Dr. Paul Brand was a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon who wrote and taught on the valuable properties of pain. In his wonderful book Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, he makes this powerful observation:
My professional life has revolved around the theme of pain, and by living in different cultures I have observed at close hand diverse attitudes toward it. My life divides roughly into thirds – twenty-seven years in India, twenty-five years in England, and more than twenty-seven years in the United States – and from each society I have learned something new about pain.
I served my medical internship in London during the most harrowing days and nights of the Blitz, when the Luftwaffe was pounding a proud city into rubble. Physical hardship was a constant companion, the focal point of nearly every conversation and front-page headline. Yet I have never lived among people so buoyant; now I read that 60 percent of Londoners who lived through the Blitz remember it as the happiest period of their lives.
After the war I moved to India, just as Partition was tearing the nation apart. In that land of poverty and omnipresent suffering I learned that pain can be borne with dignity and calm acceptance. It was there, too, that I began treating leprosy patients, social pariahs whose tragedy stems from the absence of physical pain.
Later, in the United States, a nation whose war for independence was fought in part to guarantee a right to “the pursuit of happiness,” I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. Patients lived at a greater comfort level than any I had previously treated, but they seemed far less equipped to handle suffering and far more traumatized by it. Pain relief in the United States is now a $63 billion-a-year industry, and television commercials proclaim better and faster pain remedies.
Each of these groups – Londoners who suffered gladly for a cause, Indians who expected suffering and learned not to fear it, and Americans, who suffered less but feared it more-helped to form my outlook on this mysterious fact of human existence. Most of us will one day face severe pain. I am convinced that the attitude we cultivate in advance may well determine how suffering will affect us when it does strike.
People die in the way they have lived
In the 1990’s, the Public Broadcasting System aired a very serious and moving documentary called “Dying,” directed and produced by Michael Roemer. In the film, Roemer, who had obtained permission from the patients’ families, spent time with several terminally ill cancer victims during their last months of life. The director made this observation after the filming, “People die in the way they have lived. Death becomes the expression of everything you are, and you can bring to it only what you have brought to life.” The documentary reveals that those who have prepared for death discover that their final days can be some of life’s greatest moments. You can watch the documentary here: Dying by Michael Roemer.
Are you prepared for the storms of life?
This is a question we should all ask. Am I prepared for the storms of life? Am I building a strong supportive life while I am young and healthy? Have I been building a strong foundation as I have been living my life?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it clear, He warns us in advance that the storms of life are coming. It does not matter who you are. He says:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall.”
Jesus is instructing us to take God’s truth and integrate it into our lives. The central truths of the Bible can serve as a very powerful comfort and resource in difficult times. They teach us how to respond to adversity.
In his best-selling book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Dr. Tim Keller offers these insightful words:
Once you are in a crisis, there is no time to sit down to give substantive study and attention to parts of the Bible. As a working pastor for nearly four decades, I have often sat beside people who were going through terrible troubles and silently wished they had taken the time to learn more about their faith before the tidal wave of trouble had engulfed them. As we have seen, the main “reasons of the heart” that help us endure suffering are the foundational doctrines of the faith – creation and fall, atonement and resurrection. These are profound and rich truths we need to grasp before we suffer, or we will be unprepared for it. And many of these lessons are very difficult to learn “on the job” when we are in the midst of adversity.
Neither be surprised nor overthrown
A great deal of preparation for suffering is simple but crucial. It means developing a deep enough knowledge of the Bible and a strong and vital enough prayer life that you will neither be surprised by nor overthrown by affliction.