(Reprinted from the book, “God Happened To Be In the Neighborhood” by Ken Jones)
I’VE ALWAYS loved company. I grew up in a home where the front door was seldom locked and a constant stream of friends and relatives enriched our lives with their warmth and conversation. I learned the art of hospitality by watching my parents welcome guests into our home – guests who had come with no other motive or agenda in mind but to see us and talk.
When it was time to go home, the company always seemed to know it. As the conversations died down, one of the guests would say, “Well, it’s time to go. We don’t want to wear out our welcome.” My parents would respond to such statements with a predictable, “Don’t rush off,” or, “What’s your hurry,” but everyone seemed to know the rules for a visit: Before it becomes awkward, thank your hosts for their hospitality and then … leave.
When my wife and I were first married, we continued the practice of opening our home to family and friends. Friendships, cultivated in the setting of our living room have enriched our lives, our family, and our ministry.
In the summer of l983, however, an uninvited guest came to our door. He did not knock. He swaggered into our home unannounced and has been taking advantage of our hospitality ever since. He dominates many of our conversations. He chooses his own seat at our dining table. He has his hand in virtually every aspect of our lives and insists that we plan our everyday routines and even our vacations around him. Frequently, when I embrace my wife, or even look into her beautiful green eyes, he is there. Even our marriage bed is not a stranger to him, and he seems to take particular delight in spoiling our attempts at intimacy. He sits with us in church. He goes with us on long walks. He was not invited. He was not expected. His name is Pain. He has become an uninvited guest at our house.
And he doesn’t know when it’s time to leave.
For most people, pain is a relative word. When a headache interrupts our usually painless life, most of us hurry to the medicine cabinet and grab a couple of aspirins. Within minutes, our acute pain has subsided, we feel better, and life goes on. However, for millions of others, chronic pain is truly a “relative” word, like a long lost family-member who drops in uninvited and unwelcome and doesn’t know when to leave. That’s the way it is at our house.
I first noticed him when he would drop by for a casual visit, affecting and infecting my wife with his own brand of domination. She would slow down and wait for him to leave before she could resume her household chores and other wifely, motherly, teacherly duties. She usually announced his presence with variations on a theme: “My legs are really hurting me today.”
But in the early days it was rare for us to postpone any of our activities because Pain had dropped by for a visit. In fact, I rarely paid any attention to whether he was visiting or not. He didn’t talk to me. Only to my wife.
It became increasingly apparent, however, that he was taking advantage of our hospitality. This uninvited guest frequented our home more and more often, and we decided to seek professional help to evict this pest. After nearly two years of increasing discomfort and various treatments, doctors recommended that Randee undergo fusion surgery for the deteriorating disc in her lower back. We hoped the operation would bring relief from her pain and let her return to a normal life. Neurosurgeons performed the delicate surgery.
For days afterward, I sat in the hospital room and held her hand. I stroked her face and told her I loved her. But she couldn’t hear me, because Pain was talking to her. The corridor lights flashed at 9:00 P.M. signaling the end of visiting hours. Nurses would come and tell me – the husband – I had to leave. But he stayed with my Randee all night long.
Ten days after surgery, we heard the good news from the doctor, “You can go home today.” I packed her things. The nurse wheeled her down the hall, and the four of us got on the elevator: Randee and me, and the nurse . . . and Pain. I brought the car around to the front door of the hospital. Three of us got in and rode off together. The nurse stayed at the hospital.
Since that first fusion surgery more than thirty years ago, our lives, Randee’s and mine, have been filled with so many wonderful memories, events, grandchildren, and incredible friendships. Our lives are enriched by the ministry to others that we enjoy tremendously. But, all along the way, Pain has been a constant presence in our lives. Randee’s degenerative disc and joint disease has resulted in a total of five fusion surgeries in her neck and back. And, she’s had both sides of her jaw replaced. She’s had three radical jaw surgeries, her mouth wired shut three times. She’s had both her knees replaced. Three hand surgeries. Three foot surgeries. So many wonderful doctors. So many caring nurses. And so much ongoing … pain. Early-on in our marriage, Pain came to take up what seems to be permanent residency in our home. It may be that he lives at your house too.
I don’t know what you think about him, that robber, that intruder, that violator who has come through your door and won’t let you rest. The cause of his visit may be a herniated disk or a birth defect. It may be a car accident or an emotional breakdown or deep depression. It may be alcohol or drug induced pain. But it is pain. Real. Profound. Impossible to adequately describe. Pain.
I don’t know how you feel about your particular, personal pain. But I am confident that when chronic pain comes to call, he brings baggage – feelings of isolation, fear, and doubt.
I don’t know what you think of Him, the Carpenter, the Storyteller, the Teacher – who spits on the ground and makes mud, then smears it on darkened eyes and they see.
I don’t know how you feel about the Doctor, the Physician, Heaven’s Healer who shouts into deaf ears, “Be opened!” and they are.
But I will tell you how this husband and pastor feels – what I’ve learned about pain:
l. Pain came into my life because God opened the door. God didn’t cause the pain, but I am convinced He allowed it. Why? I have no idea. I only know … He knows. We choose to let that be enough, with regard to the ‘why?’ question.
2. Life and Pain are not the same. Both are difficult, but they are not the same.
3. By seeing Pain as a person, I distinguish the one I love from the one I hate. My wife and Pain are not the same. The mother of my three sons, —the grandmother of my genius grandkids— and Pain are not the same. She is the joy of my life. He wants to rob me of that joy. I really work at loving her, and distinguishing her from … him.
4. Some days are better than others.
5. Some days are worse than others.
6. Every day is unlike any other, and I get to do two really important things, every day: Refuse, and Choose. Every day, I refuse to allow pain to define my relationship with my wife, my family, my life. The uncertainties of life are a part of every single person’s journey. I refuse to see our particular bag of challenges as something that makes us ‘special.’ And every day, I get to choose to walk in the light of God’s sovereignty. He knows. I do not. I’m okay with that reality. (I might as well be; there’s not much I can do about the things only He has control of.)
7. It helps when I pray for my wife. (And I am woefully inadequate in that regard.)
8. It helps when she prays for me. (And she is remarkably faithful in that regard.)
9. We are learning together about not dwelling on him; he pummels the flesh, but we choose to affirm the spirit and the worth of each other.
10. We are both absolutely convinced that pain will not stay forever. He will be evicted one day by the Guest of Honor who sits at the head of our table and our lives. He who does all things well will perform it. It may not be today . . . but someday.
“Now the dwelling of God is with men,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
And God Himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning
Or crying . . .