Some aches and pains are easier to ignore than others. There's the "Ooh, it hurts to move my finger," variety or the "Gee, what did I do to my knee?" kind. Those are usually fairly easy to ignore, or at least to create some mental distance where you can carry on pretty much unhindered. Then there's the, "Hmm, lunch didn't seem to agree with me, I think I'll lie down for a little while," or the "This sore throat is no fun, maybe I'll stop for a cup of hot caramel apple cider." These slow you down and may even make you ease up on your work schedule somewhat, but no big deal, right?
Everyday ordinary aches and pains--we all have them, we all live with them, we all try to make the best of life with them. I am blessed to live with very few and very minor aches and pains--I hope you are too. However, I have a recent experience with pain that opened my eyes to something in me that lurks just beneath the surface of my personality that I never dreamed was there!
Last week I felt a stabbing deep shock of pain in a lower molar, one my dentist has been watching for many years, having told me long ago that this tooth would one day have to go. I thought, "Uh oh! Here we go." For a couple of days I tried some home care strategies, but nothing was working and the pain was increasing, radiating out through my jaw and neck and ears and head. It was a pretty easy decision, staring at a brand new x-ray with my dentist, to say, "It's time--pull the tooth."
Now, I am not really a happy dental patient, and was preparing myself for this to be a bad experience, but my dentist was awesome and had the tooth out before I knew it. Easy-peazy! Done deal, right?
The next day, not only was my pain not gone, it was worse and continued to get worse over the weekend. I was back in the dentist's chair Monday morning, where I told him he'd better get out the Novocaine before he touched my mouth or I might deck him! I wasn't joking. The pain was so incessant, so intense, and so in-my-head, that all my reserves of patience, tolerance and flexibility were gone! He determined that the tooth right in front of the one he pulled was also causing me problems and needed some work--ugh! It was a little more involved than expected, but he got at least the first steps of the fix taken care of and sent me to the pharmacy for antibiotics and pain medicine on my way home.
After driving 20 minutes and battling my way to a parking space, I arrived at the busy Costco pharmacy, put in my prescriptions and inwardly groaned when they said it would take 30 minutes. The Novocaine was beginning to dissipate and I had no idea how bad my pain was going to get before I could take something for it. While I sat there, fairly pulsing with impatience, I was flooded with a barrage of uncharitable thoughts toward every person unfortunate enough to wander through my field of vision. Suddenly everyone struck me as annoying, obtuse, ugly, stupid, inconsiderate, idiotic . . . well, I could go on, but you get the idea. Like the contrast between these two versions of the same picture, what I looked at was not what I saw--my pain distorted everything.
Even in the throes of this emotional mishmash of pain and fear and need and urgency, I was horrified at these thoughts that were so foreign to my normal way of thinking! Believe me, I'm not saying I never have a critical thought toward people, because sadly, I do, but NEVER like THIS!!! It was like the light was too harsh, every sound came through like a screech and everything I saw was being filtered through my pain and colored some horrible shade of ugly.
I hated the way it felt to think like this, but in the moment I felt powerless to think differently. Lord help me!! was the best I could do. Thankfully nothing I was thinking came out of my mouth!
Later, when the medicine had begun to help and I had escaped my feelings of desperation, I took the opportunity to think about those few long minutes of horrible thoughts and what they might mean. I couldn't help thinking about my recent experience when a stranger spoke ugly words to my daughter and me for no reason I could understand. Could this be why she acted as she did? Was she in some kind of unspeakable pain, physical or otherwise, that completely clouded her view? Does pain help explain (although, not excuse) why so many people are doing and saying such horrendous things in the world today?
I don't know, but if my recent experience is any indicator, pain can have a drastic impact on a person's disposition and their ability to interact with people. Pain is NOT a good enough reason for anyone to harm or mistreat others, but it may be a factor in what drives them. Maybe the next time I see someone being horrible to the people around them, this experience will help me see through the eyes of compassion, rather than the eyes of judgment and disapproval.
Jesus Himself set the most unimaginable example of this, when at the worst of His suffering on the cross, He said the unthinkable,
"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
Luke 23:34a KJV
Does pain ever cloud your vision?