It’s been more than a month since my surgery, which took place on November 4th. Last week, I made three trips to the pharmacy to pick up refills for different medications. I have one medication for nerve pain and a couple of other medications that I use for general pain. There’s also a medicated mouth rinse that I use after I brush my teeth. It’s supposed to reduce swelling and ward off infections.
The pain that I’ve experienced since my surgery has mostly been in the area around my mouth. If I were to draw a circle around my lips with the top line of the circle touching the bottom of my nose and the lower line of the circle touching the bottom of my chin, the area within the circle would be where the majority of my pain is. The pain is most prominent on the inside of my mouth and underneath my skin.
Even though I previously had surgery to remove my appendix when I was 14, and another surgery to remove my tonsils and adenoids when I was 39, I’ve never experienced the type of pain I’ve been forced to endure this time around. While the pain medications that I’m taking help for a while, the pain is still present and gets worse again before it’s time to take the medications again.
For obvious reasons, I’ve thought a lot about pain and suffering over the past month. It all came to a head a couple of weeks ago when I got a glimpse of what’s on the other side of what I call “the trapdoor of despair,” which is where complete and utter hopelessness can easily consume a person.
What happened was that while I was in the bathroom getting ready for bed, the area within the circle around my mouth felt like it was on fire. I had already taken my pain medication for the evening and I didn’t know what to do to relieve the pain. As I was wondering what I could do about the pain, a thought popped into my mind: “What if this pain never goes away? What if I have to live with it for the rest of my life?”
It then occurred to me that I should talk to my wife or someone else about what I was going through, but I was overwhelmed with the feeling that it wouldn’t do me any good to discuss my pain with anyone.
While there were several people I could talk to, I felt as though there was no one who would really understand what I was going through.
There’s a great deal of loneliness when you’re in constant pain. You can be sitting at a table with people you love and still feel as though you are completely alone. If you talk about how you’re feeling, there’s a good chance that you’re going to get a pep talk about how you’re going to get better soon or about how things could be worse. But you’ve already heard all that before and nothing has changed or gotten better. You feel as though you can no longer trust that anyone can help you, so you are no longer willing to reach out for help or listen to what others have to say.
Chronic pain and suffering can easily turn into hopelessness. The pain manifests itself physically, and the suffering manifests itself psychologically and emotionally.
When the hopelessness kicks in and you feel as though no one can help you or understand what you’re going through, you’re in danger of falling through the trapdoor of despair.
I now understand how some people who have chronic pain and suffering would have a strong desire to choose to end their lives. All they want is to escape from the torment they are being forced to endure. Once they reach the point where they believe that there are no other options, they advance to the planning stage. At that point, there is not much that can be done to stop them from following through on their plan. It may take days or years for them to complete their plan, but it’s usually only a matter of time. There are times that they may be able to be talked out of following through, but when they are alone again with their pain and suffering, it’s easy for them to again make the choice to do what they think is necessary to escape from their torment.
While I didn’t entertain any such thoughts, I later came to the conclusion that God allowed me to go through the pain and suffering that I went through, so I would have an understanding of what others go through before they fall through the trapdoor of despair. By experiencing the emotions and mental state that accompanies chronic pain and suffering, I was able to sit down and write this article.
While I was suffering from the unbearable pain, I quickly finished getting ready for bed. I then laid down and prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet. Within a minute of finishing the chaplet, I fell asleep. Three hours later, I woke up with this thought: “There is great power in suffering because suffering is the most perfect form of prayer.”
I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t because other thoughts kept pouring into my head. After I spent 15 minutes trying to get back to sleep, I got out bed, grabbed my iPhone, and went into the bathroom and recorded what I was thinking.
I’ll get to those thoughts in a moment, but first I want to remind you of one of the most famous phrases that was ever written. It came from the Spider-Man comic book series: “With great power comes great responsibility.” After that phrase was introduced, it quickly became a proverb that has since been quoted by authors, journalists, teachers, politicians, and members of the law enforcement community.
It’s too bad that those same authors, journalists, teachers, politicians, and members of the law enforcement community don’t know and teach that suffering is the most perfect form of prayer.
By the way, most people don’t know it, but the famous Spider-Man phrase — With great power comes great responsibility — originated with our Savior: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48.
Think about this: Why would anyone voluntarily allow himself to be arrested on bogus charges, knowing that he was going to be humiliated in front of his family and friends, then brutally tortured and violently put to death? That’s exactly what our Lord did. Why did He allow such an injustice to occur? He could have easily disappeared into the wilderness. Why didn’t He escape and pray in solitude for the next 50 years? He was the Son of God, so His prayers were perfect. Wouldn’t 50 years of His perfect prayers accomplish the same thing as the suffering He was forced to endure?
You know the answer to those questions. For reasons unknown to us, there was only one way our Lord was ever going to be able to atone for the sins of mankind and secure salvation for those of us who follow the laws of His Father. The only way He was going to be able to accomplish that great feat was to suffer and die on the cross. No amount of prayer could have ever achieved the same result.
Even the most primitive among us understand the value and power of suffering. There are gangs and tribes that require people to compete in initiation processes that require that they voluntarily submit themselves to intense suffering before they can be accepted into the gang or tribe.
All champions learned at an early age that suffering is a critical component to becoming a true champion. They have a very clear understanding that they will never be able to achieve greatness without grueling workouts, long bouts of loneliness, and great sacrifice.
If we understood the true value of suffering, we would rejoice and embrace it when it darkened our door. But we do the opposite. We avoid it whenever we can. We flee from it. And while we may personally understand the value of suffering on an intellectual level, at an emotional and psychological level we still recoil at the thought of having to endure any type of suffering.
So what was it that really compelled our Lord to voluntarily submit Himself to his enemies when He knew they were going to brutally torture and kill Him? It was His love for you and me. He had previously said that He expected us to love our neighbor as ourselves, which meant, among other things, that we had to be willing to do as He did and offer our suffering for others.
This is what makes your suffering the most perfect form of prayer — the offering to God of your suffering for the benefit of someone else. That’s what our Savior did. He offered to God His suffering for the benefit of you, me, and everyone else. He expects us to imitate Him and do the same.
While most champions are willing to suffer so they can achieve fame, fortune, recognition, and adulation, most of them are not willing to suffer for the benefit of others.
What will your reward be if you’re willing to voluntarily offer your suffering to God for the benefit of others? Your reward will be your own personal resurrection and admittance into His Kingdom.
People who fail or refuse to acknowledge that there is spiritual value to suffering waste their suffering. We should never waste our suffering. Instead, we should consider it a great treasure that should only be used for our own spiritual benefit or for the benefit of others.
You and I have the power to save a soul from damnation by offering to God our suffering for that soul. Nothing purifies a soul like suffering.
So here’s what happened to me after my painful bathroom experience and my subsequent journey back into the bathroom to record my thoughts. A few days later my pain began to subside. While I’m still in pain and taking pain medication, I’ve been able to cut back on the medication because the pain is no longer as constant or as intense as it was.
I’m grateful to God that He allowed me to suffer, because it provided me with an opportunity to experience what numerous people are forced to endure every day.
Lord have mercy on all those who are suffering.