In just a few weeks, I will be going into the hospital for surgery. I’m not looking forward to this. But I know it’s necessary if I want to get back to good health. I’ve got lots of company. It seems every week another friend or family member is dealing with illness.
How do we handle illness and pain? How do we deal with suffering, both emotional and physical? One way is to see yourself as a steward of it. That sounds strange, I know. But, remember the parable of Jesus where he talks about burying the talents in the ground -- talents of course being money. Think of it for a minute as a parable about dealing with pain.
Two servants do one thing with it, and the third servant does something radically different, and with radically different results.
The third servant takes what he is given and buries it, and by doing so, becomes the blood brother of all of us at one time or another. And when confronted by the master he says, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you do not sow and gathering where you do not winnow.” And that is true of God. God is hard as well as merciful. Life is hard as well as marvelous.
Hard and terrible things happen to us, and it is tempting to dig a hole in the ground and bury all that is hard and terrible.
But what the parable is saying is that when we bury the pain, we tend to bury other things with it, including joy, that to bury life is to strop growing. To bury your life is to have it wither in the ground and diminish.
The other two servants get it right. They take what life has given them, and instead of burying it, live it fully with the faith that one way or another it will work out. Taking the various sums of money they were given, they “went and traded it”. To trade is to give of what we have in return for what we need. The good and faithful servants were not life-buriers. They were life-traders. They did not close themselves off in fear but opened themselves up in risk and hope.
Being a good steward of your pain involves all those things, I think. It involves being alive to your life. Another author said, “The place of the wound is the place of the healing. The place of the break is the place of greatest strength.” The places that need healing in our lives are often the places where we can experience the greatest growth, and the greatest faith.
I don’t pretend to know the mind of God. I am a searcher, just as you are. But I do know this. In my seasons of highs and lows, I’ve noticed something. I rarely learn much from pleasure, but I learn volumes from pain. Don’t get me wrong. I prefer pleasure. Only a fool prefers pain. But I’ve noticed that, whereas the highs make me glow, the lows make me grow. And I have to believe this is why God put us in a world of both pleasure and pain, good and evil, highs and lows.
The highs keep us going, but the lows keep us growing — emotionally, intellectually and spiritually until the day comes when we are ready to live eternally, without pain, in the presence of God.
Rev. Nancy Mead is the pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Alamosa.