Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Seeing Jesus in Pain (Part II)

KIM UPDATE: Kim is getting a little stronger day by day, but eight straight days of laying flat on your back will cause most of your muscles to atrophy. She's officially neutropenic which means her white blood cell count is very low and she is susceptible to infection, so I'm being extra tough on keeping her home, limiting visitors and extra anal on cleanliness. On that note, we are thankful for all the flowers many of you have sent but please do not send flowers, as they increase the risk of infection for Kim. In lieu of flowers Kim has expressed a strong interest in receiving Best Buy gift cards (KIDDING...KIDDING!).
Well, pain is nothing new for us these past couple months but this past weekend was another real encounter with our good friend...."PAIN". It's almost become predictable now - pretty much any procedure Kim goes through to leads to an inordinate amount of pain. I feel like Mr. T (on Rocky III) is our doctor and this is his prognosis every time we go in for a procedure: 

As I mentioned in my last post the "blood patch" procedure resulted in repeated cycles of pain Friday night that were so intense that Kim was literally ready to pass out. Her body became limp and numb from hyperventilation - this pain was literally "taking her breath away". Even when we got to the hospital I was begging the nurses and doctors to get her something for her pain but nothing was working. Not vicodin. Not morphine. Nothing. Obviously, the pain I endured through all of this was not a physical one, but I'm pretty sure the gut-wrenching emotional pain of seeing a loved one suffer can't be too far behind.

In moments like these you are forced to do some real sober reflection on life and especially on pain and suffering. I wrote a post almost exactly a month ago on "The Problem of Pain" (see HERE) and explored the challenge it is for those who believe in God - but this time around I think I gained a deeper insight into pain that I didn't see before. This past weekend I realized that pain can truly be a gift. Did I really just say that?

God created the human body in such a way that when we experience pain our body is desperately trying to tell us something, and that something is "Houston, we've got a problem!" In other words, when we experience pain, that in itself, is not what is ultimately wrong with our body, but pain was designed to tell us something else is going on in our body that is drastically wrong. Therefore, when we experience pain it forces us to address a deeper issue which is not being addressed.

When we first went into the ER on January 7th, Kim was having stomach pains. Her body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do - via pain it was communicating that something is not right and needs to be made right so seek outside help now! When we got to the hospital they determined it was a large ulcer. The ulcer then led to the discovery of a pericardial effusion (massive fluid buildup around her heart) which then led us to the large cancerous mass in her chest which was then diagnosed as Stage IV Lymphoma (see HERE). Had Kim never felt the pain in her stomach we probably would have not identified the cancer until it was too late and she would not be alive today. Thank you stomach pain!

I know for most of us, when we experience pain our first thought is "How do I make this pain go away?" And so we pop pain pills in our mouths like so much candy. (It's crazy how many different pain relief drugs there are out on the market.) But I wonder if sometimes we mask a deeper problem in our great desire to make our pain simply disappear. I know you're probably thinking, "Thank for the 3rd grade lesson on the physiology of pain, but what does all this have to do with anything?"

Well, when Jesus roamed the earth about 2,000 years ago, leprosy was a very common disease. At least a lot more common then we see today. It was and still is a horrific disease but I find it to be a fascinating one. From my limited research I've found that leprosy is a bacterial infection that if left untreated progressively destroys the body because it attacks the body's skin and nerves to the point where lesions erupt and all sense of feeling - even the feeling of pain - is lost.

Imagine if your body lost its ability to feel pain. We often pray for this in the middle of our pain but I wonder if we would really want what we are asking.  By losing our ability to feel pain we lose our ability to sense that something deeper and unseen may be drastically wrong - something that needs to be resolved – something beyond just the "sensation" of pain. That's why when you're in chemotherapy and you're neutropenic (low white blood cell count) they tell people not to take Tylenol because it may "mask a fever". In other words your body will not be able to communicate (through a fever) that you have a more serious problem (an infection).

So back to Jesus, if you’ve read the gospel accounts you’ll surely recall that one of the diseases Jesus frequently healed was leprosy. What’s interesting is that leprosy is often used as a metaphor for sin in the Bible. Sin can do this to you. You can find yourself so steeped in sin that you begin to lose all feeling or what is good and moral. You can sear your conscience so badly that your ability to sense right and wrong is utterly compromised. For example, I’m pretty sure that when a man or woman cheats on their spouse it doesn’t happen instantaneously – but it’s a slow process of rationalization, searing of your conscience, and losing all feeling of what is right and wrong – it’s just like leprosy. What a frightening thought.

But there is hope.

