Like that title? It’s shamelessly appropriated from a work by slam poet Edward Thomas-Herrera entitled “My Pain Keeps Me Regular.” Out of respect for my readers, I’ll warn you all that clicking on the link will treat you to a really funny live performance of said work which also contains two uses of the f-word. Personally, I’m not bothered by it, but please follow your own conscience and be fully convinced in your own mind.
Anyway, enough about that. On to today’s post about MY PAIN!
Yeah, you laugh, but that is pretty much how I refer to it in my head while it’s happening. In all caps. Even little things, like a backache, or a stranger being short with me on the phone. I admit it, I’m a total wuss about pain, whether emotional, physical, or spiritual. If you think I am a nice person, well, I can be nice, so nice, until I get a splinter.
I have recently realized that I will do just about anything to avoid or alleviate pain above a very low threshold. I’ll drag others down with me, jeopardize trust I’ve worked to build for months or years, blind myself to others going through similar or worse things. Subconsciously, buried under geologic layers of rationalization, I think that I can and should and must alleviate my pain by any means necessary. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge revelation to you; maybe you are also a lot more self-aware than I am. This perfectly obvious line from the book of James was written for me: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”
One of the things I love most about Jesus is that he is not a stranger to pain. The Gospels reveal that he wasn’t a superhero; there were many moments when he is, touchingly I think, revealed to be overwhelmed. Not just his sorrow at Gethsemane or his tears over Lazarus, but a thousand tiny blink-and-you-miss-them cues to his tender humanness: often hungry, exhausted, sick of crowds, Jesus was truly “tempted in every way we are,” even in the little things.
And also, he was so kind to wusses like me. I definitely see myself in Peter, with his bold protestations of a love stronger than death and his immediate abandonment at the first sign of trouble. It reminds me of that time when I was twelve and a new friend of mine and I were hanging out near the edge of the middle school playground. My friend was struggling at the time with certain school rules she felt were not fair, and she took a small, deliberate step outside the official school boundary, just to make a point that crossing this arbitrary line granted her freedom. Two school security guards found us apparently trying to escape and escorted us sternly back to campus. My friend stayed stoically silent, but I broke down in tears, insisting I’d done no wrong and begging not to share in any punishment. As it turned out, there was no punishment, and instead of justifiably scorning me for my cowardice, my friend went on to become my best friend. Such a man was Jesus, making traitorous Peter the rock of his church, associating with the strong and the weak alike, showering them equally with love in imitation of his Abba in heaven.
The apostle Paul suffered from some unspecified pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual we do not know. He begged repeatedly for relief from this “thorn in his side,” but was denied. God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” I pray that I would let go of my instinctive understanding of my pain and weakness as a license to seek relief by any possible means, however destructive. Instead, let me bear with the emptiness I feel, and let it become a vacuum that can ultimately be filled with all the fullness of God’s love.