More about pain … a real attention getter
A few months ago, I wrote to you about pain. I wrote to you about the pleasure of pain. But in that article, I was writing about the pain of another—specifically, Dr. Paul W. Brand, the noted leprosy expert and former chief of the rehabilitation branch of the Leprosarium in Carville, La. When Dr. Brand finally experienced what was later called “sweet” pain, he responded in fervent gratitude declaring, “Thank God for pain!”
My point in the former article was to remind us all of the benefits and lessons of pain. We acknowledged that pain often serves as a warning to reveal that something is wrong. We considered how that God uses pain to get our attention … and about how that some of us are easier to reach than others.
Well, pain finally got to me … pain recently got my personal attention.
Over the last couple of days, I have learned that it is much easier to describe the pain of others than it is to experience pain in first person. It is more comfortable to write about pain in the abstract than it is to discuss pain in the first person vernacular. I won’t bore you with all the details but, even as I write this column, I am stretched out in bed with my foot up in the air—actually my foot is resting on two pillows and a bit uncomfortable to say the least. Thank God for laptop computers and pain pills.
I suppose that some explanation is necessary. It sounds so simple—but I stubbed my toe. But, I stubbed my toe in such a way that a four-hour visit to the emergency room, including a surgical procedure, was necessary—and, two follow-up procedures will be required. I just stubbed my toe.
And, in the process, I learned some more lessons about pain.
Let me share with you some of what I learned.
First, I learned that some—in fact, most of the pain we experience—comes because of the really dumb things that we do. I have to admit that it is a really dumb thing for a 57-year-old man to run through the house, stopping abruptly only because a chair jumped out in front of him? Pure foolishness.
Likewise, the pain that we endure as Christians and in Christian churches is most often the result of our own foolishness. The foolishness of betrayal and jealousy brings with it the pain of separation in personal relationships. The foolishness of pushing personal agendas causes much pain and division in the modern church. And, the foolishness of self-promotion and arrogance brought the pain of conflict to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). The desire to control certainly is foolishness and should be foreign to the Christian. But that kind of foolishness has caused more pain in MBC life than anything else I know about. Pure foolishness.
Through my recent painful experience, I also learned that pain follows pain. Initially my pain was not that severe. It hurt enough to know that I had done something that I should not have done. And, it was painful to feel stupid. As well, the physical pain was very real, and ever-present—but nothing compared to the pain I experienced when the doctors and nurses started working on my injury. They gave me what they called a nerve block. It is designed to block out all the pain. And the nerve block worked—after a while. Eventually the pain dissipated. But without question, receiving the nerve block was the most painful part of the night. Sometimes more pain follows initial pain.
It is true in the church as well. Too many times, what begins as a slightly painful situation in the church becomes excruciatingly painful when left unchecked. Ignore hurt between brothers and sisters in Christ and the fellowship of the entire church may be destroyed. When the Christian community allows pain and hurt to continue unrestrained, a slow ache becomes an agonizing throb. On the convention level, the pain of brother against brother eventually becomes one convention leader against another convention leader, one faction against another faction—even church against church. And the resulting pain is powerful with the potential to devastate the work of the denomination. Pain follows pain.
Another lesson that I recently learned the hard way is that there are consequences that follow the pain we cause or endure. What began as a simple but silly incident brought with it serious, perhaps eternal consequences. Even as I write this column, I am supposed to be in El Salvador on a mission trip with the Missouri Music Men. I was looking forward to that trip. I had been planning and preparing for that trip for months. I was scheduled to visit many of the Baptist churches in El Salvador. I was to be one of the speakers at the annual meeting of the Association of Baptists (ABES) in El Salvador. I was supposed to meet with the newly elected officers of the ABES.
I was also looking forward to singing with the Missouri Music Men—they were willing to make an exception and allow a non-music man to sing with them. Right now, the Missouri Music Men are presenting the Gospel in concert somewhere in El Salvador. The quality of their music is undoubtedly enhanced because I am not with them. But my joy is diminished. I am proud of the Missouri Music Men and their director, MBC Worship Specialist, John Francis. But I have learned that there are serious consequences that accompany our pain.
Likewise, there are consequences when Christians hurt one another. When the watching world sees the church and/or the denomination attacking one another, they question the love of the God we claim to serve. When the world observes Christians hurting one another, they become protective of themselves and they stay away from us and from our churches. The most distressing consequence to the painful ways that Christians relate to one another is that because lost people do not see the love of God, they consequently do not believe in the love of God. When lost folks see Christian folks hurting one another—they remain lost. Our pain carries with it serious consequences.
I concluded the previous pain article with the words of Christian apologist and author, C. S. Lewis. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in consciences, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God has my attention. Does He also have yours?