Pain, the topic of this month’s blog posts, is a challenging subject because it is at once so broad and so specific.
Sometimes pain builds muscle (“no pain, no gain,” a spinoff of Ben Franklin’s famous quote). Other times it signals deterioration.
Pain attends new and wonderful things, like the birth of a child. Pain also signals the onset of disease and death.
There’s pain whose source we know, like the nail we step on while walking through a pile of old wood, and there’s referred pain, which appears somewhere other than its point of origin.
There’s pain that stops as soon as its stimulus is removed and pain that lingers, chronically—inescapably.
There’s acute pain and chronic pain.
There’s physical pain and psychological pain.
Medical experts identify three types of physical pain: (1) visceral pain, (2) neuropathic pain, and (3) somatic pain.
Visceral pain is a cramping feeling that ranges from dull and mild to sharp and severe. It is caused by anything from gas to gallstones.
Neuropathic pain is electric, tingling, or burning pain. It occurs when we hit our “funny bone” or pinch a nerve. One of my friends suffers with chronic neuropathic pain in his extremities. He has peripheral neuropathy, which is slowly, inexorably stealing his ability to walk and feel.
Somatic pain includes the most common instances of discomfort. It relates to bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It shows up as lower back pain, most types of headaches, arthritis, neck pain, and tendonitis.
Psychological pain (sometimes called psychogenic pain) encompasses every form of non-physical suffering. It is caused by emotional and psychological trauma.
Extreme emotional trauma in the form of frightening or life-threatening circumstances may cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTST). Some experts believe that less severe events, such as a divorce, loss of employment, or even witnessing a terrible car crash can also cause PTSD.
We encounter less extreme forms of psychological pain almost daily. We feel the pain of anxiety, stress, fear, frustration, embarrassment, anguish, sadness, grief, despair, loneliness, jealousy, shame, remorse, guilt, panic, rejection, and doubt.
Neuroscientists believe that the experience of both physical and psychological pain involve many of the same neurological connections.
One Saturday night I called my dentist. I was experiencing pain under one of my molars. He asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10…10 being ‘unbearable’…how much pain are you in?” I was between a 6 and 7.
Pain is a fact of life. Sometimes it’s a 1, sometimes it’s a 10.
For almost every form of pain there is a treatment, but certain pains, whether physical or psychological, never go away completely. We have to live with them.
Henri Nouwen observes that the road of pain and suffering is best traveled in the company of compassionate friendship:
“It is not hard to say to one another: ‘All that is good and beautiful leads us to the glory of the children of God.’ But it is very hard to say: ‘But didn’t you know that we all have to suffer and thus enter into our glory?’ Nonetheless, real care means the willingness to help each other in making our brokenness into the gateway to joy” (Life of the Beloved, 95).
Here are a few questions to consider:
From which kind of pain are you presently suffering?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how severe is it?
What are you doing to treat it?
With whom have you to shared it?
Whose pain are you helping to bear?
Thomas Jefferson said, “The art of life is the art of avoiding pain….”
That is wrong.
The art of life is accepting the inevitability of pain and resting, together, in the grace of the One who makes of it something valuable.
Chuck Conniry is Vice President and Dean of George Fox Evangelical Seminary, a graduate school of George Fox University, in Newberg, Oregon. Chuck holds several degrees, including the PhD in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and MDiv from Bethel Seminary, San Diego. He is married to Dianne and together they have three children and one daughter-in-law: Krystal, Matthew (and his wife, Ashley), and Nathan. Chuck loves to write, swim, and ride his Harley. He and his family reside in Sherwood, Oregon.