Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Walking with Pain

I walk with pain.
I live, sleep, work with pain.
These past three months or so, I've had more of constant physical pain than ever before in my life. Or rather, the seasons of physical pain have been much shorter. This life with pain as a constant companion is a new experience.

This post is not meant as a complaint. I just want to process my thoughts on how pain is affecting my life.

At the very least, pain teaches deliberate and selective planning. I cannot follow my whims, jump wherever fancy takes me. How much can I do in a day? What takes priority, now that the time spent on my feet must be limited? I have to pray Psalm 90: "So teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom."

Does pain make nobler?

Does pain build and refine character? Am I becoming a better person because I get to suffer?

I'm reminded of a passage in Jane Austen's Persuasion. Mrs Smith has just told Anne how much she enjoys the company and conversation of her nurse:

Anne replied, "I can easily believe it. Women of that class have great opportunities, and if they are intelligent may be well worth listening to. Such varieties of human nature as they are in the habit of witnessing! And it is not merely in its follies that they are well read; for they see it occasionally under every circumstance that can be most interesting or affecting. What instances must pass before them of ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation; of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most. A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes."
"Yes," said Mrs. Smith more doubtingly, "sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial; but, generally speaking, it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick-chamber: it is selfishness and impatience, rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of."

Anne Elliot, herself well practiced in fortitude, patience and resignation, has a rather romantic view of sick chambers - and perhaps she has had an experience like that when her mother died. After all, we can infer from all that the book says about Anne's mother that she was an admirable person. Anne could well have seen "self-denying attachment" and sacrifices in her mother's life.

But my own personal experience veers a lot towards Mrs. Smith's views. I don't feel very noble - a lot of the time, I feel crabby and impatient. All too easily snapping at my family members. Weaknesses and selfishness exposed: "I'm hurting and you should jolly well take that into consideration and do things to suit ME!"

Maybe that's the point, then. Weakness exposed. Let go of any illusions of having a noble, patient character. See plainly how much, how sorely I need Jesus.

A Megaphone?

"Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain

Pain tells me I need God. Is that the megaphone function that C. S. Lewis is referring to?

I remember this quote better from the film Shadowlands than from the book. In the film, his clever, pithy statements on pain come back to haunt Lewis as he watches how his wife suffers and dies. It's very different to talk it than to live it. Or at least that's how I recall it - it's been years since I saw the film.

Since I have just started re-reading The Problem of Pain, I'll perhaps come back to this topic. Even when my surgery wound heals, pain won't disappear from my life. Though I may hope that it will not be such a constant companion as now.

I know pain is a chronic fact of life for many people. Years instead of months. It's hard to imagine. If this is your situation, your perspective might be very different from mine. If you have any thoughts - and even if you don't suffer from chronic pain - please share in the comments!

In the meanwhile, looking forward to this:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; 
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, 
neither shall there be any more pain: 
for the former things are passed away.
Revelation 21:3-5


  1. Anonymous5/6/14 20:01

    Hi Tuija (how do you pronounce your name?), I just found your blog through your comment on Modern Mrs. Darcy!

    I have chronic pain myself. I'm a (not very good) gymnast, and I've had many injuries over the past 7 years, the worst one to my back, and I've been in pain ever since.

    For me, living with pain has brought out the full range: sometimes it makes me crabby and negative, sometimes it makes me a better person, sometimes I'm so used to it I don't even notice - it's just a way of life now, sometimes it brings out the worst in me and makes me unsympathetic to others who have no physical problems, sometimes it makes me thankful - that at least I can walk and run and still do the sport I love. I probably more often than not deal with it poorly and complain :). I also hope I can some day afford to see a back specialist and possibly be in pain no longer!

    The Problem of Pain is on my list of books I'd like to read some day! I love C.S. Lewis.

    Your work as a translator sounds fascinating. I love languages myself, but have yet to learn a second language. I've been trying to teach myself Russian for many years, but I haven't progressed very far! How many languages do you know?

    Sorry for the super long comment, but I'm enjoying reading your posts, and wanted to say hello!


    1. Thanks for your comment!
      To pronounce my name: 'to'+'yah' (stress on first syllable) is close enough. :)

      I'm sorry to hear you have chronic pain. Mine has gotten better - or at least there's a lot less pain than a few months ago. I hope you'll get better, too.

      One more though on pain: recently, I heard a radio interview with Philip Yancey (a Focus on the Family podcast, from May 19 & 20). Yancey referred to this 'megaphone' quote by C.S. Lewis and commented that he'd prefer if Lewis had said 'a hearing aid' instead of 'a megaphone', because we can either use our pain to turn up the volume and hear God better or try to tune Him out altogether. (I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist of it as I recall - I do recommend listening to the interview itself... :) ). This thought really resonated with me. In my pain, I looked for God ("Are you here with me in this?") because in a way that's what I'm used to doing. Not that it made me a better person, but it made the pain more bearable. But I can easily see how a painful situation could contribute to someone rejecting God. The interview made me want to look for Yancey's books on suffering, too, to keep reading and thinking about this subject.

      This comment is getting super-long too - I'll get back to languages in another blog post. :)

    2. Anonymous6/6/14 20:13

      I'll have to look for Yancey's book as well, what is it called? That's an interesting metaphor of the hearing aid. I mostly just ask God to take the pain away, although He doesn't, I keep asking because I'd much prefer it be gone! I'm glad you're pain has lessened! Mine isn't usually very intense, so I can function with it alright. :) Thanks for the reply and I look forward to the post on languages.