Blessed with Pain

Blessed with PainNobody likes to hurt. Whether it’s physical or emotional, pain is always an unwelcome intrusion, and yet it isn’t always harmful. In fact, pain is necessary for our wellbeing. Consider the following perspective from Dr. Paul Brand, a physician who became famous for treating lepers.

(An) inability to “hear” pain can cause permanent damage because the body’s careful response to danger will break down. For example, a healthy person nearly always falls when beginning to sprain an ankle. Perhaps you step on a loose stone or curb. As your ankle begins to twist, the lateral ligaments of the ankle endure a terrific strain. Nerve cells detecting the strain categorically order the body to take all weight off the damaged leg immediately. The thigh and calf muscles will become momentarily flaccid. But if your other, undamaged leg is off the ground taking a step, you will now have no support and will lurch to the ground. (A step, says the anatomist, is a stumble caught in time.) Your body prefers falling to forcing the ankle to take weight in its twisted position. You get up feeling a fool and hoping no one was watching, but in reality you have just achieved a beautifully coordinated maneuver that saved you from a sprained ankle or worse.

However, I recall watching a leprosy victim sprain his ankle without falling. He stepped on a loose stone, turned his ankle completely over so that the sole of his foot pointed inward, and walked on without a limp. He did not even glance at the foot he had just irreparably damaged by rupturing the left lateral ligament! He lacked the protection of pain. Afterward, without the support of the ligament he had ruptured, he turned his ankle again and again until eventually, due to more complications; he had to have that leg amputated.

Brand & Yancey, In the Likeness of God

Emotional pain also has a preserving effect. When our hearts are heavy we become more spiritually alert. As C. S. Lewis famously said, pain is “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When we grieve within, we are more likely to look outside of ourselves and pay attention to God’s guidance. Suffering can make us more attentive, and more dependent. If this happens, then pain is a good thing!

Perhaps your day is bleak with pain and you wish it could just let up. Ask God to relieve you, and he might grant you relief. He might not, and if not, you will have to depend on his grace to make it through the day. Pain may be your current lot in life, if so—don’t waste it!


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