Does God Feel Pain?

God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Behold I have put My words in your mouth.”

From my 2009 Journal. The book of Jeremiah is his story, his testimony of how God spoke to him and called him to action. It includes strong imagery about the relationship between God the Lover and Israel who spurned His love.

  • I broke your bond and yoke to free you, but you shattered and snapped the bonds with Me.
  • I planted you, a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. But you turned into degenerate shoots of wild vine.
  • You wash yourself with much soap, yet your guilt and iniquity are still on you. You’re spotted, dirty and stained.
  • You’re like a female camel or donkey in heat! (Lots of lovers).
  • The images go on and on.

Donkey

God will not interact with everyone the same way. He’s too creative for that. But we can glean principles from Jeremiah’s life, truths that apply to us in this generation. It struck me today that God the Father experienced pain, rejection, and abandonment long before God the Son experienced it on earth. I want to live my life in such a way that I don’t ever cause Him pain, but I’m forever grateful that Jesus took all my pain onto His own body on the cross. 

Chronic Physical Pain

Pain pexels-photo-922436

From my 2009 Journal. I have learned a lot about handling physical pain through observing my friends who live with chronic conditions.

Friend #1: Rarely offers information, but will willingly answer my inquiries about her health. One day I asked her why. She said, “My mom was in constant pain and everyone knew it because she told you so . . . constantly. And I determined not to be like her.”

Friend #2: Occasionally mentions her chronic pain but never complaining, always enduring. “People don’t like to hear about your pain,” she observed. “I WILL praise God in the midst of it.”

Friend #3: Uses what she’s learned to teach others. “I have learned from my pain; now let me teach you. God is enough. He gives me strength.”

Friend #4: Everyone knows about her pain—because it’s the main focus and topic of every conversation. “Why doesn’t God do something about it?!”

Since I have not been tested yet in this area, I wonder how I will respond someday when it’s my turn?

Lessons from the Shingles

From my May 2016 Journal. Shingles, Day 9.When I came down with the shingles*, I had no idea what was in store for me in the days to come. But I determined right from the beginning that #1) I would have a positive attitude and #2) I would do my best to learn something from the experience.

With horrible nausea, I made two trips across town to the doctor, throwing up four to five times that day. Even with anti-nausea meds, I was barely functional. Finally the doc switched me to Phenergan. With one dose my life became bearable. I could tolerate the rash, the nonstop headache, the eye pain, and the loss of appetite. I thought of chemo patients and wondered how they tolerated such an assault to their bodies.

A book I read recently on healing mentioned that our perception of pain is related to the highest point of discomfort along with the final outcome of the ordeal (whether negative or positive). During the nausea, I thought I’d die. But as soon as it was under control, I suddenly thought, “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” How interesting is that!

As for lessons learned, so far the only thing I’ve come up with is this:

Before this all started, I heard a question posed on the radio: Who are you? My super-spiritual answer was “a daughter of the King.” But that’s not what my honest answer was. My initial response was related to what I DO: I’m an inner healing prayer minister.

In this last nine days of inactivity, I pondered the question again. I was perfectly content at this point with not being capable of praying with people. My identity this week had nothing to do with ministry. I felt no loss as to who I was. I was too sick to care. Would I have responded, “I’m a sick person”? Is that my identity or my condition?

I am loved. That is enough.

And so I’m grateful:

  • For a husband who’s taken excellent care of me.
  • For the little kindnesses from friends—a meal, a card, a run to the pharmacy, a visit.
  • That my pain has been very manageable.
  • For doctors and nurses and pharmacists and medicine, and a country where such is readily available.
  • For flexibility to cancel appointments without loss of job security.
  • For a comfortable couch, soft pillow, warm blanket, and a kitty for company.
  • That I only have a mild case of the shingles (I’ve heard horror stories).

Day 19, A few observations:

  • Schedules and to-do lists have become irrelevant.
  • Pain management easily takes front and center.
  • Time takes on a different dimension. I’m nearing three weeks of time standing still. One day is like every other—bed to couch, to attempt to do something, to couch. If something gets done, that’s good. If not, oh well!
  • I’m grateful for beauty—the moon, the roses, the trees and grass that I can see through my window, and the sunshine on my face when I sit on the deck for a few minutes.
  • It does no good to try to rush the healing process. You’ll just relapse.
  • Going down is quick. Getting back up takes effort and time.
  • Sleep is necessary.
  • Spiritual disciplines decline in direct proportion to how sick one is. I can gauge my recovery process according to how much I focus on prayer.
  • You can’t teach another person the lessons you’re learning. It will just be information to them until they experience it for themselves. (This is true for everything in life I think.)
  • It’s okay to just be—sometimes that’s all you can do. But it feels quite unproductive—which is my inner default drive—to do, do, do, produce, manage my goals, serve others. It’s hard to serve others when you’re self-focused.
  • Multitasking is no longer an option.

