Monday, April 25, 2011

Thanks for the Pain

Today and yesterday I have been in a great deal of pain, and this has given me an opportunity to reflect on the nature and purpose of pain.  Pain, you see, is the body's way of letting me know there is something wrong.  It forces me to stop and seek out the cause of the pain and to do something to help fix the problem.  Sometimes the pain is caused by an encounter with a hot object and the pain alerts me to this and causes me to jerk the endangered body part away so that it isn't permanently damaged.  Sometimes the pain is caused by an unexpected encounter with a sharp object such as a needle or a knife, in which case the pain alerts me to remove the object that is causing the pain so that further damage isn't done. Regardless of the reason for the pain, it's the body's way of warning me about problems so that I can fix them.  As soon as the problem is fixed, the pain will go away.  Therefore, I say to God, thank you for the pain. It is a gift that prevents me from greater harm and keeps me alive longer.

Everything in the physical realm has a spiritual component.  Just as pain alerts the human body to a problem, so suffering alerts humanity to an area that needs help.  Suffering isn't meant to harm us. It is meant to act as an early alert system to let us know there's a problem that must be fixed. We suffer only as long as the problem continues.  If we ignore the suffering of others, we do so at our own peril. Inevitably one person's suffering left untended impacts the entire human race. The child who is ignored and neglected grows up angry and takes his rage out on the society that looked the other way.  The group of people who are oppressed and victimized begin to oppress and victimize others.  Of course, it doesn't have to turn out that way.  We can reach out. We can treat the suffering early, prevent the tragedy that always follows when suffering is ignored.

This is why Christ taught His disciples that they must feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and care for the widow and the orphan.  He understood all too well that untreated suffering becomes a breeding ground for the disease of sin.  He knew that every human being is born for a reason, given talents and gifts that are intended for the benefit of the families, communities, nations, and world into which they are born, and that these talents and gifts are irreplaceable resources without which neither the family, the community, the nation, or the world will truly thrive.  He knew that neglecting suffering eventually leads to death - death of the family, death of the community, death of the nation, and eventually, death of the world.

True charity lies in loving your neighbor so much that you would lay down your life for them.  True justice lies in not just seeing the needs of your neighbor, but feeling your neighbor's suffering as if it were your own and then doing whatever needs to be done in order to treat the cause of the suffering.  It's not easy. I still struggle to reach that level of empathy. It's easier to distance myself from someone else's pain than it is to expose myself to it. It's very easy to immerse myself in the business of daily life and shut out those who are not part of it. It's very difficult for me to put aside my own needs, wants, and desires in order to focus on someone else's.  Yet this is precisely the challenge that Christ has laid out for me and for everyone who wishes to follow Him.  

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