We’ve all heard it said before that pain is actually a gift, because it alerts us to the reality that something is wrong in our bodies. I have been a long time struggler with back pain. When we are in our 20s, we sometimes do stupid things. These things can hurt our bodies for so many years to come. If only we realized that when we were 20something…. My back problems began one snowy winter’s day when I was in grad school and living with three girlfriends. Two of those girlfriends were not in grad school, but were workin’ ladies, and they had to go to work despite the snow. (It was indeed so much snow that college classes were canceled, if that tells you anything.) Being a dutiful friend and roommate, I purposed myself to help the gals get their cars cleaned off and on the road. But four ladies living on their own for the first time don’t happen to own a lot of snow removal equipment. So we turned to the only things we had: cleaning tools. 20 something Catherine thought that shoveling snow out from around the cars with a dustpan was a good idea. Stupid. So that is where my back problems began. Ever since then, I’ve had issues with my hips rotating. As I approach 40, my body just doesn’t want to cooperate, more and more. It’s really frustrating to live with back pain. It prevents me from doing the things I want to do with my kids…. It keeps me awake at night…. It interferes with my gardening…. THE NERVE.

This fall my chiro took some new x-rays because my pain just wasn’t improving. She showed them to me, and even with my untrained eye that has no medical background whatsoever, I let out a low gasp and said, “Oh my!” My hip was horribly rotated. No wonder I was having so much pain! The pain was an indicator to me that something wasn’t right. So my doctor began treating my hip with this new knowledge in view. She told me in no uncertain terms the things that I was not to do which would put undue strain on my hip and cause rotation. For months I was vigilant about these no-no’s. I was SO careful. I continued my exercises and stretches, and I stayed away from the restricted postures, movements, etc. And my hip got better! It was amazing to be pain free!

But as the months passed, I got lax. I didn’t stop exercising or stretching, but I ventured into some of the no-no positions, like crossing my legs while seated, or getting down onto the floor to play with the kids in certain positions. I cocked my hip as I was making my shopping list. I lifted with my back, not my legs. I wasn’t vigilant any longer because there wasn’t any pain. You probably aren’t surprised to hear that the pain came back.

Isn’t this just like my walk of faith? I am a faithful Bible-reader, morning and night. I pray. I listen to worship music. I attend church and Bible study. But sometimes, I also venture into postures that God says I should not take. Sometimes I grow lax against wrong behaviors. I notice that this is especially true when I am not walking through something painful or difficult. Just like I grew lax when my back pain went away, it’s in the good, easy times that my faith can become lax, that my posture can slouch before the God of the universe.

The painful times emotionally and spiritually often serve as an intense motivator for me, spurring me on towards growth in Christ. So I’m thankful for those hard times, for the pain, because it keeps me vigilant. It keeps me careful to avoid wrong things. It keeps me moving in the right direction, rather than the wrong ones. Pain motivates growth.

James 1 speaks to this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (vv 2-4).

I have been noticing in myself lately that I’m not terribly good at “considering it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds.” But when I take a step back and consider the issue of physical pain in my life, I know that I should be grateful for the trials in my life, because they keep me from becoming lax. As the text says, they do produce perseverance in my faith. They do make me mature. The trials I experience are to my benefit if I face them with joy and perseverance. When I meet a painful trial, the choice is up to me:

Will I face it with joy and faith? Or will I grow frustrated and anxious?

Will I persevere? Or will I give up and give in to defeat?

Will I allow it to produce growth and maturity? Or will I become angry and bitter instead?

Just like the pain in my back spurs me on towards physical growth and healing, I want the trials of my life to spur me on towards spiritual growth and maturity. I want them to make me better, not bitter.

Is there a trail in your life that you need to view with new eyes today? Ask the Lord to show you how it can be to your benefit and do your best to embrace it with joy. Even behind hard gifts, the heart of the Giver is good and is always for you.

Catherine Burleigh
Tablet of Her Heart