Life Lesson #4: Go With the Pain


Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape. –Charles Dickens

Pain is never permanent. –Teresa of Avila

When I was nervously anticipating the birth of my first child a little over 17 years ago, a wonderful woman (Karen) from my church gave me some advice that helped me through each of my deliveries with little to no pain medication.  By the time I gave birth to my third child, the delivery room nurse told my husband, “you would never know she is about to deliver a baby.  She doesn’t look like she’s in labor at all.”  What was the secret?  Go with the pain.

Karen told me when I was in labor to imagine how a turtleneck stretches when we put it on over our head.  She said to think about labor and delivery the same way.  She said, “The pain of childbirth has a purpose, so don’t fight it.  Go with the pain.  By going with the pain, your body is able to do what it needs to do through the birthing process.  Fighting the pain only serves to make us tense which, in turn, makes the pain worse.” So, I went into my first delivery room armed with relaxation music and a bunch of other things I had read about that could help assuage my apprehension, only to toss it all aside as I focused on breathing in on the count of four, breathing out on the count of four, and remembering what Karen said.  I was so focused on the numbers in my head and the visualization of the turtleneck stretching over my head (enabling me to go with the pain instead of fighting it), that labor and delivery was probably the easiest part of having children.  (I find raising them much more difficult!)

I recently mentioned this piece of advice… going with the pain… to a counselor friend of mine, as I was explaining some of the junk I’m working through.  She wisely advised me not to give up… to use that same advice in my life now.  Don’t give up working through the emotions and the pain that surface as introspection, prayer, and discussion bring difficult events to the surface.  Go with the pain, for it has a purpose.  Healing comes on the other side.

Some days are better than others.  For example, I just finished reading a wonderful set of books by Francine Rivers (Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream), which made me sob and weep more often than not.  It brought to the forefront so many emotions… of love lost, relationships gone awry, insecurity, not measuring up, miscommunication, etc.   Her Mother’s Hope reminded me of all of the ambitious dreams I had when I was young and all of the places I was able to travel in Europe.  It took me back to a time of adventure, excitement, and unending promise.  As I continued to read, memories surfaced of intense love and passion… the joy of having met my soul mate, the impact of knowing I had encountered someone who had changed my life forever… the worry associated with raising children and how I don’t want to mess up.   Along with the memories came moments of pain.

My instinct, more often than not, is to run away from the pain… to stop the memories… to wish away what was; but some of those same memories contain immense joy and love, and I want to remember those things more than anything else.  It is in those memories that I realize I am capable of loving.  It is those memories that remind me I was at one time deeply loved by another for simply being me.  I didn’t have to give until there was nothing left in me, nor did I have to pretend to be something I wasn’t; I was loved for the simplicity of being myself.

I’m not sure how life became so complicated as the years have passed, but I do know this: I want to be healed, so I am going to once again go with the pain… this time to birth a new Lori Lynn.  It may be a messy process, but I am hoping the end result will be well worth it.

In the arms of Jehovah-Rapha,

Lori Lynn

Dear Lord… I so often want to fight the pain.  I’m tired of hurting emotionally.  I’m weary of carrying a neverending load of responsibility.  I long for carefree days and joy-filled moments.  When my heart feels heavy, help me to remember that pain has a purpose; and if I go with the pain, it will birth something wonderful in the end.  Amen.

 

Leprosy of the Soul


And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.”  And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  –Matthew 8:2-3 (ESV)

“Leprosy silences nerve cells, and as a result its victims unwittingly destroy themselves, bit by bit, because they cannot feel pain.”  As I read those words by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey in their book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, it became crystal clear to me what my problem was.  Having spent the past 20 years in an unhappy marriage, I had become numb to pain and had unknowingly destroyed myself.  If there were such a thing as leprosy of the soul, I certainly had contracted it.

Leprosy is an infection that can be present without symptoms from 5-20 years.  It is characterized by lesions and damage to the nerves, limbs, and eyes.  Ancient people feared it because of its hideous effects.

