Cue Captain Obvious: Pain stinks. I’m in pain as I write this from a herniated disc in my back. It hurts constantly with a continuous, uninterrupted ache that is punctuated with delightful fireworks of shooting, stabbing jolts of pain. I like to think of myself as a person of strong character and self control who can quietly endure and accept the things I cannot change. Then I go five days with no sleep from the ache and the fireworks and I am worn down and edgy. There is a reason prisoners of war are kept awake for long periods of time while being painfully tortured. It wears us down. We begin to lose our composure, self control, and pretense of dignity. Many people stop talking to God during periods of intense suffering because they feel abandoned by God. We question God’s goodness and reliability. Why follow God when God lets me feel like this without lifting a finger? That barrier to prayer is theological, questioning the very nature of who God is. That will be the subject of another post someday. I want to offer something more immediate as another jolt of pain just shot down the sciatic nerve of my right leg. When all my energy and ability is poured into enduring pain, I have very little left in the moment to pray.
Pain is a very effective distraction. One of my favorite short stories of Kurt Vonnegut is called “Harrison Bergeron” and it shares a glimpse of a dystopian world where equality is enforced by law. Everyone must be equal in every conceivable way so a new government agency called the Handicapper General is formed. This agency devises methods to keep people equal. People who are unusually attractive must wear a blank mask to cover their beauty. People who are strong and athletic must wear weighted bags of sand to keep them from being stronger than anyone else. Those with above average intelligence must wear a set of earphones that randomly blasts deafening noises to interrupt thoughts. Harrison’s father can be seen wincing in the middle of a sentence from the painful shriek of a siren or the ear shattering blast of a car crashing in his head, unable to remember what he was trying to say. That’s how I feel today. That’s how pain can interrupt us in the middle of our prayers, leaving us unable to remember what we were saying. Harrison’s father was a brilliant man who was left incapable of connecting subject and verb. Pain can do the same thing to our faith and prayer life. Our deep reservoir of faith and trust do us no good as we are knocked off course constantly while trying to talk to God. Eventually, we lash out in anger and frustration and self medicate with self defeating bitterness and resentment.
The good news is that prayer does not depend on our ability to express coherent thoughts. O. Hallesby writes in his book “Prayer” that the first thing required of us in prayer is an acknowledgment of our own helplessness. God does all the work any way. We are saved by grace, remember, and not by our own works, which is good because I’m not getting much done today. Prayer is simply opening the door and letting God in to our need (Hallesby). This is also why we pray for each other. Pain can make prayer almost impossible for us so we help each other do what we cannot do for ourselves. If you are feeling well today, mention me when you pray. Ouch! Another one. I’m having a hard time staying on track. Thanks.