Assigning A Number To Our Pain

Recently, I wasn’t feeling well and when I went to the doctor the first thing they asked me was to “rate my pain”. Seriously? On a 1-10 scale? Who can do that? I can’t. Can you?

If you fell and broke your arm, with the bone protruding, you’d probably say you were at level 10, right? I probably would. But, what if you slipped on the way into the hospital and knocked a tooth out. Would you be at 10 then.

But, what if, while you were waiting in the exam room a migraine started? OK, definitely 10 by then! But wait, what if you were pregnant, and labor kicked in at that moment. 10? If it took all that, where were you when it was just a broken arm with a protruding bone?

This is extreme, of course, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently: How can anyone measure pain?

There comes a point, I assume (I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say for sure) when the body shuts down and goes into shock if pain is so severe that we cannot handle it, but how do we measure that? And what about emotional pain?

The other day, I sent this photo to my daughters-in-law:

Dad’s pillow art…
I can’t even walk through the bedroom.
Must. Be. Grateful.

If someone had asked me to rate my pain level that morning, it would be higher than I would like to admit. Laugh if you must. OK, I’m exaggerating; frustration because I’m a control freak is not pain. (Although having to live with a control freak is probably cause for a very high pain level in my helpful husband!)

Nevertheless, I do know true heartache and pain. I know what it is like to be broken. I know the painful consequences of my own sin and of sin against me. I know depression and oppression. I know loneliness. I know injustice. I know bitterness. I know unforgiveness. I know pain. Is it possible to quantify emotional pain on a 1-10 scale? I don’t think so.

I’m reminded of Joseph, when his brothers threw him into the pit, how would Joseph have rated the pain of betrayal? A ten? Until he was sold to traders, then 10? And the long walk to Egypt with his feet bruised by shackles and his neck in irons… 10 yet? What about alone in a country where he didn’t know the language or the customs. Then imprisoned for years? Then forgotten? 10?

How can we possibly rate pain? We don’t like it, and if we had our say, we wouldn’t experience it, but pain is beneficial, therefore God allows it. And he measures it out in perfect doses.

Because we know that God allows suffering for his good purposes, (I wrote about that here), I would also like to suggest that God knows the arena, depth, and degree of suffering that is necessary to accomplish his good purpose.

God designs or allows pain uniquely and individually for each one of us. Your pain is perfect for you. What God does in your life is your business, what he is doing in another’s life is not. We cannot compare our pain to anyone else’s.

Actually, just as he did for the Apostle Paul, God may allow great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, to the point that we may despair of life itself, so that we will learn to rely on him (2 Corinthians 1:6-9). That desperation point is different for each one of us, but we are all to come to the place where we learn to rely on God. He would not teach us to rely on him, if he were not reliable. He is.

In our suffering we have two choices: either let our pain draw us closer to God in full dependence on him, or let it drive us away in rebellion. Either we embrace suffering as a tool to mature our faith, or we reject it and stagnate.

James, the brother of Jesus, tell us to consider it joy when we face trials because the testing of our faith produces perseverance which makes us mature and complete (James 1:2-4). Of course, that doesn’t mean we look forward to suffering, or celebrate pain – but it does mean that when we are suffering, God is at work in us, and that is cause for joy!

We can only embrace our heartache and suffering as we focus on God. When we filter our suffering through the grid of his character – his goodness, faithfulness, mercy, justice, love, kindness, and wisdom – then we begin to get a glimpse of its good. God uses pain to refine, strengthen, and change us so that we will become more like Jesus.

If we focus on ourselves – our pain, suffering, heartache, difficulty, frustrations – we miss the purpose of our suffering, and therefore our suffering is wasted. Suffering is nothing more than pain if it does not draw us to God in total reliance.

What about you? What number would you assign to your pain if the number was reflective of how closely you are drawn to Jesus?

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