Last week I threw out my back while making the bed. I fell on the floor in pain. This had never happened to me before. I have seen Mike deal with back problems on a regular basis. Did I realize it was this bad? As the week went on I felt better but then sat for a couple of hours on a low couch at book club. When it was over my back was cramped and by the time I got home I was having back spasms and barely made it to bed, downing pain pills and sleeping pills on my way. I can understand how people get addicted to these things. I had a desperate night. There was no place I could find relief. Pain is not new to me. I have spent many nights walking the floor with a Rheumatoid Arthritis flare up. Is it the dark aloneness that makes pain worse at night? My RA is migrating and usually eases in a day or two. I feel blessed because so many with my disease are so much worse. Thinking about my plight this week I came to realize that pain affords the opportunity to learn several things even mental pain:
1. Patience - Pain has its own agenda and course of action. You can do what you can to head it off with pills and such but in the end it will have its way in its own sweet time. You have choices: complain a lot or suffer in silence. Or maybe complain a little and suffer in silence a little. We like to muster up a little empathy by groaning here and there. But, mostly we are on our own. No one can really understand unless they have been there.
2. Empathy – I now understand Mike’s back pain more than I did before. I hope I can be better to support and console him in his afflictions. Isn’t that what the atonement is all about? Can we have our own atoning experience by showing empathy and doing what we can when others suffer.
3. Humility - Oh we humans think we are so powerful, smart and independent.
We think we can do it all on our own until pain and suffering hits us and our pride crumbles. We then understand our vulnerability and weakness. Why is this good? We become more open to God. We are more submissive. Hebrews 5:8 says: Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; Hopefully it can work for us too. Otherwise we are subject to the alternative:
"...when I...saw their lamentation and their mourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them that they would again become a righteous people. But behold this my joy was vain, for their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin. And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God and wish to die. Mormon 2:12
4. Our Mortality – Our mortal existence is tentative. Our body is part of a fallen world; subject to all sorts of buffetings. We learn through pain that our body needs special care and wisdom in its treatment. We are less prone to risky behaviors after suffering pain due to our carelessness.
5. Spiritual Growth - Our spirit is honed as we plead for comfort and relief. We become reflective. Life has new meaning. The following is a quote from the writings of William R. Palmer on the Martin Handcart Company:
"It was in an adult Sunday School class of over fifty men and women. Nathan T. Porter was the teacher and the subject under discussion was the ill fated [Martin] handcart company that suffered so terribly in the snow of 1856.
Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.
One old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.
He said in substance, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes! But I was in the company and my wife was in it, and Sister Nellie Unthank who you have cited here was there too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with Him in our extremities!
"God in our extremities?" Many of us have pled in the long dark days and nights of pain and felt Him.
6. A Need For Others – Some of us have a difficult time relying on others for help. Sometimes pain forces us to solicit help and we learn to be grateful when it comes. Perhaps this feeling of indebtedness inspires us to reach out when we are well.
I often think of my mother and how much she suffered at age 64 from her brain tumor and the vertebrae disintegration caused by the heavy doses of steroids she was on. If you don’t learn the positive lessons from pain you surely will become bitter and angry. She never did. She wanted to live. Life was precious to her even in her terrible pain. The day before she died she said she was getting better.