Living With the Pain: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I’ve been pretty fortunate with my health through the years. In the past I had a few flare ups of stomach ulcers and occasional migraine headaches, both being stress induced, but not much more. In the course of the past twenty years I’ve prided myself on doing tough physical work outside my job. I became a better than average framing carpenter, a reasonable finish carpenter; mixed, poured and finished cement and even became competent in laying brick (3,856 bricks in the walls of my patio… I counted them). All of that changed last summer. After a Saturday of hanging pegboard in my garage, I found that I could barely walk at the end of the day. It was my knee. After four weeks of limping around, I saw my GP. He referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. X-rays were ordered and I was assigned to several weeks of physical therapy, at the end of which nothing had changed. Then it was an MRI. They read the results and apparently everything in my knee was messed up. I was told that the only solution was a knee replacement. It was time for a second opinion. The second orthopedic surgeon said a knee replacement was not needed… yet… there was still space between the bones. A large syringe was produced (with an equally large needle) and a cortisone shot was administered. A replacement might be needed in the future, but not now. When I asked what to do between now and then, he said, “Get an occasional shot, change your work habits and learn to live with the pain.”
“Learn to live with the pain…”
Now, I tend to be a “fixer”. It seems to be a common trait among pastors and priests. When we see something that’s going wrong, something that’s broken, we want to fix it. I sometimes debate with myself as to whether this is a virtue or a vice. Under proper constraints, it may be a positive personality trait. When it morphs into a messiah complex, it is clearly a vice or, at least, a delusion. The fact of the matter is, we cannot fix everything. Sometimes we may have to change our habitual behavior and learn to live with the pain.
In changing my habits, I now find myself more dependent on others. It’s harder to carry things going up and down stairs, so my wife often assists by taking something out of my hands and carrying it as I follow her at a more “leisurely pace”. I’m more dependent on other workers doing things that I once took on myself. In dealing with my own “brokenness”, I find that I am a bit more observant in public places as I see others slowly navigating curbs and stairs. I still kneel and genuflect in church, although kneeling has become truly penitential and genuflecting has become an act of faith as to whether I can revert to a standing posture!
Eventually, the problem will be “fixed”, but for now I’m trying to learn to live with the pain and, along the way, learn some lessons.
It occurs to me that many of us who are believers a “walking with a limp” these days. In so many areas, we are having to learn “living with the pain”. Many of my Roman Catholic friends are learning to live with the pain of the abuse scandals that have rocked that church. While new measures have been put into place to safeguard children and vulnerable adults, new revelations of past abuse continue to be uncovered. Once faithful parishioners have voted with their feet and have left. Many former and current self-described evangelicals in the US are living with the pain of a politicized evangelicalism which is barely recognizable when compared to that of former days. Friendships have been lost. Once familiar churches no longer seem places of worship as political ideologies of the Right or the Left dominate conversations. As an Anglican, I have watched the church that I love shatter and diminish. To speak of an Anglican Communion in 2019 is almost a contradiction in terms. Parishes, Dioceses and even entire Provinces increasingly go their own way without reference to the wider church, while those lay people and clergy who love the church increasingly live with the pain of division and abandonment. As a friend of mine says, “I didn’t leave the church. The church left me.”
All of this is not even to mention living with the pain of what is taking place in the body politic. The increasingly divisive nature of politics in America and Europe has divided families, friends, communities and, in some cases, the countries themselves. In Church and Society alike, we are learning to live with the pain as we wait for someone or something to fix what is wrong.
Yet, as we live with the pain, perhaps as with me, we can learn some lessons. Maybe we can learn that we are not alone in our pain. There are others who can help us through the time. We may need to acknowledge the fact that we cannot carry all of our burdens on our own. That is the beginning of community. We might begin to recognize the pain of others around us, even those who do not agree with us in terms of church or politics. We might kneel before God… even when it hurts… even when we are not sure that we can get back up… and live with the pain, even as we pray for God, in time, to set things aright.
Amen. Very true… and well said….. thank you.
Pain leads to change, and when we finally become too weary of fighting it, we acquiesce to the changes, and accompanied humility.
Incidentally, I am a huge fan of The Egoscue Method of functional movement. Highly recommend finding the book Pain Free, by Pete Egoscue… and looking for Egoscue videos of PT on YouTube…and possibly looking for an Egoscue clinic. As long as you’re alive, your body is capable of healing, even restoring decrepit joints…IF you figure out the weak links in body mechanics that lead to the injury.
One of the issues for people like me with older, outdoor, cats is that the cats hide when they’re sick or hurt.
They don’t want anyone to know they’re struggling and will even die hiding the pain, when we would have done anything we could to help them.
I’m finding I’m a lot like my cats…
This thread reminds me of two things.
The first is as my friends and I have gotten older our conversations often turn to our ailments rather than what we are excited about.
The second is the old SNL skit, “I hate it when then happens..”
As I was writing this article, it struck me that we tend to believe that Christian communities are usually born out of enthusiasm – the “revival”, “renewal”, etc. Yet Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Community that lives with the pain, that bears one another’s burdens, may be closer to early Christian communities than we might imagine…
I think I’m in a similar boat tackin’ into the wind so to speak.
My left knee has started its own swan song and the doc has ordered an MRI.
You have my prayers and solidarity…
All these issues become their own journey. I’m beginning to feel that it is what we learn on the journey that’s important. You’ll be in my prayers…
“ I’m more dependent on other workers doing things that I once took on myself. In dealing with my own “brokenness”, I find that I am a bit more observant in public places as I see others slowly navigating curbs and stairs.“
As I’ve struggled with pain in the last 3 years, at times excruciating pain, I’ve observed the same thing. The increased empathy, and I was already high in empathy and observing others, has been very instructive.
Realizing Jesus was and is “a man of PAIN acquainted with PHYSICAL SICKNESS/INJURY” has brought tears to my eyes, from Isaiah 53 (an alternate possible translation from the Hebrew).
“He knows our need,
He guardeth us from danger..”
Before this I noticed, but I really didn’t “take it in”…
I think that in many cases, churches do not respond well to pain and suffering. Church members don’t respond to each other and certainly to their pastors who may be in pain.
The prosperity gospel has crept into many churches. We should always be healthy and wealthy with never a dark cloud in our lives. The opposite of the prosperity gospel is pain, loss, suffering, and old age. Not only do we have to embrace our suffering, we need to embrace the suffering of others.
I think you’re right…
Chronic pain has been my companion since 1986. My condition is degenerative, so getting old doesn’t help. I used to ask God why, then I put it on one of my many mystery shelves, but three things I know.
1) God never promised me a pain-free life.
2) I’m arrogant, and watching others work while being unable to help is humbling, and very good for me.
3) My life is incredibly wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.
That’s a testimony of faith…