AmyRuth Bartlett, MA, LPC
201 S. Skinker Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63105 (314) 520-8167

Painful And Powerless

I have long known that pain itself has some medicinal properties;  not just the endorphin kind, but the soul healing kind.  I have also known that in many ways I am powerless to protect myself from pain.  Loosing my mother to cancer when I was eight years old taught me both of those lessons.  However, I have only just realized that I am also powerless to bring the type or amount of pain needed to heal my soul and set it free.  Only God can do that.

For the past several weeks, maybe months, I have been struggling with extreme tiredness.  My mind and my body are tired.  I don’t sleep well at night and it’s gotten to the point that even when I am asleep I can almost feel myself observing if I am sleeping well or not – a performance anxiety of sorts.

Then we got bedbugs.  Yes, that vampire like insect took up residence in our cozy sanctuary of sleep – or would be sleep if I was in the business of sleeping these days, and added a layer of paranoia to the already sleep deprived haze in which I live.  I found myself quoting scripture as I lay down to try and get some zzz’s after our first round of fumigation: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice…”  Not how I had ever hoped or planned to interpret that passage.

And two days ago the muscles in my shoulder and neck began to spasm like they have not done since the day or two after my car accident a year and a half ago.  I am in pain: psychological, spiritual, physical.  And somehow through the intensity of the pain last night, I was finally freed to see that which I have been avoiding, escaping, numbing, and repressing for at least years.  In the face of that amount of inescapable turmoil, my sight was restored and God became the only possible source of help, the only one capable of journeying with me down a road that I myself would not have chosen.

And in the pain, through the tears, the most amazing thing happened in my heart – Praise!  I am grumpy, irritable, ungrateful, and let’s add sleep deprived to that list.  My default position towards life is to sum up all that I want and don’t have.  I reprimand God daily for holding out on me, or more honestly I ignore God and do what I want – what I think He won’t.  Yet in extreme pain, there again was the praise.

I remember this moment when my mother died.  Sun on the melted blurry curb where my father, brother and I walked the new years morning that she passed.  And through the hazy vision of my tears, hope.  God was giving me a story – a story of old testament proportions, and even as my heart broke, my spirit leaped.  Another road, a very long one, down which God alone could trod with me though I myself would not have chosen it.

Those moments of pain restore clarity.  God is not the enemy.  He is the only one who will accompany us when all others have abandoned or feared to further go.

Last night pain joined with exhaustion to fuel the concern that I have for what is going on in my body, and I prayed for my daughter in the way that only a woman who knows she is dying can pray – and again I saw clearly what is important in life.  Remembered a new that when my mother died, God sustained my being.  If I die.  When I die, God remains.  He is our only hope.  Good or not good, His breath holds together the molecules of my being.  To praise Him is to enter into the truest reality – and it was pain that ushered me into his courts last night.

Pain. Raw, untamed, un-numbed though not for lack of trying.  And that’s when it really hit me.  I cannot even chose the amount and type of pain that it takes to liberate my soul from it’s own ungrateful clutches.  I have wasted years of my life committed to avoiding pain in an attempt to capture the peace and hope and gratitude that I experienced unabated last night in the midst of physical and emotional agony: imagining my daughter growing up without a mother.

And mercifully God allowed enough pain to restore my heart, my hope, my vision.  And one day – without a doubt – our bodies will be renewed too.  But until that day, I thank my Creator that I can neither orchestrate or entirely avoid the ache that points me to the eternal land where my own mother is waiting, where I will one day wait, and where the faith that was restored in the wee hours of the morning tells me that my daughter will one day join.Thank You, God, for taring through my self-protected existence, showing up, and restoring my soul in the valley of the shadow of death!