I was going to write a follow-up to my Pentecost Through Jewish Glasses today, but my right big toe is getting in the way.
Yes, you heard that right. The big toe on my right foot.
Shall we play a game? I’ll describe it and you, dear reader, try to diagnose what’s going on.
Here we go.
The toe is swelling. It’s turning cherry red. The skin is tight and it feels hot. It’s only the toe, though. Nothing else is being affected. Plus, I can’t walk on it. And here’s the kicker…
The pain is excruciating!
Wrong, I didn’t break my toe. Wrong, I didn’t jam it on the bedframe (which I have so often done before). And wrong, I don’t have an infection from a cut.
Can you guess?
If you guessed GOUT – ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! You’re a winner!
What is gout? “Gout is a common and complex form of arthritis that can affect anyone. It's characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness in one or more joints, most often in the big toe.” That’s a bingo! “Gout occurs when urate crystals accumulate in your joint, causing the inflammation and intense pain of a gout attack.”
High uric acid levels in the blood lead to urate crystals in the joints. These crystals are a myriad of microscopic needles pointing every which way and they irritate the joint and surrounding tissues. It would be akin to sleeping on a bed of glass shards. Fun, huh? Here’s more info about gout, medical geeks (Read More)
The upshot is gout is “exquisitely painful.” Yes, that is a perfect description. Not even a sheet can touch the affected area without triggering pain due to the fiery tenderness brought on by those micro-needles gouging and slicing-dicing the tissues.
Ever since I went through a medical event in 2013, my body’s been prone to gout. During my first gout attack, I hobbled in pain for three months as my body’s water level adjusted after coming off my medication. After that, managing gout became easy. I just have to avoid a lot of food and beverages that can trigger it. Purines from beef, seafood, and beer raise uric acid levels. Drinking lots of water helps a lot! It dilutes the acid level and flushes out the system. Gotta keep those urate acid crystals from forming, ya know?
One thing I’ve learned while struggling with gout is my body becomes hyper-aware of gout when it strikes. When it does, my whole body springs into action to soothe the savage beast, the inflamed big toe.
My eyes seek out the water and ibuprofen. My arms and hands reach for those two things that suppress the fire. My mouth opens wide for the water of life to wash down the encapsulated killers of pain. Every fiber of my being works to ease my big toe’s pain!
Yeah, I’m being overly dramatic. But the point is clear. My body knows when I’m in pain. Pain brings a response from the body. My head is aware of it first and coordinates the members of my body to squelch the pain.
And therein lies our lesson, the Parable of the Big Toe.
Let’s face it. There’s pain in everyone’s life to some degree. Some of our pain is at the mere annoyance level. A few people are at the “I-wish-my-life-would-end” level. Most people are somewhere in between. Sometimes the pain is passing. Sometimes it’s chronic and debilitating.
There’s physical pain brought on by disease, deformity, or injury. Some physical pain comes from lacking creature comforts like housing, food, and clothing. Those things are called creature comforts for without them we creatures experience pain. Tragically, around the world and here in the U.S. some are deeply and continually pained physically by torture, captivity, and enslavement. Human trafficking, domestic abuse, and religious persecution come to mind.
And there’s emotional pain, a dark bouquet life presents to us. It could come as the pain of losing someone to death such as my friend Norma’s recent death, (may her memory be a blessing). It could hit us through workplace frustrations, relationship breakups, or distant and deep trauma from childhood neglect or abuse.
Then there’s mental pain which often overlaps with emotional pain. How many people do you know who struggle with the pain of mental illness, fear, confusion, overwhelming concerns, disappointments, and disillusionments? According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” I can’t imagine what battling this kind of persistent anxiety is like. Sadly, about 18% of you can and I feel for you.
There’s even spiritual pain. Recently, I talked with some who really struggle in their relationship with God. To them, He seems distant or nonexistent. They feel He doesn’t communicate with them and He’s abandoned them. A few others are under significant demonic attack. Yes, that’s a very real thing. No, it’s not the bizarre levitating, head-swiveling, deep-voiced demonization of The Exorcist variety. It’s demonic thoughts coming from nowhere that attack our being, our self-image, and sense of worth, driving us to focus on the negative, declaring to us that our lives are meaningless, drowning us in hopelessness, or accusing both us and God for our “decrepit and useless” state.
Sadly, I’ve only touched the surface. We live in a world filled with pain whether we’re aware of it or have pushed it away from our consciousness.
But there is hope!
We do have One who not only knows our pain, He’s experienced it all! Read the following scripture slowly and let the depth of what Isaiah wrote begin to soothe your pain.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds (Isaiah 53:3-5).
God knows our pain. That goes beyond just being mentally aware of it. Jesus knows human pain experientially. Jesus became a man in part to join us in our human condition which includes the pains of life.
Jesus knows physical pain. He was struck, beaten, viciously whipped, and crucified (Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18-19).
Jesus knows emotional and mental pain. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).
Jesus knows ultimate spiritual pain – total separation from God in death. At the point of death, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). But in Jesus’ case, He not only knew separation from His Father personally, He took on the excruciating judgment for sin for all those who would ever be saved. He was willing to do this for us so we would never know that pain – ever!
Not only that, when Jesus “took on our pain” that guaranteed our future life with our Heavenly Father where pain will no longer exist. Take this to heart! And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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 or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Pain? This too shall pass.
In the meantime, take heart, you who are suffering from pain. Jesus knows our pain, You have searched me, Lord, and you know me… (Psalm 139:1-12).
He is with us in our pain, the Spirit of truth… you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:17). In your place of pain, Jesus sits to comfort you closer than any person can!
He sustains us through our pain, for I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).
And He will remove all pain forever (see Revelation 21:3-4 above).
But suffering saint, we must run the race despite our pain, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Be inspired by Karri Strug, one of the Magnificent Seven on the Women’s Gymnastics team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Despite severely injuring her ankle in a vault, she completed her final vault jump to help the USA win the Women's team all-around gold in the Artistic Gymnastics (Watch Here) That is persevering despite the pain!
But what about others’ pain? How often have we failed to see or have ignored another’s ache, especially those of our fellow Jesus-followers? (Ouch. That hurt, didn’t it?)
Paul wrote, So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it… (1 Corinthians 12:26). How do we help others in their pain?
First, as our head notifies our body of our pain, so let Jesus (the Head of the Body, Ephesians 4:15) make us aware of other people’s pain, especially the members of His Body. Stay sensitive to His prodding. He might point someone out to you. Someone might pop into your head. You may get the urge to contact them. It might be as simple as the thought to pray for them.
Then, cooperate with the His Spirit as He moves us as members of His Body to action, even if it means just being with someone and not talking. If we listen to the pained person long enough, we will hear their need speaking and the Spirit’s prompting and know how to comfort them. Because pain causes people to self-isolate, at the very least let them know they’re not alone.
When talking about God’s spiritual gifts, I often ask the class, “What’s the best spiritual gift?” The answer is, “The one needed at the moment.” The same goes with comforting the pained person. What’s the best comfort a person can receive? It’s from the one who has gone through a similar pain because to a degree they know what the sufferer is experiencing and how God helped them with their pain. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Parables have a main point. The point of this parable is that we learn to be sensitive to and aware of other’s pain and like Paul’s body illustration, we should do our part to comfort and help others in pain.
May the Lord use you to minister to someone’s pain each day. And if you’re in pain, don’t despair. God’s grace and help are at the ready!
For more on the issue of pain, here’s a great article I came across while writing this piece. Read More
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts