When we’re in pain, we think of little else. I remember Nate arriving home from work early one day, 6 months before he died. We knew nothing of his cancer but were aggressively seeking relief for his throbbing back.
When he walked in, I could see the pain on his face and didn’t have to ask why he’d cut his day short after only 4 hours. “This hurts so bad I can’t think straight,” he said, moving toward the bed with an ice pack.
All of us have experienced pinpoint pain that yanked our minds from what we were doing and focused them on our misery. I remember the jolt of an abscess tooth so painful it threw me backwards. As it continued to escalate, I longed to feel pain somewhere else, anywhere but in that one, specific spot. That’s exactly how Nate felt.
I have several friends who live with chronic, pinpoint pain. They tell me pain management therapy has helped them cope by teaching ways to think around the pain instead of within it. The intensity doesn’t disappear, but through specific brain-tricks, they learn to think differently about it. The brain is retrained, so to speak, in an attempt to fool it into feeling hurt less.
Maybe it’s possible for our brains to take a pinpoint of intense pain and spread it throughout the body like we might stir a spoonful of dark chocolate syrup into milk, turning white to tan as the chocolate dissolves. Most of us prefer diffused pain over concentrated.
The apostle Paul, a guy who wrote most of the New Testament, was an example of someone who struggled with pain, repeatedly begging God to take it away. After all, he’d given his life to promoting the Gospel and saving souls. Surely God wouldn’t hamper that eternal work by adding the weight of physical pain. Wouldn’t that be risking the success of the mission?
But God thinks differently than we do. He listened to Paul’s pleas for relief but gave him a “no.” Amazingly, Paul accepted this huge disappointment without objection and went one step further, acknowledging it could be a tool in God’s hands to teach him something. He had become famous as a learned speaker and intelligent debater and was worried about his pride.
When God insisted he live with pain, Paul knew it was in his best interest, an astounding response. But leaning harder into God for the skill to think apart from pain and successfully focus on spreading the Gospel turned out to be a faith-booster. And it never harmed the mission.
Might it work the same for us?
It didn’t for Nate, but God had a different idea for him. Rather than make him an example of strength-through-weakness like Paul, he decided to terminate the situation completely with a tool called cancer. Crescendoing pain burst into oblivion, and Nate became pain-free.
And Paul? He eventually got his wish, too.
The Lord… said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2Corinthians 12:9)