Pain is simple: it's a bugger. A nice strong word which says what it means: pain can't be dressed up and made into a pretty story. The pain that you and I feel has no argument – it hurts.
But suffering is different. Suffering is what we make of our physical pain. How we interpret it – how we create its story. How it becomes meaningful to us and how we allow it to change us.
I picked upTimothy Keller's book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering in the library. Not quite sure why as I do not wish to be told that God has a special purpose for me through the heat burning my sacrum. Nor do I want to be told this is a punishment. Depressing to think what I must have done to merit this Karma.
He overviews different religious takes. Moralistic: this is punishment, I need to accept and do good. My prize will be eternal bliss. Buddhist, where it s all an illusion. I should detach myself, meditate and hope for enlightenment. Fatalistic: oh, well, there's nothing I can do about it. Tough it out and be admired for stoicism. Christianity which teaches, as he says, that suffering is real, overwhelming, often unfair but meaningful. And secular which finds pain an accidental interruption in an uncaring universe – take pain killers and carry on.
I do not glorify suffering like several of Christ's disciples who when crucified asked for it to be done upside down to be more painful. But my years of unremitting pain have “purified” me. I can understand those writers who find pain has drawn them closer to God, though cannot believe there was a deliberate plan for me to find grace through the drumming in my lower back.
But they have got something right, because learning to rise above daily pain and find a story that doesn't make me pathetic, searching for glimmers of hope and happiness has changed me deeply. And I don't want to hand that change back. Something has cleansed old irritations, grudges and negativity – and left me deeply happy. My daughter said to me when visiting this summer, “Mum, you are in a good place.”
For that I have to thank the experience of pain.