There have to be thousands upon thousands of pain sufferers in the world. By “pain” I’m more thinking of physical ailments, injuries and malformations that lead to a life invaded by acute and chronic hurt. Emotional and mental pain is no less prevalent or important in my mind, but I currently find myself in the miserable club of the physically tormented – so I find authority to speak and comment freely as a card-carrying member.
It is so hard to describe a pain that nobody can see, and likely, a pain that no one you know will ever feel. You describe the pain to people because, sure, you want some sympathy. But more than that you want them to understand how this has changed you. If you gave a friend a tour of your house while you were renovating the kitchen, you would spend quite a bit of time explaining why you were doing dishes in the bathtub and why your microwave was next to your couch in the living room. It is as if you are saying, “I’m not really crazy. I just have to live in a disheveled state like this for now.” As a pain club member, you realize your life may forever be stuck in this impractical, incomplete, half-demolished state. Unlike a kitchen renovation – your physical health may not get finished and stuff might not go back to its regular, logical spot. You might forever have a tarp over the most important room in your house, blocking it from getting used like it was before the demo started.
But nobody gets it. You tell them, “It feels like a knife is stuck in the back of my head.” Suggestions of miracle doctors, mostly of the holistic and natural persuasion, are tossed around like restaurant recommendations. This is appreciated. People are trying to help.
I wonder what it would feel like if someone asked, “How has this changed how you live?” “What is the hardest part of your day?”
We suck at sympathy. I suck at sympathy. Maybe that is what I’m continuing to learn throughout this torture. I don’t often jump to the hard questions when someone tells me they are going through the trials of life.
Something that is strange that I’ve noticed lately is that pain is somewhat of a companion – like the worst invisible friend you’ll ever have. I get out of bed in the morning and I wait for him to join me. If he doesn’t show up I think, “Good, but I bet he’s just running a little late.” I’ve had a day go by where he never comes to see me much at all (doesn’t text, nothing on Snapchat). Then, like those wonderful Terry Tate commercials, I get blindsided just when I’m feeling confident in recovery.
I go back to lament, taking my cues from the Psalms. Remembering we have a loving God who wants us to bring it all to him – the questions, the pain – all of it.
1-2 God, God . . . my God!
6-8 And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
God handles this one;
God handles this one;
19-21 You, God—don’t put off my rescue!
23-24 He (God, the Father) has never let you down,
26 Down-and-outers sit at God’s table
(Excerpts from Psalm 22, The Message)