My life has been focused on pain recently. Pain pills. Pain management. Pain reporting. I had surgery a week ago that left me with a healthy amount of pain. A significant portion of my waking hours is dedicated to preventing, avoiding, chronicling and treating that pain. And although the pain medication keeps my thoughts in a bit of a knot, here are some things I've been able to tease out of the experience.

Pain Consumes. It eats up everything around it. When you're in pain, the pain becomes the most important thing in your world. Pain is always urgent. It demands your attention. And in doing so, it consumes hopes, comforting thoughts, relational connections, and faith. I know many great heroes of our faith have encountered God most intimately in their suffering, but I seem to find only one thing in pain — a desire to escape pain. Pain makes it hard to plan ahead, to enjoy beauty, or to listen or empathize with others. Pain is the ultimate trigger for selfishness.

Pain Gets Lonely. It wants to spread. It longs to be shared with others. When we hurt, something in us longs for someone else to recognize our hurting. I don't know if this is primarily about our selfishness or about our deep need for connection, but I think we all instinctively understand that enduring pain alone is pitiful. That's why pastors make hospital visits. It's an act of compassion and sacrifice to expose yourself to someone else's pain.

If Treated, Pain Is Temporary. My pain is an effect of my treatment. Actually, my ailment (papillary thyroid carcinoma) didn't cause any pain at all; it's the treatment that brought me pain. But my pain is temporary. Eventually, the wound will heal and I'll be better off for having endured the pain. In other cases, the ailment causes pain and the treatment relieves it. It occurs to me that the only pain that endures is pain that is ignored. Pain that's being treated (assuming a treatment exists) or pain caused by treatment are temporary. They are hopeful. Pain that is ignored continues to hurt precisely because of its hopelessness.

You may not know anyone recovering from surgery, but these pain points are worth noting anyway. The pain I'm dealing with is physical, but these axioms apply to all pain — emotional, relational, psychological, physical. If there are people in your life, your family, or your workplace who seem to always be focused on themselves, who complain a lot, or who have a nagging negativity that won't go away, it's likely because of pain in their lives. People in pain are hard to deal with (just ask my wife!) The question is: how can we help relieve, share and treat their pain? How can you, as an ambassador of Jesus, help people experience pain in heathy, hopeful ways?

Ryan SandersComment