We may not like to think of it this way, but pain is a gift.
Most of us would rather not experience pain, and many people go to great lengths to avoid pain, and even to avoid feeling pain. Yet without pain, we cannot know that something is wrong; even if we don’t know what is wrong, pain tells us something isn’t right.
The much-publicized hospitalization of the mayor of Toronto this week serves as a reminder that pain is a gift. The diagnosis received by Mr. Ford is serious, but now that he has done something to address the pain, treatment can begin.
Yet many people – not just men, women too – will put off dealing with pain. And sometimes, they wait until it’s too late. The beauty of Canadian health care is that our taxes pay for a system that enables us to consult experts on pain without fear of the cost involved. Of course, that system can be abused, but its existence means that if I feel some pain inside that isn’t going away, I can get it attended to right away.
Spiritual pain is no different; we often think that spirituality is personal, and that we can’t consult a professional when we are feeling pain in our souls. But the truth is that we can talk to others about our spiritual pain. It doesn’t always have to be a ‘professional’, either! While pastors and spiritual directors and counsellors can be of immense help, we can share how we feel with trusted sisters and brothers in Christ, too. They may or may not be able to help us deal with the pain, but they can at least share the burden we feel, praying for us and helping us find someone who can help us.
If we feel physical pain, the problem of which the pain is a symptom can be treated. If we feel spiritual pain, the problem of which that pain is a symptom can be treated as well. Sometimes, medical professionals give us prescriptions to mask the pain, but that doesn’t do us any favours. The problem itself must be unearthed and treated. Spiritual professionals, and trusted Christian friends, can’t write us prescriptions, and that’s probably a good thing. Instead, they help us to dig beneath the surface and discern how this gift of pain can help us grow in faith, and what wound may need to be brought to light so that Jesus can bring healing.
Dr. Paul Brand, who worked tirelessly to bring relief to leprosy patients, remarked that one of the greatest difficulties they face is that they lack the gift of pain. As their disease takes away nerves, they no longer feel anything – including pain. Imagine touching a hot stove and not feeling it!
If we are not careful, we can end up being spiritually leprous, where we are so callused toward the pain we feel, covering it up in whatever ways we can find, that we no longer note it, and the real problem that the spiritual pain has brought us is left unattended.
Do you have spiritual pain? Is there something going on in your life that has left you wounded? Can you invite Jesus to heal that wound for you, and relieve you of that pain? Doing so will help you live your life in Christ to the fullest.
“Share each others burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).