Should pain hurt?

Published 11:43 am Saturday, April 12, 2014

by Brandon Robbins

I was 26 years old when I met Edna.

She was in a wheelchair and very slow. She was not necessarily old, but her body had been through much in her life.

More than 20 years before, she had been in a major boating accident. Her boat had collided with another object, causing her to be thrown in the water. In what were truly strange and tragic circumstances, she was somehow also severely burned in the accident, which required her to have several dangerous surgeries over the next few years.

In the end, while the doctors were able to make tremendous progress, Edna’s body was never the same. Due to the scarring and skin grafting, she lost much of her mobility and suffered from incredible nerve pain. Over the next few years, she was also diagnosed with diabetes, as well as other illnesses and disorders. Not long before I met her, she had to have her leg amputated, and she was bound to her wheelchair.

Beyond all of that, she also faced many family struggles over the years. After a few years, her husband left her, believing the situation to be too difficult for him to endure. On the other hand, her son never left home, choosing to live for free with his mother rather than building a life of his own.

Yet for some reason, despite all of this, I never once heard Edna complain about her situation. In fact, she often did the very opposite. Each time I came over, she filled my lap with scripture verses and inspirational quotes she had cut out of newspapers, magazines, and books that she had come across. She never described her situation as a tragedy. Instead, she lived in such a way that she found regular hope and serenity and worked diligently to share those things.

On a daily basis, she experienced more pain than many people can ever understand. Not only was her life in distress, but the damage to her nerves would send her into fits of agony. Yet, somehow, she never seemed to let the pain consume her. Instead, she appeared in some ways to embrace it, using it to make herself stronger, enduring it for the sake of others.

Edna was truly a rare person in this way. For most of us approach pain in quite the opposite way. We try to stay far away from pain. We wince when we feel it and lash out when others cause it. But what Edna showed me is that pain does not have to be an altogether bad thing.

Pain is what reminds us that we are alive. I mean, what do we do when we think we are dreaming? We pinch ourselves. We allow pain to verify our reality.

Pain also has the ability to teach us. Even in our earliest years, it’s our experience with pain that implants in our brains a sense of what is safe and what is dangerous. It informs us about what we can enjoy in life and what we should avoid.

It seems strange to say, but without pain, in many ways, we would be lost. And Jesus appears to teach us the same thing. There is much we can learn from Jesus’ pain and suffering.

I don’t really like to spend a lot of time dwelling on Jesus’ pain, but the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life are critical to understanding not only why he came to earth, but why he left. The pain he endured in the garden of Gethsemane, before his accusers and on the cross, embodies the depths of God’s love for us and the lengths to which God is willing to go in order to redeem us.

Clearly, the writers of the Bible must have believed this. Some of the gospels dedicate up to a third of their chapters to describing the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. This is where the story reaches its climax. Only through this lens does everything else make sense.

For this reason, Christians dedicate over six weeks of the year to close reflection upon these events. We call it the season of Lent. And it is a reminder for us to visit again the story of Jesus’ sacrifice, to ponder anew the depth of God’s love for us.

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are hosting a special worship service to help us understand this love even further. On Friday, April 18, from 5 to 6 p.m., we will be hosting a service where people can explore what are called the Stations of the Cross. Throughout the church, we will have stations set up with elements representing the events of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. There will be items at each station to see, smell and touch — objects that can transport us back to those tragic hours in Jerusalem, the moment in which God made the ultimate sacrifice out of love for us.

It is through our reflection upon this pain that we are reminded of who God is, who we are, and why any of this matters. It inspires us to return such love ourselves — not only to God, but to all whom we meet. And it teaches us that pain does not always bear tragedy; sometimes it affords liberty.

So may you spend some time from now to Easter reflecting upon the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. May you read scripture, watch movies, and attend worship services like our Stations of the Cross, taking whatever opportunities you can to understand further the depth of God’s love for you. And may these things allow you to see pain differently — not just as something we must avoid or endure — but perhaps as a strangely wrapped gift that, despite its off-putting appearance, can transform the way we understand the world, our lives, and the Savior who loved us enough to endure such pain on our behalf.

BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or