Chronic pain can make it nigh impossible to focus on anything else.
I’ve dealt with chronic pain off and on for years. Over the last several weeks, it has been particularly bothersome. Progressively so, to where for the last few days I have found it a challenge to focus my attention on other things for long periods of time.
Pain is such a strange yet centering thing.
It does not simply invite your focus. It forces your focus.
As humans, we have struggled with the problem of pain for hundreds, yea, thousands of years.
Over the past couple of hundred years particularly, our focus has been on how to minimize and if possible eradicate pain from our lives. Whether physical or emotional or mental pain, we try to escape it. Medication for the body. Medication for the mind. And so many distractions and entertainment to choose from that we may escape whatever emotional we might be facing.
In reading about the lives of past saints, I find it interesting that their reaction to pain was very different from ours. Many of them embraced pain. Some even sought it out … although the very thought to us can seem strange and even pathologically wrong.
The reason behind their seeking, however, makes some sense, even though it is not something most of us would seek out or choose to do. It goes with the idea of Christ as Suffering Servant. To embrace pain and suffering is to embrace him and to become more like him, to take on his cross of pain.
I don’t like pain, especially when it’s debilitating. I don’t like the fact that it forces my focus, especially when there are plenty of other things I want to focus on.
However, perhaps there is a purpose for pain.
There is a physiological purpose for pain, to be sure. Feeling pain indicates that something has gone wrong in the body and needs attention.
Philip Yancey in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts, discusses the importance of pain by highlighting the plight of those with leprosy, who cannot feel pain. Without the important nerve endings, they can injure themselves without realizing it, ending up with infected injuries that can deteriorate to limbs lost simply because they did not feel the pain.
In such a case, pain is a gift. It enables a person to realize something is wrong with the body and to seek medical attention.
But what of the aches and pains that simply do not go away, that persist and turn into chronic pain? I do not know, just as I am not sure what to do with the pain that I am feeling.
Simply grin and bear it?
Or refuse to get up in the morning on days the pain feels too intense?
Or turn it toward Christ somehow and seek His presence within it?
There are some questions we, as humanity, have asked for centuries, for millennia. There are some questions that, I believe, will not have answers this side of eternity.
But as we live within those questions, as we live the questions, perhaps we will live towards the answers we seek.
And perhaps that is one of the purposes for pain.