I acquired a severe case of the 48-hour stomach flu. Johnny was on the road so it was literally me and God. I woke up at 2:00 am doing the most involuntary, unpleasant things; not a remedy was found in the medicine cabinet. I could not reach my brother or any close friends on the phone. Since I was unable to keep anything down, and I mean not one drop or crumb, I had to drive, dangerously dehydrated, down the long stretch of Westheimer to my doctor. But I made it there, to the grocery store for a prescription, and back home. Perhaps due to delirium I sensed a pillar of cloud guiding my car. And when back in bed waiting for the meds to work magic, I felt like I could die. I was not afraid; I felt an odd blanket of peace cover me with every prayer muttered. I fell asleep, and woke to more life in my bones. I'm sure I will have a journal full of similar stories when I'm sporting dignified gray hair. Why God allows pain, I'll never know. Maybe to merely draw us to Him, but I'm promised exceeding joy. Bring it on; I'm coach's daughter familiar with the mantra, No pain, no gain.

*1 Peter 4:13


Jenni said...

Upon further reading this morning, 1 Peter 5:10 is a lovely follow-up. Thank God He also created relief from pain.

gregg said...

Jenni, thanks for this post on Pain. I need to read the book you are reading by Lewis. I have read Philip Yancey's book about pain nad he said some similar things to what you are, about what happens when you cannot experience pain. I forget what it is called at the moment. Praise God who works through many mysteries, including the mystery of suffering and pain.

BTW, Thanks for suggesting to my wife, Kimberly, that we try Xplorador Merlot. Cheap, yet wonderful stuff.