I’m not sure if you’ve ever had a back injury but last night as I went to pick my very recently used footy clothes off the floor to deal with them appropriately, my back went.
It’s happened once before, about 2 years ago and as I felt the pain shoot through my back, the memories came flooding back of the slow, and literally painful recovery.
As my wife helped me find some drugs, heatpack and liquid medication, I just couldn’t believe that this had happened again. With a baby due in 6 weeks time and juggling work and school holidays this week, this was not part of the plan.
Through the night, as I lay in the one position in bed, wondering how I was going to get out in the event that I needed to do anything other than lie as still as possible, I wrestled with where God was in the midst of this.
When I finally made it out of bed this morning, after both managing to find some sleep and with the pain greatly reduced, I set about trying to do a little work while my wife took the kids to do some shopping. I thought that through the haze of drugs and pain I might have a listen to the current on being podcast (listen to it here) and discovered that it was a conversation that Krista Tippett had at the Interfaith Summit on Happiness 2010 at the Centre for the Study of Law & Religion at Emory University on the topic of pursuing happiness. The discussion panel comprised of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori and Seyyed Hossain Nasr an Islamic scholar.
In an unusual beginning to a conversation on happiness, the initial question that was posed to this eminant group was: What place does suffering have in the discussion on happiness?
Rabbi Sacks began his reflection on this idea highlighting that the definition of a Jew, Israel as outlined in Genesis 34, is someone who wrestles with God and with humanity and prevails. He then outlines how having wrestled with the angel, Jacob says something very profound, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Jacob received his blessing and a new name but from that day he walked with a limp.
Rabbi Sacks continued, that this is his perception of suffering: when something bad happens, I will not let go of that bad thing until I have discovered the blessing that lies within it.
As I painfully remembered that I’d probably been sitting at my computer listening to this for long enough, this idea broke through my suffering. While we see pain and suffering as our enemy to be conquered, avoided or defeated we miss its powerful gift. We neglect to acknowledge that it might be our most powerful teacher and facilitator into a deeper and more profound walk with a God who knows suffering and a Saviour who has walked the road of excruciating pain and isolation.
I was reminded again too, of my work within the hospital. Occassionally I will come across patients who are quite ill with various forms of cancer who have a radically different outlook on their circumstances to the other patients around them. As they share their stories with me they reflect “If not for my cancer I would not have…..” and then go on to outline the gifts that they have found in the midst of their pain and suffering.
Gifts of unexpected people who have shown immense love and support, moments of inexplicable joy, glimpses of extraordinary beauty and safety in unexplainable hope.
And while their prognosis and outcome may be no better than the other patients, their ability to face whatever comes, be it life or death is incredible. They have an inexplicable happiness that comes from some source beyond themselves and in many instances more deeply awakens them, and those around them, to the Giver of Gifts.
They seem to have a peace that passes all understanding.
So here I stand, heatpack strapped to my back, wrestling with the pain, praying, God I will not let you go until you bless me, whatever that may be.