A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. I had been sitting in the hotel’s restaurant for hours hammering out a column for publication and was now stretching my legs and back. In my post-accident life, I have trouble sitting and standing for long periods of time, so I alternate between the two.
It just so happened that President Trump was expected to arrive at the hotel at any moment. Police and their dogs were scattered all over the property and they limited the movement of the people within the building.
It was then that a man approached me and said: “May I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” I had no idea where this was going.
“Are you Secret Service?”
“Are you Secret Service? My wife and I were wondering.” He pointed to a woman thirty feet or so away who gave me a somewhat embarrassed smile.
“Uh, no,” I said. “I’m just waiting for someone.”
“Well, my wife and I think you look the part. You look very formidable. She thinks you look like your job is pummeling potential threats to the President.” He laughed. “She thought I should leave you alone!”
My, what an imagination! When I later reflected on this brief exchange, I wondered why they would think this. After all, I was simply pacing the lobby. Yes, I was wearing a dark suit, but so were a number of other men in the lobby of that hotel.
Then it occurred to me that I was pacing because I was in pain, and chronic pain of the sort from which I suffer affects you at a subconscious level. Seldom acute, but steady and unrelenting, the pain works on your psyche like the proverbial Chinese water torture. Sometimes I feel so on edge, so agitated, that I want to put a fist through a wall. Lauri and friends tell me that I frequently clench my jaw and my fists. That look, perhaps, coupled with the hands-behind-back pacing may have given me an authoritative, intimidating aura. Their imaginations filled in the rest.
I have become something of a reluctant expert on pain. I have known suffering in many of its manifestations. I have known great emotional anguish and a physical suffering that defies description. I have known pain that is self-inflicted and that which was inflicted on me by others (both by accident and as a result of premeditated evil). I have been the one to inflict pain on someone else. I have even known suffering that is caused by a natural disaster. And I have experienced the loneliness of pain, and it is a very lonely place indeed, where it seems few can enter in and bear some of the load.
In the last few years, I have made a point of talking to others about their pain. What is the nature of it? How do you cope with it? How does it affect you? I have talked to those who suffer the pain of guilt, the torment of a broken heart, and the agony of broken relationships with little hope of restoration.
Sufferers, as I call them, are people who have endured tremendous, prolonged physical or emotional pain. I’m not talking about a torn rotator cuff or the loss of a loved one in the normal course of life. Painful as that is, the suffering I am talking about falls outside the bounds of what one may reasonably expect in this life. It’s a club you don’t want to join, but if you do, you will find that you are among a remarkable group of people.
One of the things these people will tell you is that there is a kind of desperation to suffering if that suffering is incessant. It makes you willing to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do if they offer you hope of escape, no matter how remote or fleeting the reprieve. This is as true of emotional distress as it is of physical agony. When we speak of someone “medicating” their pain, this is what we mean. Sufferers might seek relief through physical therapy and counseling or they might seek it in alcohol and sex. I am reluctant to judge them. On the contrary, I feel nothing but compassion for such people. I get it. I get the desperation. How many are the times that I have said, half-joking, that I would be willing to try any quack remedy!
The worst type of suffering, I believe, is that which the sufferer feels must be borne in silence. While there are wounds that carry with them a kind of honor – say, a war wound – others are accompanied by shame. Victims of sexual abuse, for instance, fear that in telling others, even a loved one, their secret burden, they will be looked upon with pity, that the secret will be revealed, or that it will be used against them. (The Bible has much to say on this subject. I recommend starting with Proverbs 11:13.)
They have every reason to fear these things because almost no one keeps a secret while almost everyone wants to be party to one. And however cynical it sounds, sometimes relationships do not endure the test of time. People turn on one another, and when they do, too often they reveal secrets or weaponize them to do injury. This is at the heart of the failure of so-called accountability groups. As a result, people who are heavily laden with this sort of misery either tell the wrong people or they tell no one at all. To bear one’s own burden unaided is suffering compounded ad infinitum.
But there is grace to be found in pain, too, and it comes from the Lord’s molding of the soul and from others who care enough to minister to the sufferer. Galatians 6:2 says that we are to “Carry each other’s burdens,” and in so doing, we “fulfill the law of Christ.” I have always thought it interesting (and at times frustrating) that the Lord designed us to bear the burdens of others while leaving us largely incapable of bearing our own burdens. It almost seems like a design flaw. I mean, have you ever felt like you could clearly assess someone else’s problem and offer them wise counsel or help but somehow you couldn’t seem to get clarity on your own situation?
