I hesitate to talk about pain because I know that many reading this have gone to places of pain that I have never experienced. Even so, I’ll share that as I was getting out of bed this morning, I felt a familiar ache that I thought would put me flat on my back for the next week. The first time this happened to me I was in college, coming back from (you guessed it) the gym. I had been using a leg curl machine, which required lying face down on a flattable on which you curled and tightened the back of your legs. Exercise physiologists later found that an angled tableachieves better results, and keeps people from injuring their backs the way I did that day.
That being said, “the damage was done.” I got an MRI and was told that I had a compressed disk. My Dad shares this same injury and I learned from him early in life that consistent exercise is the key to avoiding surgery. Since then I’ve tried to keep my core muscles strong, and in particular the four small muscles which tend to protect the lower vertebrae. But even with these precautions, every few years something triggers that familiar ache. This morning I dropped to my knees and immediately starting doing the yoga “cat” stretch. That helped. Then I tightened my abdominal muscles and slowly stood up. I took a couple of pain-relievers and amazingly was able to go to the gym. It turned out that Dad’s exercise regimen, plus the ibuprofen, did me a world of good. By the time I got home from the gym, I felt pretty good. It felt like I dodged a bullet.
Pain does have a role in our lives. Were it not for pain, we might not attend to an injured wrist that needs to heal, or we might do greater damage to a sore back. I was surprised to learn that the sensation of pain is produced by the brain itself from signals it receives from the body. The brain is trying to alert us to danger…but research showsthat the brain’s pain response can be decreased when credible evidence of danger is decreasedand credible evidence of safety is increased. According to pain experts, this can be done by anything that increases a sense of safety and well-being, including (1) an accurate understanding of how pain really works, (2) regular exercise, (3) active coping strategies, and (4) safe people and places.
As I was reading about this, I was encouraged, because it suggests that pain is actually decreased not just by things like physical exercise, but by being around “safe people and places.” I couldn’t help but think of the Church, and what God intendsfor the Body of Christ to be. The Church that Jesus built, is to be a safe place that promotes healing and actually decreases pain. Consider two facts. First, what you bring with you to church either promotes healing or spreads dis-ease in the Body of Christ. We can either be used by God to decrease pain in the lives of others…or we can choose instead to inflict pain in the lives of others. Second, we need to attend to whatever is causing our own pain by taking steps to understand where it's coming from, by taking care of ourselves physically and spiritually, and by surrounding ourselves with a safe, healing community.
James has some good advice, as we will learn in our study of this very practical book: “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another,” he says, “so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). The Church is to be a place where sin and sorrow is confessed, where prayer is offered, where love is given, and yes, where healing is the super-natural bi-product. My prayer is that as you and I commit ourselves to being God’s pain-relievers at St. John’s, pain of every kind will actually decrease each time we enter the sanctuary, and a sense of joy and well-being will increase. Would you join me in praying and working for the same? Hope to see you soon…