Much of the rhetoric in our society about pain suggests that it can, and should, be used as a catalyst to become stronger.
But why is strength the goal? Is weakness always a problem?
I live with chronic pain and I live with chronic weakness. The quotes above are often referencing emotional strength rather than physical but the premise remains that the very idea of weakness is undesirable.
It’s not just society that pushes the idea that stronger equals better. Last week in church as the worship team sang the song “Unashamed” I was struck by the lyrics “I know I’m weak, I know I’m unworthy to call upon Your name.”
I do know I’m weak, but I do not believe that makes me unworthy. My weakness and my pain can (and do) help me connect to God in a unique way.
Rather than push through and find strength in pain, living well with pain and weakness can actually be a spiritual practice.
In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence encourages us to be mindful and aware of God’s presence in our daily lives at all times. Readers of his book hope to learn how to be “practicing the presence of God in one single act that does not end.”
If I tune in to my pain and weakness, they can become physical reminders of the presence of God. When my back aches I can imagine Him pressing against it, giving some relief. As my legs get progressively tired and weak I can picture Christ walking beside me and my rollator.
When I feel pain I can be comforted by remembering that God also knows pain. The Old Testament uses various metaphors to express the grief and emotional pain God feels and we know that Jesus wept when he was sad. We also know he suffered intense physical trauma during his last days. He knew pain beyond what I can imagine.
But he also knew the same pains we often experience. The child Jesus may have skinned his knees while running and playing. As an adult he would have felt the exhaustion of manual labour as a skilled trades worker. We know he lived into his 30s which is when many of us begin to experience a less resilient body. Maybe his joints ached, or he got a stiff neck after sleeping rough while travelling. He may have had scars and cuts that never healed quite right and were always a bit sore. He likely tweaked his back at some point because he forgot to lift with his legs.
Pain doesn’t always need to be fought against. Weakness doesn’t need to be defied or denied. It is part of being human and if the God of the universe felt it was important to come to earth and live in one of our bodies, with all the aches and pains, then I can take comfort in that. I’m grateful that He chose to relate to us on such a base level, and that my body now can help me to relate to Him in a new way. Having a demanding body is helpful because it pushes me toward an embodied awareness of life.
My pain and weakness cue me in to what I’m experiencing in my body, the good and the bad: in that embodiment I can encounter God in new ways. When I’m present in my body I’m more likely to notice the wind moving my hair and think of the Spirit moving in our world, or feel the warmth of the sun and remember that Jesus is the light of the world.
How does your body call your attention? How can you refocus that attention to practise the presence of God?