After falling last Thursday on the ski slope in Austria, I could barely move. My fall was a mere 150 meters of skiing above the gondola, which I needed to enter in order to get down the mountain, for only the top half is presently up and running. It was getting dark, and every turn made my insides feel as if they were being pulled apart, so much so that I briefly considered sitting on the snow and waiting for help to come.
As the nature of my injury became clear, I did what I’m prone to with everything: research. I visited countless internet sites to discern the finer points of distinction between three possible injuries. What was troubling me was that fact that only one of these three was ‘self healing’. I agonized over this, because I’m one of those people who like to know what’s going on, whether it’s good or bad. Unfortunately, though, my twenty minutes of internet medical training left me ill equipped for an accurate self-diagnosis.
By Monday afternoon, I’d decided that I needed to speak with someone who had more knowledge about these injuries than me. Fortunately, there’s a ‘ski injury specialist’ whose office is within walking distance of the school. He treats members of the Austrian national ski team, so I suspected he might have seen an injury or two in his time. What’s more, he speaks English. That settled it. I made an appointment for Tuesday morning, and was in the examining room by 9AM. (that the whole thing cost me less, by paying straight cash, than it would have cost me out of pocket with my current insurance is another story… for another time).
He looked, poked, assessed range of motion. I explained the injury. “It is not the serious kind” he said. “It will heal on it’s on.” Relief, immediately becomes a question: “How long until it heals?”
“You will know” he says.
“How?” I ask.
“It will stop hurting.”
“But right now I can’t even do a sit-up” I say.
“Your body is telling you to not do sit-ups then. The pain is there for a reason.” And then he said this: “All healing requires pain.”
I walked home, both gladdened by the diagnosis, and pondering that last statement: “all healing requires pain.” I thought of the painful revelations I’ve tried to avoid facing in my life, revelations about hurt, loss, rejection. Try though I have (and still do, at times) to silence the pain, it rises to the surface, revealing my own need for grace and transformation. But facing the pain, and letting the pain do it’s healing work, is as much a necessity for the soul as the body.
Jesus faced the pain of loss in the garden, and it worked towards both his perfection and our healing.
Helmut Theilicke, the German theologian (I won’t tell you which denomination said, “the problem with the church in the West is an inadequate view of suffering.” I might say that there are many other problems as well; inadequate Christology, consumerism, idolatry of wealth and materialism. But Helmut’s right in saying that we have inadequate view of suffering, because we’re trained from the earliest age to build a pain free life.
We learn that every time we’re told that there’s a new drug available for your malady. We learn that when we self medicate away the pain of our isolation. We learn that when we make choices based on self-preservation rather than integrity.
The gift of pain is the shaking and alterations it brings to our lives, precisely so that we might be healed from whatever it is that is robbing us from wholeness. I feel better today, but still can’t do a sit up, so I’m forcing myself to stay of the slopes. Pain is the teacher and the lesson is simple: relax and let go of your demands to master the hill. You’ve a different plan now… but it will still be good.