Pain is an indicator to the body that something needs to change. Of all the odds and ends of interminable lectures during my college years, this was something I never forgot. Neuroscience tells us that we feel pain in the brain and that we can actually rewire the neural pathways once the source of pain ceases.
I was lying on the therapy table when my physical therapist gently said, “Remember, what we resist persists.” I must have been tensing up my body, so I consciously focused on diaphragmatic breathing in order to move my nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic. It was time to allow pain the room to teach me what I needed to do.
She worked on my pelvic tilt, moving my legs up and down, left and right. All the while, she said, “I like to imagine the spiritual metaphor of physical therapy. Healing happens when we are ready to face our pain. And it’s not just physical pain. Our bodies are always telling us there’s more going on behind the surface.”
I started to tear up. She continued with a beautiful explanation of inhaling the gifts of the Holy Spirit and exhaling all the garbage I’ve kept inside too long.
For a moment, I imagined my pain as a gift to God. My physical therapist said, “God will use your suffering, Jeannie.” I knew this was true. Each of us stumbles upon thickets and thorns on our life’s journey, and we didn’t always see them up ahead. We are surprised by suffering, as if we should be exempt from it somehow—if only our faith were stronger.
But faith does not negate the reality of human suffering, and though it is not an aspect of God’s perfect will, He permits it. I admit there are seasons in my life I’d rather not carry the cross I’ve been handed. When I was young, I naively believed I could be a heroine by asking for hardships. But now I know this is unnecessary. God gives us the very struggles needed for our sanctification.
If we resist the gift of the Cross, what is left? Only pain, not the blessing. I began to work with the pain during therapy, just as I have in the past with labor contractions. Through my tears, I committed to God that I would give Him this trial, that it would not be wasted suffering but would bear fruit in some way, perhaps even a way I couldn’t yet see or understand.
It’s easy for a person like me to write about carrying one’s cross, which has become an unfortunate cliché in Catholic parlance. But I understand how draining and exhausting it is to live with chronic pain. I’ve felt as if the light has been extinguished, that I don’t have the energy to participate in the activities my children want to. I’ve grown despondent and discouraged when I need to rest or sit instead of carry on with something I want or need to do around the house.
But when I surrender my physical pain to God, He elevates me in a mysterious way. I am strengthened in knowing He is with me, that I am given an opportunity to participate on His Calvary walk, and that mine will not end in crucifixion but in healing, if only in Heaven. It’s when I resist what I’d rather not deal with that life gets harder. And the pain stronger.
When I am suffering, I often imagine Jesus during His Passion. And that gives me greater love to do for Him in some small way what He did for me. We console His Heart when we give Him our brokenness, weariness, and wounds. In that unity of the will, we discover the union of our hearts to His, and therein begins the journey to healing.