You weren’t meant to.
You have undoubtedly heard the expressions, “The cobbler always wears the worst shoes” or, from the Bible, “Physician, heal thyself”? In God’s divine arrangement of things, we weren’t meant to fix ourselves; we were meant to carry the burdens of others as they carry ours. Broken things helping and restoring other broken things. To make the point more forcefully, in the moments after my accident, I was lying in the road shattered, bleeding, and without a pulse. I could not have performed CPR on myself. Someone else had to do it if my heart was to begin beating again.
On that day, my suffering was hard to miss. It was open for all to see. To look at me today, however, is to see a man who is, for all appearances, healthy and normal. Yes, my left eye is often swollen, I occasionally wince or limp, and my hands increasingly have a tremor that I cannot stop. But there are few visible signs of trauma. Even so, I am in constant, unrelenting pain. I’ve learned to compensate. I’ve learned to fake it. But it’s always there. Similarly, every day each of us encounter people whose pain is hidden from view. Their injuries are internal, a brokenness of soul, you might say, or a physical pain that is not readily perceived. They’ve learned to compensate. They’ve learned to fake it. But they suffer nonetheless.
And that brings me back to the Divine arrangement of things as specified in Galatians 6:2. Some followers of Christ, transformed as they are by His grace and an awareness of their own brokenness before the Cross and their failure to meet God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:23), are ready to administer CPR to the souls of the weary and hurting. Others minister to the physical pain of people with their tender mercies if not medically. Oh, how I am grateful to these people when I have had the privilege of being the object of their graces – and it is a gift of grace. (My wife, Lauri, a gifted nurse, possesses this grace in abundance.)
These people are often sensitive souls who intuit the suffering of others as if they were equipped with a special power and have a way of alleviating it for a while through hospitality, warmth, kindness, empathy, and in ways that are not easily explained. To give some idea of my meaning here, on the very rare occasion I have, simply by being in the presence of one of these people, felt physically better as something like a warm fuzzy feeling swept over me. If you have experienced this, you know exactly what I am talking about; if you have not, nothing I say will help you to comprehend what I am trying to describe.
I have given you only a glimpse of the subject of pain here, without any attempt to give answers for it, to prompt your thinking. It is my hope that as readers of this blog you will endeavor to be people of grace, giving safe refuge to the wounded who pass through your lives. I am currently preparing to write on the subject of grace, and it has occurred to me many times that there is an intersection between this topic and that one. I have concluded that the greatness of our faith is not in its explanatory power or even in its ability to give our lives meaning. The greatness of our faith is revealed in grace – the grace that Jesus Christ extends to us and the grace that we extend to one another in forgiveness, reconciliation, and comfort. You see, pain can simply be just that: painful. It can produce no growth or fruit in the lives of those who are afflicted. Or it can produce grace, not only in your life, but in the lives of others who see your suffering, who observe how you manage it, and who minister to you.
But I have broached the subject of pain and suffering for another reason:
For the sufferers among you, I want to hear your stories. I want to know the nature of your pain, how you have coped with it, and how it has changed you. Did you find comfort? Did you find understanding? Or did you suffer in silence? Did faith factor in at all? Did it draw you closer to God or drive you from him?
Let me conclude by saying this: to share our pain is to make ourselves vulnerable. If you are anything like me, you detest vulnerability. It is, as I say, to reveal the pearls of our lives. We fear how others with treat them. For my part, I will treat you with compassion and I will share nothing without your permission, and even then not without removing all personally identifying details. My purpose here is to understand how people process their pain.
Some years ago, I did this using only a small, private email list. This time I solicit stories from a much larger audience. You can send your stories to email@example.com. Together, I hope we are able to produce something useful to the bleeding and wounded. Please understand that I may not be able to respond to all submissions.
Thank you and God bless you.
Larry Alex Taunton
 The Bible characterizes the revelation of another’s secret as a great evil that the Lord will punish with severity. In this life, it has led to destroyed lives and even suicide.
 A few months ago, much oxygen was given to a story that Donald Trump kept a copy of Hitler’s speech in a cabinet in his bedroom. The source of the story: Ivanka Trump. This should surprise no one. Donald and Ivanka Trump were in the midst of a bitter divorce when the original assertion was made and she no doubt relished the opportunity to compare her husband to a genocidal maniac. A willing media happily ran with the smear. (I, too, possess a number of books about Hitler. The media would do well to read a few of their own.)
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