As I mentioned in a post a week ago (see HERE) in those days among Jews there were clear Levitical laws that a leper was not to be touched or you would immediately be rendered unclean (or even infected).  But Jesus breaks all the rules and reaches out and touches the leper and behold – instead of Jesus becoming “unclean” the leper finds himself “cleaned” and fully healed. This is the power of God!

Our ability to “feel” again can only be found in Jesus.
Our ability to ultimately discern right from wrong can only be found in Jesus.
Our ability to be healed of an insidious disease (like sin) can only be found in Jesus.

Pain can humble the proudest of men. It can bring the greatest among us down to our knees – to a level so low we can taste the ashes in our mouth. But what if pain was something that God carefully used to direct our stubborn hearts towards that which is eternal? I’ve heard hundreds of baptism testimonies at my church over the years and every story is unique but the theme is always the same. The person professing their faith nearly always shares a low point in their life – a place where they hit “rock-bottom” - a place overflowing with pain and suffering – but a place in which they “found God”.  I’m pretty sure every person getting baptized – at the moment of their suffering - would have quickly chosen to find relief from their pain and suffering (at least before they were saved), but now, in retrospect, would not trade that moment of pain and suffering for the world.  They see that moment as a sacred gift.

What if our ability to feel pain is a gift, in that God gave us the ability to feel pain so that we are perpetually reminded that something in this universe is drastically wrong? And what if one of pain’s great rewards is that it instills within us a longing for ultimate relief – a longing for heaven – in a way that nothing else on earth can do? We all have this innate sense that something is drastically wrong with the world – when we watch the evening news it’s obvious, but it never becomes clearer than in our moment of profound pain.
The Bible tells us that when God created the universe "it was very good" (Gen 1:31). However, once man fell (Gen 3) and sin entered the world a curse fell not only upon mankind but upon all of creation - and all that God created as good has since been marred by evil. This is when pain and suffering began. Paul tells us that all of creation is groaning (Rom 8:22) to be redeemed back to its original state and the prophet Isaiah (Isa 65:17), and later the apostle John, tells us that God will one day, restore all that was lost under the curse by creating a "new heavens and a new earth" .

What a beautiful thought! God is not in the business of improving on something that is broken. He is in the business of making things new - whether it is myself (2 Cor 5:17) or the entire universe (Rev 21:5).

This is the longing of every heart. This is where pain and suffering cease to exist. This is where we find all that is wrong will be made right. And for those who put their faith in Jesus this is where you find ultimate rest and ultimate relief. I hope you find this place. And I pray your personal moment of pain takes you there.  

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. -Psalm 34:18

In His Grace,
Peter & Kim


  1. i couldn't agree with you anymore about the revelation that pain can bring into our lives. your posts about kim's painful episodes reminds me of the many times my mom was in the hospital for various health issues. it was the worst feeling in the world to not be able to do something for her or provide some kind of relief. but it's true...i'm thankful for those times b/c it helped me to dig deeper into why i wanted relief and healing for her and myself as opposed to seeking God's will in all of it. also, the pain she felt was always an indicator that something was wrong and needed to be addressed quickly...blessing in disguise? :) these verses helped me to take a step back during those times, and to remember that God has a purpose for "pain" in our lives. continually praying for your family! :)

    6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

  2. oops forgot the reference 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

  3. Thank you for the post- Praying for your family- Powerful words…

  4. So very blessed by your writing, Peter; and, by how closely in tune you are with God through His precious Word. He has certainly given you insight, understanding and wisdom. Your words are powerful and convicting. Thank you for letting yourself be used by God, even/especially in the midst of present conditions of pain and suffering. Holding Kim, you and the children before the Throne of Grace daily.

  5. From "The Loveliness of Christ" by Samuel Rutherford (17th c.): "Sickness has this advantage, that it draws our sweet Physician's hand and His Holy and soft fingers to touch our weak skins, it is a blessed fever that fetches Christ to our bedsides...It is our heaven to lay many weights and burdens upon Christ...He is such a friend who delights to be burdened with (your) burdens..."
    How difficult it is to walk (apparently so slowly and excrutiatingly) through this dark valley of constant pain. I remember it made me realize how being healthy and free of pain was a blessing, too, and how I wouldn't have known to be thankful for it until it was taken away.

    Praying for protection from infection (and WBC to go up, up up!), relief from pain, Him to take on your physical burden, and His sweet, sweet mercies on your burdened body and soul for you, Kim. Praying for your continuation of cherished love for your wife, Peter. Praying for your dear children, especially Caleb, to have the peace that surpasses earthly understanding.