Spiritual Principles

The Paradox of Pain

On the face of it, it’s a paradox. “…by his stripes we are healed.”[i] Pain for God is healing for us. The verse suggests an aspect of healing surrounding pain. Let me illustrate with the following story.

She was a mess in the office in near full blown panic attack. Her dream job was at the tips of her fingers – a counseling job for at-risk youth. Just one problem. She was on a list that prohibited her from getting the job. The list included names such as those who were sexual predators or child abusers or unfit parents. Michelle[ii] had a difficult past. Previously she had married a man who failed to support her and her two children. Unfortunately she saw no way of caring for her children. In an act of love she gave up custody to the state while maintaining weekly visits to her kids.

Getting the Dream Job

Years later she was now getting her life back together. She had come off drugs. She had left an abusive husband. Now she had an opportunity to make a contribution. As a counselor, she would lead young people down a better path than the one she took. This was her dream job. It would not only provide a steady source of income but give her a sense of meaning and purpose. She wanted it badly.

The job process had stalled because no one on this list was allowed to work with youth. The only way to be removed from the system was to appeal through the courts.

She told me through the tears, “I have a daughter that wants to be on disability like myself. That’s not okay. You can’t make it on $745 a month. I want to show them that someone who had a father as a drug dealer and a mother as a prostitute can make it in this life. But now my job is slipping away from me.”

Bridging the Gulf

Michelle needed empathy. She needed to know that she was understood and that it would be okay. Michelle needed someone to come along side her and walk with her even for a moment.

But how could someone like me connect with someone like her? I had a doctorate degree. She had her GED. My father was a physician so I came from privilege. She grew up in poverty. I had a loving family. Her home environment was unstable. It seemed as if there was an impossible gulf between the two of us.

My Own Broken Dream

As I listened to her, a painful story of my own rose to the surface. To be clear nothing I had experienced could ever come close to what Michelle had gone through. But perhaps through sharing my own pain and how I had overcome she would receive comfort.

I shared how I had gone through four years of college followed by four years of medical school and gained over $200,000 in debt. It was a long grueling process. But all that hard work would finally get me into my dream residency training program.

Turns out that didn’t happen. I didn’t get in. Worse yet, I found out that they outright rejected me. It was the stuff of broken dreams. I even told Michelle my honest prayer, “God, this was my dream job. Why would you do this to me?”

But years after that painful experience I am now at my dream job. I realized that I had to take my dreams and not grasp onto them so hard. Rather I was to hold onto it loosely and trust that God would bring it back to me.

The Rest of the Story

I saw how Michelle identified with that story, particularly with my honest prayer to God. She seemed comforted to see how I had gone through the pain of a broken dream and made it out okay. She felt understood in that moment.

It was amazing to me how a seemingly impossible chasm was crossed. Though we were quite different, I was able to develop a healing connection with Michelle through a shared pain: broken dreams.

While our achievements separate us, it is our pain that unites us. It brings us together because we see ourselves in the other. Pain, perhaps more than any other human experience, connects us to each other.

God operated on this same principle. He drew close to us by taking on our pain. Pain, therefore, takes on a redemptive dimension. It was by his wounds that we receive healing.

In the same way, our own pain can take on healing and redemptive aspects. Sharing our pain serves to connects us to our patients. Sharing what God did for us in our pain connects the patient with God.

 

 

[i] Isaiah 53:5

[ii] Pseudonym

 

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