The Refinement Of Pain

I was recently invited to join a bunch of guys—mostly staff in the Cedar Springs schools—for some early morning basketball. I love playing basketball, I’m a morning guy, and getting to know new people in Cedar Springs made this an invitation I couldn’t refuse. So I started hoopin’ this week. It was nice to get back on the hardwood floor!

Yesterday morning, I jumped in my car to come home to shower. It’s a mile from the school to my house, but by the time I got home, my back muscles had seized up and I was barely able to stand up to get out of the car. I’ve had this happen to me once before, and it’s a whole lot of no fun!

So all day yesterday my schedule had to be modified, as it hurt to move, it hurt to stand for too long, and it hurt to sit for too long. I couldn’t get in the car. In fact, I couldn’t even bend over far enough to put my own socks on! All my plans for the day were shot.

But here’s what I learned: my day wasn’t shot. My plans may not have worked out, but it was still a good day. Pain has a tendency to refine what’s really important out of all the trivial stuff.

  • A day in pain and immobility reminded me of just how blessed I am to normally have good health.
  • It prompted me to pray for others who are confined to a wheelchair or their beds.
  • It gave me greater empathy for those who live in chronic pain.
  • It made me more thankful that I have access to medicines and caregivers, things that some people have access to only rarely.
  • It let me see more clearly the love my family and friends have for me.
  • It gave me more time to pray.

Now here’s the tricky part: to live with these things on my mind even when I’m not in pain.

Here’s what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem Of Pain:

I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal [or back] pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, send this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my own real treasure is in Christ. And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over—I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

With God’s help, I’m going to avoid running back to my “toys” today. I’m trying to keep the most important thing in the forefront of my thoughts today.

What lessons have you learned from pain?

One Response to “The Refinement Of Pain”

  1. Frank Pray Says:

    I just attended a men’s meeting this morning on the subject of suffering. I arrived at work to find your post on the subject of pain. I suffer from time to time from anxiety that produces a feeling of imminent death. My mind immediately goes to the next immediate negative conclusion, always ending in catastrophe. I am able to detach and observe the process sufficiently to challenge it, but it brings acute suffering. I am aware it is a form of spiritual attack. Your question is: what have I learned from this psychological and sometimes physical pain?

    I have learned that we live in a spiritual world that only appears primarily physical. I also have learned that spiritual attack has physical manifestations, and that while not always true, sometimes illness is spiritually and emotionally based. I have learned that God intends suffering to accomplish two purposes: 1) it gets our attention and 2) it brings us to our knees before a Holy God that we may have been taking for granted or ignoring. Finally, I have learned, only recently, that we are to glorify God in our suffering. We are to see suffering as an opportunity to reveal our trust and faith in a sovereign and holy God who loves us. We are to draw people to God through our suffering.


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