Spiritual gifts are listed in different places in the Bible as good virtues given by God, like wisdom and courage. Most of us never think about pain as a good gift from God, yet there are stories of Jesus healing the lepers, who were people who felt no pain. Ironically then, when they were healed, they began hurting again.
Leprosy injured the nerves, so if a leper stepped on a nail and never felt the pain, the injury would worsen over time. The reason we blink our eyes is because they get dry and cause pain, which is relieved for us when we blink. But the lepers did not feel that dry eye and so they went blind.
Most of us don’t want more pain. Women who give birth more than once are incredible for their willingness to endure all kinds of pain for the purpose of giving new life. I have known soldiers who endured all kinds of pain in order to save lives and overcome evil. They must not have wanted pain, but they went through it for a worthwhile purpose.
Maybe pain is similar to anger. We usually don’t think of anger as a good gift from God; however, when anger takes the form of righteous indignation and energizes people to fight evil, the worthwhile purposes can be understood as good gifts from God.
If you are in pain other than pregnancy, you may be praying for different gifts from God, and understandably so. When I took my children to get their vaccinations, they did not think the pain was a good gift from their earthly father. They would have asked for different gifts from me. Having had most of those childhood diseases they were immunized against, I am certain their moments of pain during the shots were worth it to prevent them from getting sick.
Viktor Frankl and other authors who have been in pain teach that we should focus not on the painful situation, but on our last human freedom: to choose what we think about. Frankl should know, as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. When I’ve been in physical pain, like with a kidney stone or pancreatitis, looking back, that severe pain got me to the hospital in search of relief, so it may have been a blessing from God. My preference might have been more like W. C. Fields, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia!”
When I’ve been in emotional pain, my temptation has been more to quote King David’s 22nd Psalm (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) than his famous next one (“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Ps. 23:1).
The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter. Comfort is what we usually want when we’re in pain. If we were lepers, we could be more open to pain, and think about pain in a different way, maybe even in a grateful way (“Give thanks in everything,” from 1 Thes. 5:18).
If you’re in pain and need help thinking about it in a different way, then recruit helpers and the Comforter.
Dr. Ray Smith is the most sought-after counselor and relationship coach for physicians in Spokane. After graduating with a Doctor of Ministry from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, he worked with doctors in Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, Spokane, and Memphis, where he earned a second doctorate, in counseling. His background in parish ministry led to pastoral counseling and coaching for Christian MDs and the creation of physicianscoaching.com to help G.P.s and specialists deal with their unique stresses in medicine.
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