Observation after 5 weeks: I don’t like to talk about illness once I’m through the worst of it. Leave it alone please; let’s move on to something else. You have it far worse than I do. I don’t want to be the center of your focus and attention. Why? Where is that emotion coming from I wonder?

After 7 weeks: Following the shingles, I had laryngitis for four days followed by a full-blown cold, and then I lost a crown while out of town. I’ve had to fight to stay positive, but occasionally I leak! When it’s obvious I don’t feel well and I can’t hide it, people will ask and comment. But when it’s not obvious, I don’t like drawing attention to myself. But expressing it somehow helps me feel better. I watch my friends who have chronic pain who can be matter-of-fact about it—especially if asked—and others who verbalize it constantly, all the while declaring, “. . . but I won’t complain.” When does declaring facts morph into complaint? It starts, I think, in the heart.

So I have to check my attitude periodically. It is easy to get discouraged when the endpoint is unclear. What helps is to refocus, go to the castle of my heart, if even for a moment. It’s like a reset button. I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to fight against cancer or to come to the end of one’s life with no hope of recovery from illness or aging. No wonder people turn crotchety!

So, Lord, help me to pass this test and learn my lessons.

*Shingles: an acute, painful inflammation of the nerve ganglia, with a skin eruption, caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Mine attacked the right side of my temple in the trigeminal nerve and my right eye (where I’ve battled with flare-ups ever since). I’m so thankful for an excellent ophthalmologist.

Shingles 2

Peaches keeping me company

I Have a Question

Last week I talked about Gideon’s “Ifs.” Here’s another one, but with a twist.

Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, IF the LORD is with us, WHY then has all this happened to us? And WHERE are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’” (Judges 6:13 NASB, emphasis added).

Question mark

My clients often get stuck on the questions “Why?” and “Where?” Why did God allow the abuse? Why didn’t He rescue me? Why doesn’t He care about me? Where was He when it happened? Why didn’t He stop it?

And God seems to remain silent. He knows that answering the why and where questions won’t satisfy the heart because He knows what emotion or pain lies behind them.

When Gideon asks the why question, God does not answer him. Instead God replies: Go in this your might and you shall save Israel . . . Have I not sent you? (14)

In the next verse, Gideon responds with another question: HOW can I deliver Israel when I’m the least of the least?

Again, God doesn’t directly respond to this reasoning.

The problem is, when we ask the wrong questions, we often come to wrong conclusions and make false assumptions and accusations.

Gideon concludes: But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian (13).

When I’m attacked, falsely accused, demanded an answer of, my tendency is to go on the defense, attack back, or try to justify my actions. A better choice is to sidestep and find out what the other person is feeling. God knew that Gideon was feeling fear. Answering his questions wouldn’t satisfy his heart, because those weren’t the right questions. Twice, God sidesteps the questions and answers, “I am the solution, your answer, your source of power and strength” (14, 16).

Next time you’re tempted to ask God why or where, try asking instead: How do I feel that  . . . God allowed the abuse, didn’t answer my prayer, it seemed He wasn’t there, etc.? And then be willing to listen for God’s satisfying answer to your pain.

On a side note, after the pain is gone, sometimes God does indeed answer the client’s WHY questions. I’ve heard answers from Him such as, “Are you willing to let Me use this pain to minister to others?” and “I gave all men choices, and I won’t violate their will; neither will I violate yours.” And the WHERE? He always answers, “I was there with you, feeling your pain.”

What questions do you ask when you’re in pain?

The Journey Not to Home Part I

How should we respond to another person’s struggles? When is it appropriate to confront people? Is it ever right to judge them for their actions? How can I forgive if their actions or attitude affect me? Is it a matter of simply waiting for their heart to change? When do we put up with, when do we confront? How do we love them through it?

Journal from May, 2007. Moving my 88-year-old parents and Betty, a single missionary lady, from California to Florida was traumatic for all of us. It began yesterday at 6 a.m. with a 2-hour drive to the airport, arriving 2 hours and 40 minutes before takeoff. The flight was 4 ½ hours long, and it felt like an eternity. I was in charge of Mom while Paul [my brother] had to assist my incontinent Dad in navigating the tiny lavatory on board.

When we landed in Orlando, between us all we had 2 wheelchairs, 1 dog, and 12 pieces of luggage. In the flurry of getting everyone settled into the rental van, I forgot to pick up Dad’s walker. I hope we can retrieve it later from the airport.

