The Journey: Pain can be a teacher

Posted by Rev. Daniel Christian on

                 Many of my columns and sermons I write and talk about the need to be “present” in our lives. Being present in our lives is one of the hardest things to do. Many of you reading aren’t fully paying attention right now. Your minds are off somewhere else. We spend much of our waking moments thinking, wondering or fearing some future event; or recalling past experiences with a mixture of happiness, regret and what-ifs.

This week I was given a most regrettable opportunity to practice what I write and preach. My family was in South Lake Tahoe at the Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center. I was doing some reading and planning for the church during Lent and Easter. I took a break with our daughter, and we went outside to play in the snow. Seems reasonable? It was 23 degrees and lightly snowing. While getting her ready to slide down a hill on her sled I slipped on some ice. A painful drive to Urgent Care then the Emergency Room and a CT scan revealed I had deeply bruised my quadratus lumborum, I had a cyst on my kidney and a fractured L-1. The kidney cyst could wait, but it was my quadratus lumborum and L-1 that had me unable to move and barely speak. What that translates to is a big OUCH!

I was discharged with prescriptions for Percocet, Robaxin, Ibuprofen and a treatment plan that will be a mixture of lots of rest, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture and most importantly “take your medications as prescribed!”

Why do I bother to share any of this? Pain has a way of making a person extremely present! Miserable, but present none the less. I am not thinking a lot about the future. I don’t feel like dwelling on the past, like how I got in this predicament. I can lie around and be grouchy and take it out on the loved ones who are doing a wonderful job of taking care of me. Or I can allow this pain to be a teacher of a different kind.

I am not able to do all things I used to do at the church. I can’t do all things I used to do around the house. I am not able to do things together as a family. I have had to make some peace with this. It hasn’t always been easy.

The very reason I was where I was when I fell had to do with me taking time to read and plan for Lent and Easter. So, that is exactly what I am doing now. I just have more time to lie and sit than I had originally planned. As a child and teenager I have very little recollection of our Presbyterian church in Upland California putting much emphasis on the season of Lent. If they did, it was lost on me. As an ordained minister I brought the “Lent” topic up with my parents and they didn’t know what I was talking about. I turned to my brothers and they just shrugged their shoulders. I took their confusion as validation that we didn’t learn much.

Lent is for many Christians a time to do without. We often hear people give up meat, chocolate, alcohol or cigarettes, or as one comedian says, “he gives up, giving up things.”

Perhaps another way to think about, and live into Lent, is this: the season has been called the springtime of the church. In fact, Lent comes from old English, “lencten,” meaning to lengthen — reminding us that daylight expands as we move from winter to spring. As the days lengthen, we are asked to reflect on our lives as we move from gestation to birth, from searching to discovery, from wilderness to wilds, from wasteland to abundance.

Lent can be about sacrifice, but maybe we can broaden our understanding. Lent can, but doesn’t have to be a somber, serious time when we focus on sacrifice. Lent can be an inner springtime. A time to give something or someone room to bloom in you. Lent is a time to bring forth the life of a new idea, or way of being. Lent can be a “spiritual revival.”

How can the weeks before Easter, be a renewal or transformation for you? Opening your lives to a new way of being is the first step toward resurrection. To take these steps this year, each day I am reading a chapter from the gospels, beginning with Mark. I am also reading a prayer devotional from Ukiah Presbyterian Church along with “the mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions” by Christopher K. Germer, PhD. Along with Percocet, Robaxin, Ibuprofen, rest, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture and taking my medications as prescribed, I now have some reading I am doing as well.

I hope and pray for each of you that this season is a pilgrimage toward leaving some old ways behind and allowing new ones to emerge.


Rev. Daniel Christian is the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Ukiah.