When pain shouts!

I let the technologist choose the backing music for a series of scans I had this week. Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” competed with the loud banging and clanging of the MRI machine. Then came “When I’m Gone” by 3 Doors Down. Maybe not the best song for an MRI playlist meant to distract the mind.

But the song captured the moment as I grappled with uncertainty. As I lay still, tightly confined, the reality of my mortality was clearly in focus.

I wasn’t well. I wasn’t in control. I wasn’t sure what was coming next. If you’re like me, that’s not a comfortable place.

And place has a big impact on my thoughts and feelings.

Put me on the coast, salt water and sand at my feet, and immediately there is a sense of refreshment and renewal. Sit me at a table with friends, sharing food, wine, laughter and conversation and there is the innate joy of hospitality and community. In bed I open my eyes and see the face of my youngest, snuggling in tight, and all seems well with the world.

But often we can be thrust into unusual places – stretching spaces – like laying surrounded by a jarring MRI machine – and life looks and feels very different.

My mind was racing. One minute singing along with Train – “She acts like summer and walks like rain, reminds me that there’s time to change” and then recalling something I shouldn’t have read from “Dr Google” that afternoon about my symptoms. Then there was Arli, the night before ,giving me his toy monkey to take to bed so I would get a good rest. Suddenly I was picturing a beautiful, dear friend, starting chemo, while seeking to come back to the words of the psalmist,  “The Lord is my shepherd”.

As my body, mind and spirit calmed, suddenly the things that really mattered most, along with the things I could and couldn’t control were front and centre. I closed my eyes and felt the presence of my Shepherd and his promise to never lead me into dark valleys, but rather through them. My challenge, to let go of my fears and to lean not on my own strength.

For some time now I have been experiencing worsening headaches, along with increasing episodes of tingling, pins and needles, numbness and pain across my body and the time had come for tests to determine a diagnosis. 

The prospect of some very bad news was on my mind as I waited to see my GP for the results. Yes, I was holding fast to my faith, but I also knew what some of the nasty outcomes of my symptoms could be, including a brain tumour. 

I write today breathing easier. I don’t have a terminal illness and I am very thankful for that. 

I have been diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition, which is causing me daily pain and discomfort. The condition can’t be cured unless there is supernatural intervention. It is something that I will have to learn to live with and adjust for, as with professional help I develop a long-term physical and pain treatment plan. Surgery in time to come may assist.

It’s not the news I wanted. But it’s much better news than what could have been. It’s far less to live with than what some friends of mine face, battling much bigger health concerns. And like some I know, I don’t face this on my own. Being married to a nurse, who is loving, caring and yet persistent in keeping me on track, will be a bonus.

By the way, do I believe in miracles? Yes I do. 

I have seen the miracle of Megan’s healing from cancer after a very bleak diagnosis. I see God’s gracious favour each day in my beautiful son, who we were told would probably not survive at birth.

And I am certainly praying today that God will heal that beautiful friend from cancer, who has so much more living to do with her young family.

But the older I get, the more I see miracles come in many forms and prayer in itself is a mystery. I have more questions than answers in many areas of my faith and belief, but this draws me closer to God, rather than away. I increasingly appreciate my human frailty and my dependence upon my Creator.

I also know that I can earnestly seek God’s intervention in an area of my life and become so caught up in those circumstances, that I can miss seeing the wonderful, gracious hand of God at work all around me. I am challenged more and more to open my eyes each day, in the midst of the ordinariness of life, and see grace and beauty at play.   

When it comes to physical pain, I haven’t lived with much of in the past.

I haven’t got time here to talk about the pain of gall stones and my gall bladder removal but cutting it short; men don’t bring up your personal male pain stories in the delivery suite as your partner is giving birth!

I appreciate some of you reading this post tolerate severe physical pain every day and you have much you could teach a novice like me. Others of you experience the reality of deep emotional pain and my heart is with you. Some of you are grieving. Others maybe navigating a rollercoaster of uncertainty.

Some of you haven’t had an all-clear life-threatening diagnosis and I am inspired by the resilience, faith and courage of multiple people I could name here. My prayers are certainly with you my friends.

CS Lewis penned: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.”

These past few months, weeks and days have reminded me again of how much there is to learn about ourselves and life, as we humbly navigate seasons of pain. 

I’ve been thinking about priorities, people, perspective and prayer. 

Priorities 

As “God shouts in our pain”, as Lewis writes, we’re confronted with the challenge and opportunity to re-assess our priorities. Stretching times often bring the relationships that matter most, the issues that matter most, the priorities that matter sharply into focus.

But the challenge? Will we make the necessary, even courageous, changes, that ensure these are not just fleeting thought moments, but they lead to genuine re-prioritisation and life-giving outcomes?

A trusted, wise, older woman wrote me a note this week and she boldly asked: “Scott what are you going to genuinely learn from this challenging time? Will it lead to change in your life or will you get on with things as they were and not learn from this experience?

Wow! I’m thankful for this woman’s discerning, brave challenge.

Yes, my cage has been well and truly shaken. I know there are things that will need to be laid down. There are things that need to be taken up. There are changes I need to make.

If you’re journeying through a challenging season, my thoughts are with you. Together may we see these times as teachable opportunities. 

People

Over recent weeks as I have attended medical appointments, taken time off work, journeyed with uncertainty, debriefed over a coffee and shed some tears I have cherished afresh the privilege of belonging to a loving tribe.

Megan, my kids, my family, close friends, caring colleagues, people of prayer and trusted mentors have come alongside me over recent days. That’s something I never want to take for granted. 