The two-hour drive to Sebring was the hardest part of the journey. We pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot for dinner, and I entered the restaurant to place our order, thinking we’d all remain in the car to eat. But Dad decided at the last minute that he needed to make a pit stop. Without his walker, he had to hold onto Paul to walk to the building. In the process, Dad’s pants fell to his ankles in the parking lot! I was coming out the door at that moment, laden with all the sandwiches and drinks when I noticed the debacle. “Look at Dad’s pants!” I yelled at Paul.

Betty grabbed the food, I grabbed Dad’s left side, and Paul held on tight while bending down to pull up the pants. Somehow we made it through supper inside and got everyone back into the van. By this time, Dad was near exhaustion.

We arrived at their new home, and Mom put Dad to bed immediately. She had to struggle with changing his soiled Depends and finding a plastic sheet for the bed. And then she collapsed, weeping with great heaving sobs of relieve that the ordeal was over. I think we were all awake most of the night, too tense and exhausted to fall asleep.

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Day 5. After unpacking all their worldly goods, hanging photos on the wall, hooking up the TV, etc., I had a little time to explore the retirement complex and greet several missionaries I ran into, including Evie Lohnes.

My dear mother, so strong, so nurturing, so full of life to me growing up, is hurting so much. She carries a lot of anger, disappointment, grief and pain inside, and it continues to leak out in outbursts of irritation and tears over her losses. It was not her choice to make this move across the country, leaving behind her beloved daughter and grandchildren. And I think she feels the weight of caring for Dad as she has done all of her life.

In contrast, I listened to Evie, a recent widow, who spends her days in prayer and praise and a positive spirit with sweetness and encouragement. I asked her how she got to be this way, and she answered in a partial way:  “My husband was the most wounded man I know . . .” and then proceeded to tell me all the good he’d done in his lifetime. I could only read between the lines—that she was driven to her Savior for comfort and help. [I have pondered this statement many times throughout the years as I face whatever trials I go through or meet with difficult people.]

In church today the soloist sang “My Anchor Holds,” and the tears came unbidden. When Evie prayed for me and my parents, I wept openly. And now at 3 a.m. I lie awake and continue crying. For whom do I weep? For myself? For my mother’s sadness?

How much does Daddy feel? Sometimes he’s so out of it; other times he’s quite lucid and worried over details. I think he must feel what Mom is feeling. How can her mood not affect him? But he is totally dependent on her. She has become his mother.

The air in this house is thick, heavy, sad, oppressive. Negativity in the atmosphere can be toxic. At Evie’s, the light is bright and a cool refreshing breeze is blowing.

Lord, I don’t want to become a bitter, cantankerous, angry old woman in my old age. I want to find beauty in ashes, joy in sorry, light in the darkness. Lord, teach me.

Day 14. I just finished up a hard two weeks of listening to my mother struggle with anger, disappointment, grief and feelings of betrayal over their forced move to Florida. If we’re not related to a person or living with them, it’s easy to shrug off their negativity. But living with daily bitterness is wearing on one’s soul. I found myself reacting back in anger and irritation.

Jesus minced no words of condemnation for those whose hearts were blinded by self-importance. But those who had a repentant heart, He freely forgave and comforted. What if a person blatantly holds pride and sin inside? What if he/she is simply protecting pain? I cannot see inside another person’s heart, but I do know that what comes out of the mouth often reveals what’s inside.

I cannot judge my mother’s heart, but I can give God my own self-protection for the sorrow I feel. I choose to release my own anger to Him to carry.

To be continued next week . . .

Learning Through Suffering

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NASB).pexels-photo-551590

Was it only at Gethsemane and the cross that the Son of Man suffered and therefore learned obedience? Or was He learning it all along?

How was junior high for Him? Was He rejected, accepted, or loved by His peers? As a toddler, did He get into trouble for wandering off? When did He first understand enough to respond in obedience to Mary or Joseph’s commands? As a ten-year-old, ever feel sad when He saw injustice, poverty, or illness, and knew that it wasn’t His time yet to make things right? That he had the power to heal, but didn’t because He was learning obedience to His Father? What about His temptation in the wilderness?

Was it a shock to Mary when she had a second child and found that he had a sin nature? Did Jesus’ sibs feel jealousy toward Him? Was He given preferential treatment because He was the firstborn, or because He was such a goody-goody? I suspect Jesus’ suffering began at conception—the Creator of the space of the universe confined to the space of a womb.

Why am I surprised when someone reacts positively during a trial? I expect him or her to struggle, to rage, to cry and complain. But when someone gives glory to God and rejoices in the suffering, I’m suspect. Is she for real!? Perhaps it’s because I know my own heart. . . .

Why do I/we believe that we don’t deserve sorrow and pain? Our behavior is often an attempt at pain denial or pain removal. When is pain part of God’s plan and we should embrace it and lean into it?

Past emotional pain—remove it. Present pain—lean into it.

There’s always a purpose for our suffering . . . God never wastes our pain. Jesus learned obedience. What have you learned?