Tag Archives: pain

Back Pain and Soul Pain

There is a lie that floats about in our culture. It goes something like this – “healing has not happened (or worked) unless I do not feel pain any more.” As an Army prison chaplain, I experience it most in relationship to mental/spiritual anguish or “the dark night of the soul.” 

It goes something like this – the individual’s coping methods to dealing with pain land them in jail. They continue down this path (substituting alcohol, sex, drugs with ego trips, anger/rage, prescription meds) until they realize that they are still suffering greatly. They first reach out to mental health for relief and then, after realizing that drugs “won’t fix it” or that their counselor is encouraging them to work through their stuff reject it and show up in church. 

Here, they start reading the Bible furiously. Or, they start praying (at least in church) until something offends them at which time they either approach me about changing it or drop out all together. I challenge them on it and they say something like, “well, it didn’t take.” 

Another scenario that happens all the time is that someone will be the best Christian you ever met until they are denied parole. Then, clearly, God hates them and does not keep promises. (That they made to themselves on God’s behalf)

By the way, this is a common line of reasoning outside of prison too…

Which then introduces me mantra – people will not change until the pain of change is worse than the pain of staying the same. 

Somewhere along this path, they reach out to me for help. I introduce the above idea and say something like this, “I will not carry your burden. I cannot heal for you but I can and will join you and suffer with you if you want to really heal. You should know that it’s going to take you through some very dark waters. I’ll walk with you but not for you. I will be asking very hard questions and if you really want to heal, it’s going to be a little worse before it gets better. AND, it may actually NOT get better! In fact, your family might not be down with your growth and won’t like who you are becoming. You need to ask yourself if it’s worth the sacrifice.” 

Silence follows. 

Then a sigh and “I’ll give it a try.” 

Then we’ll enter into a pastoral care relationship. 

We explore the pain. We analyze why it’s painful. We struggle through how that pain might actually be a good thing and not something to be avoided. We seek to integrate it into life in a healthy way so as to not “cope” with it or avoid it but use it for positive growth. Those with enough courage hang in to the bitter end and experience great growth. Something people fall off. It happens. Either way, I’m there. Christ is there. 

What fascinates me on a regular basis is that the aforementioned lie is so prevalent in our culture. “Whatever you have to do to get rid of the pain…” 

What if pain wasn’t something to be avoided but embraced as God’s gift to guide you to healing? 

I heard this article on NPR this morning – loved it. It’s about managing back pain. 

“…along the way, she’s learning not to be afraid. “It’s learning not to fear the pain, learning that you can live with pain,” Wertheimer says. “Understand what that pain is, but then put it aside.”

In essence, sometimes the pain we experience both physically and emotionally is pain about the pain.

I teach my inmates to live with the pain, use the pain, make it a part of their spiritual strength and thus take away it’s power. 

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus

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Christmas Sorrow

Christmas Tension – how do we celebrate joy in the midst of such pain? 

(This year, Christmas 2012, was the year that a gunman killed 27 people in an elementary school, 20 of them children, because he was mad at his mother. What follows is the Communion meditation I wrote for service that Sunday, 16 December 2012. Memorial Chapel, Ft. Leavenworth, KS )

As we approach the Lord’s Table this morning, we do so struggling with the tension of celebrating the Christmas season with all the bells and lights and food while there are dozens of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives mourning the tragic killing of their loved ones. Children have died and children are not supposed to die.

There is raging on the internet. Sorrow in the streets. Fear in the hearts of mother’s and father’s who are wondering if they should even send their children to school. I know this fear for I have this fear. There is no small amount of hopelessness and helplessness that there is no way to even end this problem. I read just this morning that two more shootings have happened in this country. People are wounded and dying. Is this how we solve problems in this country, at the point of a gun? It is senseless, it is tragic, it is frightening.

Has God left us?
Has God hidden his face from us?
Has God any power whatsoever?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wondered this as he watched his nation descend into madness. The North and the South were not agreeing. Politicians who should have been solving problems were digging in, bulwarking their beliefs behind cannon and musket. His son went to war and was wounded in battle, returning home to never walk again.

“For what?” Longfellow wondered. “Where is the peace?”

Every year during the war, on Christmas, the bells of churches would ring calling for a ceasefire, for peace. At night, after the holiday had passed, the guns would start anew and more would die. On Christmas Day in 1863, Longfellow wrote the familiar lines in response to the horror of the bloody fratricidal conflict in general and to the personal tragedy of his son, Lieutenant Charles Appleton Longfellow, who was severely wounded in November 1862. Has God heard? Has he forgotten? Does God care?

Yes.

God knows sorrow. Knows senseless death. Has a broken heart for us and for our children.

CHRISTMAS BELLS

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.’

There is hope in Longfellow’s words. Therein is strength.

As we approach this Lord’s Table this morning, we remember that Christmas is not really about the bells, lights, food, and four-day weekends. It’s about a child that was born with a mission, a child born who would sacrificially die to cleanse sin from the world, giving us an example of true peace. When Mary sees old Simeon in the temple, he tells her prophetically that “a sword would pierce her heart…” in relationship to her son. In that moment, Mary sees that there is more to the story than just a baby. In the midst of joy there is often pain. As there is here, at the Table.

All are invited to claim Christ. Let us come to the Table this morning, remembering Jesus’ sacrifice as we remember his birth.

Now, I will tell you the story as it was told unto me, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed took bread…

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