Framing Pain


While our suffering often feels arbitrary and meaningless, God embeds unique gifts under the wrapping of pain, disappointment and grief.

Due to chronic pain, sleep often evades me. When the insomnia happens for more than five consecutive nights, I have to draw upon every ounce of my spirituality to get through the dark hours without cursing God or descending into despair. Suffering reveals the extent of my powerlessness like nothing else. And to be honest, I hate it.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes, “Our lives are a spectacle of helplessness.” This is not my preference—I love to be in control—but as I age, I cannot argue with this reality. My spiritual work is to discern how to find God in the midst of the helplessness.

In my experience, the locus of our internal struggle as we suffer revolves around two central questions: “Is God good?” and “Will anything redemptive rise up out of this?” While our suffering often feels arbitrary and meaningless, I believe that God embeds unique gifts under the wrapping of pain, disappointment and grief.

Though we face an incredible loss of control and objectivity during these junctures, we actually do have power over how we respond. Jerry Sittser writes in A Grace Disguised:

The experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining moment of our lives. Instead, the defining moment can be our response to the loss. It’s not what happens to us that matters as much as what happens in us.

Our carnal response is typically to demand, “Why is this happening to me?” Asking this question in the midst of suffering is similar to driving a mini-van in thick mud—it only gets us more stuck. I’d like to suggest an alternative question for God: “Would you be with me and teach me how to be more like you?” This paradigm gives me traction out of meaninglessness and self-pity. It also enlarges my soul, giving me a greater capacity to love and offer empathy to others.

By using this frame, I’ve found a better way to endure those sleepless nights. I recall many of the tangible ways God has blessed and provided for me: a loving husband, believing children, a roof over my head, three meals a day, vision, my friends. This stills my mind and miraculously allows me to believe that God is fighting behind the scenes on my behalf. My body might still be dragging the following day, but my spirit has the will to live and continues to believe. Though I would never choose the road of suffering, I am grateful for the ways that it has transformed me into the image of Christ.

Written by Dorothy Greco

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