This morning has been rough for me physically. Every day I experience "morning stiffness" upon waking up, and some days the stiffness just doesn't go away. Today I had an 8am class, so it was pretty painful to make it to school and sit in a non-padded chair through the three hour lecture. I never know when my morning stiffness is going to last all day, so I often push past the pain and try not to dwell on it, thinking it will likely subside soon. But sometimes it lingers, and the pain can be so intense that it brings small tears to my eyes. Not necessarily because I'm overwhelmingly sad, but because it really hurts.
Being in intense pain while listening to a lecture is hard work. And I realized this morning that when I recognize the truth that I am sacrificing my personal comfort for the sake of learning to better help others feel the comfort and hope of God's coming Kingdom, great joy enters into my present experience of pain. Though it's sometimes healthier for me to stay home, there are times when I can push through pain. But in either way that I cope, it is imperative that I stay mindful of my experience. When I am mindful in the moment of the fact that it is truly difficult to be a student with chronic pain, I am presented with an opportunity to respect myself and revel in the calling God has put on my life. It's a godward moment, a space in my heart to submit my experience of pain to God knowing that he wants to use it for the good of others. Small moments like these when I'm wincing in pain are sometimes sacred spaces where sadness over my authentically hard experience mingles with the joy of knowing God is working to redeem pain in all its forms--and that I get to help others know this coming redemption. It is by no means an invalidation of my sadness but rather an active and mindful experience of it in the presence of a God who cares about it intimately.
So as I sit here typing and feeling rather woozy, I am smiling inside even as I wince and close my eyes at the world that's beginning to spin around me because of the pain. But I write even now because I so want you to know that joy can enter into our sadness when we let ourselves experience it. It doesn't always. It won't always come. And we don't have to dutifully force ourselves to feel it. But it can come. And It will. I truly believe that a gift of suffering with chronic pain is that through it God often enlarges our capacity to feel joy. You might feel like that is the farthest thing from the truth right now, and I respect you for feeling that. I've felt that way too. But I also long for you to know and experience the truth that God deeply cares about your pain, so much so that he sent his Son to live in a broken human body, experiencing the worst physical pain imaginable in addition to the existential weight of your and my angst, so that he could redeem it and banish it from the world forever. Jesus knows my pain and your pain and he conquered it. When he comes again, our pain will end forever. And in the meantime, the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can live in our hearts, tenderly helping us face our pain and find joy in and despite it.
And that's part of the beauty of these sacred, pain-filled moments--they exist because the Spirit of God lives in me. My pain-filled moments can be invaded by joy because they are an opportunity to commune with the Living God. This is somewhat heady, existential stuff, but it's also the stuff that faith is made of. So, if you have the mental energy, wrestle with it, wrestle with me and with God by reflecting on the following verses:
In the Lord our laboring in these small, pain-filled moments is not in vain. Sometimes pain can make us feel joy, because in it we can know the suffering love of Jesus and the real power of his resurrection. And, friends, there is no greater joy than beholding the love of God in Christ.