No Pain, No Gain

February 29, 2012

Come tomorrow, it will have been four weeks since my shoulder surgery. By most accounts I have come along pretty well, getting off the prescription pain meds four days after surgery and dropping to Extra Strength Tylenol a couple of times a day as needed. I started physical therapy a week after surgery, making the trek to the PT center once a week, and doing the exercises at home one or two days a week. After three weeks I graduated from the sling (mostly–when around crowds I still wear it judiciously, as people-men in particular-like to instinctively slap one on the left shoulder).

I realized that last weekend was a pretty taxing one; a church officer retreat Friday and most of Saturday, followed by a wedding, followed by celebrating my (wonderful) Mother-in-Law’s 80th birthday, then preaching twice (and serving Communion), hosting 13 family members at our home for lunch, then playing pastor for a couple, where the wife recently lost her sister very suddenly. On Monday, out of the sling, my “shoulder bone” was hurting badly enough that I went back to the prescription. As it hurt on Tuesday, I decided it was time for “game on.” I called, and upped the ante to going to PT twice a week.

As I lay on the table, the diminutive but fierce physical terrorist Amy kept pushing-stretching-the shoulder boldy where it did not want to go. I kept saying to myself, and to her, “No pain.” She repeated it back to me. And then she pushed, stretched, the shoulder beyond the last point. From the deep recesses of my mind crept a part of my mantra: “Pain is my friend, hunger is my brother, fatigue is my lover.”

One of the other therapists walked past, and seeing me grimce, said with a smile on his face, “No pain, no gain.” I winked in reply.

Now, while I agree with that philosophy, and tend to live it out-not only in terms of rehab, but in life in general-I find that many people will go to great lengths to avoid pain. That’s really fascinating, when you consider that many of the early Christian writers viewed sacrifice and discomfort as a way of drawing closer to Christ, identifying with His suffering, and coming to understand their own mortality and growth.

Without pain, we will not grow. It’s as simple as that.

I recall the summer of 1981, when I was dating this wonderful young woman in Dallas, and I realized that in a couple of months-literally, a couple of months-I would move back to Atlanta to finish my Master’s degee. I considered our romance insane, given the fact that it would have to be terminated at the end of the summer; yet we both chose to continue it. I recall thinking once that it would hurt to leave that relationship and lose that love, but that if that was what happened, I would grow as a person from the experience.

And for the record, that young woman and I have been married for over 28 years. Sometimes you don’t have to experience the pain, in order to discover the gain.

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