A couple months ago I had surgery. I was healing well but had pain where I didn’t think I should be having pain. I did not understand this and it disturbed me mightily
Because I have a freakish love of anatomy and physiology, I still have my college anatomy textbook. So when it was time for my follow-up appointment I carefully made a copy of “MUSCLES OF THE CHEST.”
As soon as my surgeon walked in I pulled out my diagram. “My incision is here,” I said pointing to the diagram. “So why am I feeling pain here?”
She whipped out her pen and started drawing. “I went through that incision, reached up and pulled down your pectoral muscles. Then I reattached them to your rib. Twice.”
My rib? That was exactly where I was having the pain. Hallelujah! I wasn’t a crazy hypochondriac. Now that I understood it somehow made the pain easier to bear. It definitely didn’t relieve the pain, but I felt relieved to know.
Later that day I thought about how it is exactly the same way when we have emotional pain and don’t understand why we feel the way we do. I’m not talking about clinical depression. I’m talking about when we’re bugged or sad or mad or weirdly depressed and can’t put our finger on why. The emotion itself is disturbing enough without knowing exactly why we feel that way. So we go around bothered and worried perhaps even grousing to others that we’re “just feeling down,” or “cranky.”
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is, “You’re never upset for the reason you think.” But what if we don’t know the real reason—or don’t want to know? We’d rather just cover over the pain in our favorite way: over eating, drinking, exercising, Instagramming, Facebooking—whatever.
We don’t want to take the time to find out, to ask and listen. But we are promised an answer!
Jeremiah 33:3 (NRSV)
Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.
Psalm 34:18 (The Message)
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, God will help you catch your breath.
So what if we do understand the real reason for our disquiet? What happens then? Just as with physical pain, knowing the real reason behind our emotional pain doesn’t immediately take it away. But it does make it easier to bear. Often it is simply an ego issue in which case we can pat our slobbering ego on the head and gently tell it to go lie down. In some cases we discover we can take action: offer or ask for an apology, forgiveness or explanation.
Oh, but this seems like so much work. Is it really worth the bother? And what if we stir up even more pain? Well, here is the promise:
Isaiah 66:9 New Century Version (NCV)
9 In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,” says the Lord.
I like the sound of that. No pain without some gain. But sometimes we don’t understand right away—it can take years. And why is it that often we come upon the same issue over and over? I believe that is because there is still something for us to discover—some gain left to be had. To be sure: birthing something new takes effort. Transformation isn’t magic. It’s work and it’s faith and it’s grace—and it’s real.
May the New Year bring us all great gain from our pain.