I imagine leprosy of the soul would be similarly characterized. However, because the soul is not visible to the human eye, the lesions and damage are not quite as obvious. Nonetheless, the hideous effects manifested in one’s personality, mannerisms, speech, and tone of voice are quite noticeable.

By the time I realized I had it, the damage had been done.  Not only was I unable to feel pain, I was unable to feel much of anything.  I shut myself off from all emotion.  If I did feel anything, it was manifested in shame, guilt, frustration, and misery.  What I didn’t realize was that by shutting myself off to pain, I was also incubating myself against joy.  I felt I didn’t deserve it.  Remember Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel … “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?”  That was how I felt.

The word leprosy is derived from the Latin word Lepra, which means “scaly”.  Instead of exhibiting the Christ-like qualities that used to define me, I was beginning to look more like that slithery serpent, Satan.  I certainly didn’t want that.  I went from being a kind, caring, helpful person to a fearful, anxious, unhappy pessimist.  I became cynical and rude.  I couldn’t manage my own life very well, so eventually my desire to help others disintegrated.  It was time for this broken-down Jesus girl to throw herself at Jesus’ feet and cry, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

Just as leprosy is curable with treatment, so is leprosy of the soul.  Whereas leprosy requires long-term doses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, leprosy of the soul requires some serious alone time with God.  It requires immersing oneself in His Word (to kill off the bad bugs of stinkin’ thinkin’), quiet times of meditation (to get rid of the inflammation caused by a life that has been out of control for too long), and communing with Him in prayer (to thank Him and seek His will).

Although pain may not seem to be a blessing, those who study leprosy know this to be true.  It alerts us to danger and warns us when things in our body are out of whack.  We need pain like we need indicator lights on the dashboard of our car.  My indicator lights have been blinking nonstop for years.  I think it’s time for a tuneup with the Master Physician…

In His grace,

Lori Lynn

O, LORD God, You are the Master Physician.  As such, I ask that You please heal my mind, will, and emotions so that I may be at peace and manifest Your presence to those around me. I want to reflect Your spirit to the world around me.  Heal me from the inside out, everywhere that hurts.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

 

When Life Hurts


“Therefore, I will not restrain my mouth;

I will speak in the anguish of my spirit,

I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

Job 7:11 (NASB)

I’ve always liked the book of Job.  I think it goes along with my melancholy spirit.  I can identify with the man.  That’s why, when I came across this verse the other day, I immediately felt I had found a kindred spirit.

You see, I’ve spent the better part of the last 14 years complaining in the bitterness of my soul.  Life has been hard.  It has not gone the way I had hoped or planned.  It has pressed me near to breaking point, and it has brought me to my knees (flat on my face actually).  I have cried out in anguish.  I have stormed about in anger.  I have nearly gone mad from frustration.  Through it all, I have learned that I am not the person I thought I was.  I do not have the patience I thought I had.  I am not as kind as I would have hoped.  I can be downright mean and nasty, and I have learned to hate myself at times for it.  It’s funny how life can do that to you… force you to see the not-so-good side of yourself.

Sometimes our hearts are so heavy, we can’t help but complain.  The misery we feel within is so intense that it boils inside like a live volcano that eventually explodes, producing pyroclastic lava flows that cause great damage to everything in their path.

I’m sad to say that I’ve burned quite a few people with my magma of misery.  I knew things were heating up, and I knew I would eventually blow, but I had no idea how to stop what was happening beneath the surface.  I felt like I was stuck in a life I had no control over.  I felt like things happened TO me, and I was powerless to change them.  Eventually, when you feel that way long enough, you give up hope.  You look ahead to the next portion of your life and can’t wait until the good LORD calls you home.  I know, it sounds grim; but that truly is the way you feel when you keep getting knocked down.  I remember explaining it to someone once like this:  “I feel like I have two broken arms and two broken legs, and my trainer is telling me, ‘Get back into that ring and FIGHT!'”  I had nothing left with which to fight.  I was down.

