Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 30th May 2021.
‘Pain and Hope’
I was prompted to reflect this week on the subject of pain, following a telephone call from a friend. Those of you who read my reflection for last Sunday may recall that I mentioned a friend who was going into a London hospital two weeks ago for open heart surgery. He telephoned me a few days ago to say that, having had his operation postponed three times, he had finally made it to the operating table and was now back home. When I asked how he was feeling, he said he was in a lot of pain from the major invasive surgery in his chest, but he lived in the hope of being pain-free within a few weeks and being able to look forward to enjoying some renewed quality of life.
The first mention of pain in the Bible is in the first book of the Old Testament – Genesis. In Chapter 3 we learn that God, being angry at the first woman for tasting the forbidden fruit and persuading her male partner to taste it, said to her: “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children …” And so it has been since human life began, that women have had to bear the pain of childbirth. But they know that the joy of bringing forth a baby is worth the pain, which will soon go away – until the next time!
The most well-known story of pain described in the Bible is, of course, the pain suffered by Jesus, who was nailed to a wooden cross and left to die. His pain ended only with death, and people at the time had no reason to believe that there would be any joy following the pain. But as we now know, there was joy following the pain – the joy of seeing the risen Christ and the joy and hope that his resurrection gave to all who believed in him of a resurrection from pain and death in this life to a new and pain-free eternal life. As St. John says in the last book of the New Testament – in Revelation Chapter 21 – “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And so we live in hope that pain will always be defeated, if not in this world, in the world to come.
We all suffer pain at some time in our lives, to some degree or another. It may be our own physical or mental pain, or it may be because we share the pain of someone else. There is a story which C. S. Lewis (an Oxford and Cambridge academic and the author of the Narnia Chronicles) once told a friend about himself. He had married late in life. He and his wife were so in love and happily married, but sadly their marriage was soon brought to an end when she died of cancer. Lewis confided in his friend: “I never expected to have in my sixties the happiness that passed me by in my twenties.” He told his friend how he had shared his wife’s pain. “You mean”, said the friend, “that the pain left her and you felt it for her in your body?” “Yes”, said Lewis, “in my legs. It was crippling. But it relieved hers.”
We all cope with pain in different ways. Some people have a low pain threshold, others a higher one. And we all have different ways of coping with pain. Sometimes, pain will never let go of us, for example, when one has lost a child or a partner. The pain can often come back to haunt us.
How do people cope with pain? Aside from medical intervention, one way of helping someone with physical pain is lashings of TLC – tender loving care. The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles said: ““One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.”
I shall return to C.S. Lewis for an observation on mental pain: “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken’.” We can see and understand a physical injury in someone, but we can’t see or fully appreciate the extent of mental pain in another. How often have we asked someone how they are and received the reply, “I’m fine”, when we know they are not!
As I have indicated above, a woman in labour pains lives in the hope of a healthy birth and relief from pain; and the Christian who suffers pain lives in hope of freedom from pain, in this world or in the world to come. The Dalai Lama once placed an emphasis on hope as a counter to pain, saying this: “No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
In our church services, we regularly prayer for those in pain and suffering. And many people pray at home, or wherever they happen to be, for those whom they know to be sick, in pain or suffering in any way. If you or someone you know is suffering and in pain at the moment, here is a prayer you may like to use:
Lord God, give us the faith to know you are with us in our pains and struggles, and the hope that through them we may find healing and new life. As we move through our times of suffering, give us the hope that we may emerge as new people, stronger and more loving than before. Amen.