Back Pain and Soul Pain

General

There is a lie that floats about in our culture. It goes something like this – “healing has not happened (or worked) unless I do not feel pain any more.” As an Army prison chaplain, I experience it most in relationship to mental/spiritual anguish or “the dark night of the soul.” 

It goes something like this – the individual’s coping methods to dealing with pain land them in jail. They continue down this path (substituting alcohol, sex, drugs with ego trips, anger/rage, prescription meds) until they realize that they are still suffering greatly. They first reach out to mental health for relief and then, after realizing that drugs “won’t fix it” or that their counselor is encouraging them to work through their stuff reject it and show up in church. 

Here, they start reading the Bible furiously. Or, they start praying (at least in church) until something offends them at which time they either approach me about changing it or drop out all together. I challenge them on it and they say something like, “well, it didn’t take.” 

Another scenario that happens all the time is that someone will be the best Christian you ever met until they are denied parole. Then, clearly, God hates them and does not keep promises. (That they made to themselves on God’s behalf)

By the way, this is a common line of reasoning outside of prison too…

Which then introduces me mantra – people will not change until the pain of change is worse than the pain of staying the same. 

Somewhere along this path, they reach out to me for help. I introduce the above idea and say something like this, “I will not carry your burden. I cannot heal for you but I can and will join you and suffer with you if you want to really heal. You should know that it’s going to take you through some very dark waters. I’ll walk with you but not for you. I will be asking very hard questions and if you really want to heal, it’s going to be a little worse before it gets better. AND, it may actually NOT get better! In fact, your family might not be down with your growth and won’t like who you are becoming. You need to ask yourself if it’s worth the sacrifice.” 

Silence follows. 

Then a sigh and “I’ll give it a try.” 

Then we’ll enter into a pastoral care relationship. 

We explore the pain. We analyze why it’s painful. We struggle through how that pain might actually be a good thing and not something to be avoided. We seek to integrate it into life in a healthy way so as to not “cope” with it or avoid it but use it for positive growth. Those with enough courage hang in to the bitter end and experience great growth. Something people fall off. It happens. Either way, I’m there. Christ is there. 

What fascinates me on a regular basis is that the aforementioned lie is so prevalent in our culture. “Whatever you have to do to get rid of the pain…” 

What if pain wasn’t something to be avoided but embraced as God’s gift to guide you to healing? 

I heard this article on NPR this morning – loved it. It’s about managing back pain. 

“…along the way, she’s learning not to be afraid. “It’s learning not to fear the pain, learning that you can live with pain,” Wertheimer says. “Understand what that pain is, but then put it aside.”

In essence, sometimes the pain we experience both physically and emotionally is pain about the pain.

I teach my inmates to live with the pain, use the pain, make it a part of their spiritual strength and thus take away it’s power. 

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus