She greeted me with warmth and kindness donned in familiar blue medical scrubs. Her demeanor was a welcome change from the recent icy encounters with other health care professionals. Upon entering the pre-op room, she patiently recorded my health history and current pain levels. “You are too young to have all of these serious back issues…I am so sorry” she offered with genuine sympathy. “I am glad you are here, we will do our best to get you some pain relief today.” After placing two warm blankets upon my chilled body, she turned down the lights and invited me to quietly rest until the doctor was ready for the injections.
Like many folks, there are times in life when I crave a little extra TLC (tender loving care) but sadly, it is during these times that I tend to lose sight of God’s presence. For some reason, I allow pain to overcome me, leading to an inability to experience the Divine’s presence. Instead of being open, my heart closes to the God who loves me and desires only peace and happiness in my life. Pain can cause this type of trial for many people, leading folks to believe in the great lie – that God is not present to those who suffer.
Bishop Robert Barron spoke eloquently on the issue of suffering in one of his recent podcasts “Most of the great religions and philosophies of the world center around the issue of suffering. Stoicism, Buddhism, Platonism all propose different paths to overcome suffering. Jesus proposes to his disciples the distinctively Christian path of embracing suffering in the act of self-sacrificial love.” Some may wonder what self-sacrificial love really looks like in the midst of personal trials. I believe that it is as simple as turning away from your own problems and offering up your pain for another. My mom used to encourage me to do this as a child and I didn’t truly understand her advice back then. As I grew older (and experienced chronic pain) her wise words took on new meaning. Mom lived what she preached and when she became ill with cancer she never pitied herself, only offered up her own pain for those who were more in need of her prayers. I believe this attitude allowed her to live in peace, joy and utter surrender during the three years of her illness. Mom modeled self-sacrificial love through her words and actions and in doing so, helped to defy great lie that God is not present to those who suffer.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25
The Christian path of suffering is a distinctive and unique journey where we are called to give the self away in love. With God at the center of our lives, we can find peace and joy in the midst of our deepest pain. Sometimes we crave TLC during tough times and struggle to experience God’s presence, but He is always there, hidden in the face of a stranger or a friend. Meeting the empathetic nurse at the Spine center was, no doubt, an act of God. And, having my wonderful Dad drive me to the procedure was also evidence of God’s presence…I just didn’t acknowledge it at the time.
This week was particularly challenging with a new diagnosis and a painful procedure. In addition, my husband was away for business and I missed his loving presence and reliable help. But God was there in the middle of it all. He sent angels to help me when I most needed it. I received kind offers from dear friends to pick up my son from school. This was a huge help and allowed me to rest my sore back/neck, avoiding the long drive to CM. I used the extra time to rest, pray for these friends and offer up my pain for the good of their families. I used to think small efforts like this were meaningless, but I know better now. When we offer our pain up for the good of another person, that is a sign of self-sacrificial love. It benefits the person doing the offering as well as the one being prayed for!
I am confident that whatever the trial, we can find God in the midst of suffering. We just need to open our hearts and minds to the people around us. There we will discover the face of the One who is the source of lasting peace and happiness.