I’m on vacation!
But the blog is not! My sweet friend, Abby, is filling in for me this week. She shares her experience with pain as a healthcare provider and how it relates to Jesus, how it relates to us, and how we can interact with pain in others.
Praise God that though we may have pain on this earth, we are promised an eternity free from it. I’m looking forward to that day.
Pain’s Open Space
Everyone encounters pain daily, no one is immune. In medicine, we commonly grade pain on a scale from zero to ten. Everyone’s scale is different, but we ask the question so we can track that person’s pain as they heal. Being in pain is challenging. How each person grades their pain at any one moment is different person to person. This is the thing about pain: it is all a matter of perception.
There is a huge component to the mentality of pain that is under discussed and under valued. Pain exists in the world each and everyday. Nine times out of ten, it is completely out of our control. But the ability to persist in spite of pain is what defines the line between simply surviving and intentionally living.
This process is vulnerable and requires purpose. Awareness of the pain is the first step in being able to do something with it. Naming the things that ache our hearts and bodies has both power and value. Without the ability to name the thing that hurts us, we are not able to find a way to heal it.
I had a new patient come into clinic recently. He registered and I asked him, “What are you being seen for today?”. His response was perhaps the most interesting yet profound I have heard to date. He simply said, “I don’t know”.
Experiencing pain without the ability to name the point of pain contributes to pain fatigue. You hurt but you don’t know where, why, or how it happened. Naming the pain as specifically as possible prevents aimlessly floating in the middle of the ocean. It, instead, gives us permission to start swimming, even if we aren’t sure which direction to go.
When completing a physical orthopedic injury evaluation, we are taught to palpate for pain, not structure. This means that we first palpate the area to pin point the place of greatest pain. From there, we use the landmarks and other prominent features to help name the exact location of pain. The reason we don’t do this process in reverse is simple. If the pain does not fall on a notable anatomical landmark, it can be missed when palpating. Pain that is missed on exam cannot be specifically dealt with or managed in the best way possible.
This is also the part of the exam that is often the most challenging for patients. Our entire goal is to find the place that hurts them most. Recreating pain is vulnerable. No one enjoys going to someone knowing that they will lean into the place that hurts them. Simply surviving surfaces that pain, making it more exposed for people to hit. This happens in moments when it hurts the most. Our pain that we refuse to deal with directly conflicts with our ability to grow in deeper relationship with the people around us. Surviving gives power to our pain and silences the story that lies just an inch deeper.
Simply surviving is allowing pain to manifest in a way that it has a hold on your life. It means that 51% of the time, you come out the victor. The rest of the time, pain claims the victory. Those who live intentionally have moments of 51 to 49 ratios. But they consider that a piece of the purpose. Those who live with great intention, who live for a greater cause, know that some moments of life cannot be won. They recognize that pain will be present, it is inevitable. But they are able to see the good that still exists and are grateful for those moments even still.
You learn early in this field that pain recognizes pain. I believe that we have all been in survival mode at some point in life. Sometimes it feels as though we find ourselves there by default and other times by willful placement. Yet it seems to me that each time, the only way out is by finding someone living a life of intention who still has pain adjacent. Those are the people who have the ability to pull you out of you living breath to breath and show you how to live with eternity in mind. These people live a life recognizing their pain while living His goodness.
Matthew 5 holds space for those who face numerous types of pain – both physical and mental. The beatitudes are some of the most healing verses of scripture. Those nine verses are a demonstration of goodness that exists even when pain is most tender. The word “blessed” here is seen many other times throughout scripture. The difference in this case is that the Matthew 5 “blessed” was a different word in the original scripture all together. This kind of blessed is “makarios” (Greek). Makarios means to be well and to be doing well but it is compatible with trials, suffering, obstacles, and hardship. Blessed and being set apart as holy goes in parallel with struggle. They were never meant to exist apart from each other.
As a highly empathetic individual, I feel other people’s pain deeply. While I may not relate to it in the same ways that they do, there is a piece of their breaking heart that burdens my own. With things like cancer, shootings, violence, accidents, and illness in the world, I find my heart in pain a whole lot more than I would care to admit. Living an imperfect life in a fallen world, I often feel like I am not deserving of a life with a lessened heartache. Who am I to live joyfully knowing that pain is a certainty in life on Earth?
A well regarded professional in my field recently died after a two year battle with varsity level cancer. I tracked along the site for updates as my heart ached for the faithful man who was being taken far too soon. He wasn’t even 50 and had young children. It simply didn’t seem fair. In the last post before his death, his wife shared that he continually repeated a well known verse from Isaiah 53. Verse 5 concludes in saying, “…by His stripes, I am healed”. Pain recognizes pain.
I believe that Jesus knows these three simple words all too well. I can only imagine how much His heart aches when we hurt or hurt Him. Even before Jesus walked the earth, we learn about the pain He would endure for our freedom. There is no one more well acquainted with pain than Jesus. He was a man born like no other yet destined to die.
I cannot fathom the pain of hanging on a cross. This death was one of asphyxiation, not blood loss. The Roman soldiers would have to stand at the cross of each person until they died. This could take hours or even a couple of days to happen. To speed up the process, it was not uncommon for the Roman soldiers to break the legs of those hanging on the cross. This inhibited the individuals from pressing up through the bottom nail to take just one more breath. When it came to Jesus, the Roman soldiers did not choose to use this tactic. His suffering existed in the fullest.
He endured the physical pain, the challenge of breathing, and the aching of His heart on that day. He suffered for our saving. This does not mean that living a freed life means one without pain. Instead, it means living one where we are able to see pain, name pain, and overcome pain because of the cross.
While Jesus knows the heaviness of pain recognizing pain, I believe the scripture found in Isaiah 53 is His answer. “I am healed”. Jesus recognized what hurts Him most. Us. Our running, our fighting, our lying, our unfaithfulness. He saw this and offered Himself as a remedy to His pain so He can heal ours. That is the beauty of the Gospel. That is the picture of beauty in the broken. That is the glory that will reign forever and ever.
Here is the opportunity: be that person. Be the person who hungers to be in pain but live makarios-blessed. Be the person who recognizes pain in the person beside you and chooses to sit in it with them. Be the person who sees the cross and acts in faithfulness as a response to the pain laced around every nail. Be that person.
Let this encourage you as you venture towards deeply feeling such an intangible component of life.