What Hurts More Than Pain
Note: I’ve been away for a few weeks finishing a paper for a class on suffering and healing. Jumping back in here with the devotional below which was given in the latest Broken and Mended support group meeting:
You might remember the story of God creating Adam and placing him in a garden. God had previously commented that everything in creation was “very good,” but when he observes the loneliness of man he says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” God created Eve in response to man’s need. Though that story describes the genesis of the relationship between a man and a woman, generally it could be said that it is never good for man or woman to be alone (What we mean here is not the occasional experience of being without company, but being without relationships). We are created as social beings and we need others. When we convince ourselves that this is not true, then we deceive ourselves and choose isolation. But God says that is not good. And when we are honest, we can admit that too.
Chronic pain and illness work to isolate us from others like few other things can. First of all, there is the reality that it is difficult for anyone to understand what you are going through. You can’t explain it, and some may even doubt your sincerity. Second, your health begins to limit you from activities and social gatherings. It might even keep you out of church. People who were good friends have little interest in slowing down to your pace. You soon find yourself in a very lonely place. Other attempts to engage with others is ultimately unsuccessful, discouraging you from even trying. Though understandable, your own behavior then exacerbates your dilemma.
People also feel isolated from God. This may have to do with missing church, but also from feeling like God let you down or maybe you think he is even punishing you or simply does not care. Depression and suicide rates are much higher in the chronically ill. It is no wonder when pain may be just the start of the struggle and lonely despair may be the end. The Bible has plenty of examples of lonely and brokenhearted people crying out to God. Here’s an example in Ps. 25:16-19:
me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!
This Psalm is attributed to David and he did have many enemies. Maybe we feel like people don’t care as much as they should, but we don’t likely have enemies trying to do us harm. However, the result for David is the same for us. His situation pushes him into isolation. But David knew whom to cry out to because he knew this about the Lord: Ps. 34:18:
The Lord is
close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The most important thing to remember when we are overtaken by an extreme experience of loneliness is that God cares and has not left us alone. The Bible is full of reminders of God’s promise to be with us and especially with those who have been brought low by forces beyond their control. Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah and applies it to his own ministry in Luke 4:18-19. Originally the passage said, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,” (Is. 61:1). Jesus, of course, is God in the flesh and came to share in our sufferings and he promised he would never leave us.
We are never truly alone among others as well. Although your experience is unique to you in that no one ever had the exact same experience, many suffer in similar ways, sometimes worse, sometimes less. Broken and Mended exists to bring some of these people together so that we are reminded that we are not alone and that we have a shared journey. We don’t do this just to commiserate but to actually help our situation improve by mutual encouragement and hospitality. Henry Nouwen describes this hospitality as, “a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition that we all share.”
Finally, there are ways to communicate with others who do not share your pain but are willing to listen. Find those people in your family and friends and be open with them. Broken and Mended is not a substitute for church, but it does provide a level of Christian fellowship that can be helpful. You are not alone!
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (New York: Image, 1979), 95.
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