I’ve also been reminded of the need for vulnerability. In years gone by, I know I would have kept things very close to my chest and I would have paid a price. 

As Chrissi Jammi writes: “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable. To make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” 

I’m thankful that I have people in my corner, standing with me in all seasons. 

You may have many or just a few in your corner, but let me encourage you, remember who they are, be thankful for them and remember some don’t have the beautiful gift of alongsiders.

Perspective 

I always find times of pain and distress bring perspective to my life. I am thankful that in stretching times, God’s Spirit continues to free me from the trap of self-pity,  bringing me back to Henri Nouwen’s beautiful image of “the wounded healer”.

I have a beautiful friend who this week started chemo, as her husband and son come to grips with this unexpected and daunting season of life. Their battle is much bigger than mine.

I have a great mate whose wife continues to navigate her own challenging cancer journey, as he strongly stands alongside, while riding his own emotional rollercoaster. 

As I lay in an MRI machine this week, my mind was with three-year-old asylum seeker Tharnicaa Murugappan. I will never know her family’s depth of pain. No little girl should have to experience the horror she has endured. Political expediency has scarred her for life. 

I’ve also been thinking of some lovely people coming to terms with their sexuality.  The pain of bigotry is the last thing they should be dealing with.

I wish none of the above were experiencing the pain they are, but I am mindful we live in a beautiful, yet broken world. And as I consider their pain and circumstances, I am challenged to take my eyes of my situation and see the tougher path so many others walk.

My Mum used to always say “there is someone else always facing bigger mountains”.

Yes, we need to care for ourselves. But I want to keep praying each day: “God grant me the capacity to always see beyond myself, to see the needs of others.”

More than ever in my life, I’m aware of my own woundedness – physical, emotional and spiritual. But I also take comfort in the knowledge that God uses the wounded; people with pain and brokenness in their lives, leaders with limps, to be his agents of grace, peace and hope. 

And if I can make one plea – while we have a voice, may we increasingly use it to stand with the voiceless. We live in a world where it’s all too easy to close our eyes and ears to injustice.

Prayer:

And finally, yes in pain and uncertainty, I have been doing quite a bit of praying. I am very thankful for those who have been praying for me. 

There is much about prayer I will never understand as a mere human and I am comforted by that, because it provides space for mystery and allows the God I believe in to be God! 

Why some people are healed from illness while others are not is a subject far too weighty to take up here and now. And while I respect this draws some away from God, I find this age-old challenge brings me closer, as I live with tension and embrace life in the “now and not yet”. Pain and suffering are very much part of the “now” and yet we see glimpses each day of the “not yet”, which instils hope and can lead us to lives focused on pursuing shalom in our relationships and communities.

As the mystery of prayer grows, I am also thankful for the sheer gracious simplicity of prayer.

It’s God’s gracious invitation to come to attention. 

Prayer position me. It reminds of my humanity. But also of a God who is for humanity. I am not alone or bereft of hope. Prayer beckons me afresh each day to experience presence, peace, love, grace, forgiveness and freedom. It allows me to speak my mind, share my heart and safely embrace my brokenness before the One who is totally committed to broken people and their restoration and renewal.

Prayer allows me to be still and silent. It allows me to shout and scream. It allows me to breathe. It reminds me I don’t need the answers and that I don’t need to seek to be in control. It allows me, like those who penned the psalms, to come before God with my fears and tears. It teaches me about vulnerability and authenticity.

As I lay confined, undergoing my brain MRI last week, my arms and legs twinged as a result of what I now know is spinal compression. But deeper, in my gut, the twinge of uncertainty was stronger. As 3 Doors Down sang “When I’m Gone” I was sharply struck by the lack of control I had when it came to my diagnosis.

And so I had a choice to make. I sense it’s a choice we face each day, whenever the pressure of life is squeezing us. 

I could choose panic. I’ve done some of that in recent days.

I could choose pity. Yep, I’m human. That’s a trap we all face. 

Or I could choose prayer.

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble, so I will not fear.”

As I prayed, as I came to attention, I experienced peace, which the Scriptures say is a peace that passes human understanding.

Suddenly, in the midst of uncertainty, there was so much to be thankful for – so many ordinary gifts of life and grace to cherish all around me.

Suddenly there was perspective. This was not all about me! As God shouts in my pain, he opens my eyes afresh to the privilege of coming alongside others living with their own pain. We’re in this together.

Suddenly I see and hear again the voices of others around me. I am not alone. I have a tribe to be so thankful for. 

I have pain and numbness in my left hand as I type. Today, it was hard to grip and hold things in that hand. That’s a new experience. Hopefully it will pass. It may not.

But I’m alive. I’m breathing. I live in a country where I take medical facilities and treatment for granted. I have a curry cooking. There will be food on my table tonight and a warm bed to sleep in. 

Today I got to sit in a park and share a coffee with some friends. Every day I get to revel in grace, love and beauty. I have others on the journey with me. I’m a very fortunate man. I have so many reasons to be thankful and so many others are battling with so much more.

2 thoughts on “When pain shouts!

  1. Scott, your words are crafted beautifully. Thank you for sharing them. They inspire me and comfort me as I journey down my own path toward eternity. Despite pain and uncertainty we do have so much to be grateful for. God does indeed meet with us in new and deeper ways when we allow him to enter into our sufferings. It is His loving presence in our darkest times that brings unexpected peace and strangely enough even joy, not in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but in the wonder of being surrounded by His presence. Nestling into Him, under the shadow of His wing, now that’s the perfect place to find strength to face the day.

    Like

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