I am happy to report that I didn’t stay there.  I sought help.  God placed some wonderful counselors in my path who taught me that what I was feeling was real.  I had a lot on my plate.  (Sometime, in another post, I’ll tell you a bit more about that.)  Suffice it to say, I remember telling my first counselor, “I feel like one of those plate spinners in the circus.  I keep trying to keep all my plates spinning; but by the time I get to the last one, I can’t make it back to keep the rest going.  Plates are crashing everywhere.”  He helped me to see that I wasn’t crazy like I thought I was.  I just had way too much to handle and no one to help me.

A few years later, after my husband lost his job and moved halfway across the country to take a new one, I once again found myself face to face with despair.  I was looking at having to move back to a place that was very traumatic for me.  I felt like I had no options.  Thus began my descent into major depression.  Once again, God placed a wonderful counselor in my path who suggested I go to one of the Meier Clinics for treatment.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me, because that was the beginning of my journey out of the pit of despair.  The first and most important thing I learned there was that I DO have choices.  We all do.  We think we don’t, but that is not true.

Sometimes we feel unworthy, like our opinion doesn’t matter, or like our needs aren’t important.  I’m here to tell you they are.  Years of squelching my needs to satisfy the needs of my family, and not getting my needs met in return, was a recipe for disaster.  We all have needs.  God designed us that way.  His intent was that we would work together in relationship to mutually meet one another’s needs.  We can’t always give, and we can’t always take.  It’s a two-way street.  A dear lady from the church where my husband and I met explained it to me this way, “As women, we are always meeting other people’s needs.  It is like we hold a big bushel basket full of apples, and we go through life handing out our apples.  If we don’t stop every now and again to replenish our basket, we will run out of apples.”  I ran out of apples a long, long time ago; and I didn’t know how to replenish my basket.

I’ve since learned many ways to do so.  Probably first and foremost is learning how to establish boundaries (and not feel guilty about having them).  I’ve learned to not feel guilty (oh… there’s that word again!) about taking time out for me.  I might do one of the following:

  • read a book for PLEASURE (not a self-help book that requires me to underline or highlight… seriously, most of what I read means there is a pen in the book);
  • go for a 3o-minute walk while tuning into nature (smile at the sun, laugh in delight at the sight of a bluebird, drop my mouth in awe at the sight of an eagle soaring overhead);
  • call a friend to go to lunch (I love to eat!);
  • light a few candles, put on some soft jazz, grab that pleasure book, and soak in a hot tub;
  • watch one of my favorite movies;
  • reminisce over some wonderful people whom God has placed in my path who have filled my life with love;
  • eat chocolate (dark, so it’s healthy);
  • crank my stereo and sing to my heart’s content;
  • write an entry for my blog (and hope someone reads it).

The interesting thing is that, through all the pain, God has been there picking me up.  He has given me the insight to know that it has not all been in vain.  Through it all, He has been teaching me and molding me and transforming me into the person He wants me to become.  I know that one day I will be able to look back and see how it all makes perfect sense as to why each of those hurts was there.  There was a bigger purpose.  Perhaps it has to do with being a beacon of light to lonely, hurting, brokenhearted people who, because of poor choices, find themselves in codependent relationships over which they feel they have no control.  That is something I can REALLY relate to!

How about you?  How do you replenish your basket?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Walking in His grace…

Lori Lynn

Life can sure hurt, LORD.  Sometimes we don’t know how much more we can take.  When we reach that place, help us to hang on to You and just trust.  Trust that You are in control, and you won’t let us be obliterated by it.  Help us to realize that Satan wants us to fail, and he is doing everything in his power to keep us from living in the joy and freedom you want us to be living in.  Are we going to let him WIN?  Give us all the courage and strength to answer with a resounding, “NO!”, and teach us to see beyond the hurt to  the blessing on the other side.