Eyes open, thoughts forming, but unable to move. Trapped in the frightening fog between dead to the world or alive to the pain.
That was me.
I had just spent six hours under general anesthesia and was now sporting an incision that bisected my abdomen. My large intestine was now M.I.A. It had been a permanent, life-altering surgery.
Emerging from the near-death anesthetic sleep, I had an incredibly unpleasant “Aha!” moment. The climax of a classic Batman episode flashed before my eyes.
I was in more pain than I had ever been in my entire life. In fact, add up all the pain I had experienced in that life and this dwarfed it.
My initial thought was, “What have I done!?”
It seemed the old saying was true, this “cure” was way worse than the disease.
I’d been in chronic internal pain for nearly five years. Crohns colitis, which 29 years ago wasn’t very responsive to medication, had been wreaking havoc on my guts. My colon had been decaying in a prolonged fit of auto-immune insanity–literally eating itself alive.
The result was chronic pain. Daily bouts with agony that left me crumpled on the floor in tears. After every other option was exhausted, the surgeon gave me the plain truth: have surgery or die.
Thus, that moment waking up in a recovery room in acute pain vastly worse than the chronic pain in which I had learned to live. But this intense pain was the only way to stop the chronic pain I had endured for nearly five years.
It had to hurt like hell to get me out of the hell I was living.
But the beauty of the weeks of recovery that followed was this: as the acute pain faded I realized the chronic pain was gone.
Nearly every decision for real and lasting change in my life–whether physical, spiritual, emotional or relational–has resulted from the choice to shift from the chronic by way of the acute.
- Chronic can be anything…boredom, stress, addiction, habits, attitudes, outlooks, emotional proclivities, family bents. Any ruts in which the wheels of our lives get stuck and we can’t seem to break free.
- Chronic is a thief…like the Enemy of our souls, it steals, kills and destroys. Chronic is progressive, decaying and exhausting.
- Chronic thrives in the grind…grating incessantly on the psyche, it simply wears you down. It dulls by the friction of repetition and routine. The unchanging passage of time is its greatest ally.
Very often the only way of escape from the trap of the perpetual is the trauma of the painful. “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30, GNT)
Occasionally, I’ve been brave (or desperate) enough to choose the acute.
But more frequently, God has been forced to let the sharp intrusion of unwanted change or excruciating challenge to be the catalyst for the healing mercy He wants to bring. It is that trauma of transformation to which the ancient writer refers when he says: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)
When the chronic is broken and change is birthed, we understand what Paul meant when he said: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame…” (Romans 5:2-4)
Hope is the best place we can live. Hope elevates. Hope sustains. Hope heals. Hope envisions. Hope is potent and passionate. Hope is a spiritual treasure worth whatever it costs to possess. And honestly…
Hope only rises from ashes.
The Author of Hebrews is authentically honest when he writes: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
I love that in our worst pain there is always a “later on, however”. Pain is not God’s opinion of you. It is not a destination or designation. It is a moment and a movement.
On the other side of the pain–and there is always the other side with God–there is healing. And the scars that remain are the stories that will help others get through their acute seasons.
Recently, there have been some acute losses and intense challenges for my wife and me. Chronic is being unsettled by acute. Soon, the protracted will give way to suddenly.
God loves “suddenlies”.
Peter was in jail for sharing Jesus’ love. Utterly trapped in the abyss of random Roman justice. But then, “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and…struck Peter on the side and woke him up…and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.“ (Acts 12:7)
Sometimes the “suddenly” angel is invasive pain or unwanted crisis. But it is crucial to remember, when God introduces acute, something of this world’s chronic is going to end.
And on a scale of 1 to 10, the holy wholeness that follows is a definite 10.