It was only ten days ago that I stayed home from work and called in sick. I’m rarely sick, but on this day, I had back pain, neck pain, hip pain and shoulder pain, and as I was getting ready for work my mind said, “Yes!” and my body screamed “No!” On that day, the body won.
I actually stayed in my pajamas most of the day and took a couple of luscious naps. Yes, I have to admit, I did think of my co-workers pouring out their energies to our patients, walking sometimes miles in a day to minister to people in need. But this day, I realized that I was in need, and I chose to listen to my body for a change.
Taking that day, however, did something else in me. I began to notice the life around me as well as the pain within me. And then I got thinking, we truly do hold the pain of the world in our bodies.
I thought of those who do back-breaking jobs, not because they find fulfillment (although this is not impossible) but probably because they have to work and pay the bills. My mind went to those who have to suffer a “pain in the neck, “ and that might be for a variety of reasons--a difficult relationship, an annoying set of circumstances, a child who tests our reserve of patience. The hip pain, I admit, might have come from walking too much, and there are those who have to walk into areas of their lives that are painful, messy, depressing and joy-robbing--not because they want to but because they see no other way to walk. And then there’s that lingering shoulder pain, the kind that demands physical therapy or (hopefully not) surgery to mend the pulls and wear and tear of heavy lifting and reaching up too high. So many people in the world carry far too much weight than they were ever meant to carry. It pulls and tears at them, and even when they try to reach up and out, the pain intensifies.
You might think that I see life this way because I am a chaplain and see the pain of the world in my little microcosm. Yet, it is a like a little genetic code that is the pattern that has passed down into lives for generations...a little code that touches every single human being.
What keeps me from despair? What keeps you from despair?
On that day that I felt so much pain, I also noticed quite a bit. I noticed that my husband had mowed, edged and blown the lawn and sidewalks to perfection. I noticed that my hanging, viney geranium had finally decided to “take off” and bloom profusely. I noticed the faithfulness of my dogs who lay beside me the entire day to keep me warm and remind me that I am loved.
And then I remembered the patient I had recently visited who smiled in spite of her pain, whose eyes literally twinkled even as she came to the realization that she was dying. She carried within her the hope of something better, something eternal. All of her years of faithfulness were soon to culminate in something she could hardly imagine. She spoke of seeing her mother in the room.
It’s not that her pain was greatly diminished. She wanted to remain alert and had declined stronger medication. Somehow she was able to see beyond her pain and notice many things in spite of it...sweet memories of her childhood and marriage, personal growth that defied her losses, a trust in God that was deep, settling and immovable. She was at peace when she passed on.
Somehow, along the way, we get to trade in our pain for something better, if we will only notice and let go of the things that have “charmed us most.” Have you noticed that when you experience pain, these things just don’t do it? They have no power over suffering.
May your day today be a day of noticing, maybe in spite of the pain you feel. If only for a few moments, experience something that you know is better, more beautiful, eternal and greatly satisfying.