I’ve dealt with constant back pain for going on five years now. It began while I was working in Japan, a variety of little strains and stressors all coming to a head one day under the weight of a heavy backpack in an explosion of pain in the middle of my spine. I assumed whatever was broken would heal with time and tried to ignore it, but the pain persisted and spread, creeping around my ribcage and down my hip as the months and years passed.
The degree of health care available to me fluctuated over the years between international moves, different jobs, insurance companies and schedules squeezed between work and graduate school. I saw a variety of primary care doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, neurologists, and the occasional MRI or emergency room x-ray technician.
Inevitably, each new health care professional would listen to my symptoms - the shooting pain, the tingling sensations, the painful breathing, the intermittent numbing and weakness in my arm and leg - with apparent compassion, answers, and promises of treatment and relief. I would leave my first few appointments feeling hopeful and supported. Myself and whatever insurance company I was under at the time would pour money and hours into the hands of these professionals. Months would go by. But the pain persisted and the promises faded.
I realized eventually that often those who seemed the most compassionate and made the biggest promises also made the most money from me in those initial weeks or months of hope that this new treatment could fix me.
The trouble with treatment plans
There are far more severe and lasting pains than my injured spine; the pain of lost loved ones, betrayed and broken relationships, cancer, perceived and actual failure. Or the suffering of the thousands of people impacted by the tsunami I left behind in Japan. It disturbs me that sometimes Christians seem to regard these tragedies as opportunities for people to “find Jesus” and rush in offering spiritual treatment plans of prayers, repentance, church going and Bible reading.
We become like those medical professionals, approaching the pain of another person with grand promises of relief we cannot deliver, and an agenda of our own to find validation in their healing.
With some of the doctors I’ve seen there’s come a point when we both realize their efforts are not resolving my pain. I can feel them detach from me, feel them gradually stop trying even as they keep going through the motions of treatment. The best of them have told me regretfully to move on and try something else. Others have continued taking my time and money until I make the call myself. Either way I am left not only with the same old pain, but a nagging sense of abandonment and a fresh wave of disappointment.
Unfortunately, I think this is also what eventually happens when we approach more serious suffering with a certain spiritual agenda. When “finding Jesus”, reading the Bible and going to church doesn’t fix someone’s pain we withdraw, and maybe even start to quietly blame the person. Because surely if they were doing Christianity right the pain of abandonment would fade, or they would have peace about their cancer, or they wouldn’t need that medication anymore.
Long-term compassion for long-term pain
But the suffering of other people is not seen as an opportunity by those who truly follow the words of Jesus to “weep with those who weep”. God certainly does not approach our pain as a tool for him to leverage. He makes no grand promises that converting to Christianity, going to church or reading the Bible more will take pain away, and neither should we.
Yes, there is a clear and precious hope that someday the pain in my spine and the gaping wounds left by lost loved ones and the most shattering failures will all find their resolution in a world restored to what it was created to be.
But in this life pain lingers. In this life there are no quick fixes or easy answers to the problem of pain. There is only a God who does not leave us alone with our suffering. A God who walks with us through loss, hope, disappointment, and the perilous climb toward healing. A God who carries our pain beside us.
And this is the example he sets for us to follow. We do not approach others in pain with agendas and quick-fix promises. We approach with compassion and longsuffering. We enter in for the long, difficult, murky path of shoulding the pain of another person. Because the real love Jesus shows us is not a quick-fix or an easy answer, it is a long walk.
Christina Jones is a Press Service Internationalyoung writer from the US.
Christina Jones is a Press Service International young writer from the USA.