WHAT PAIN EXPOSES

It is September 30, and I must say I am grateful this month is over in three hours and six minutes. It has been a long—l-o-n-g—month. Like much of day-to-day life, my postings have been scattered. Life at times has been a fog, thanks to the medications I have had a love-hate relationship with.

It began with surgery August 29, an event that I assumed would go relatively smooth. Other tennis players who have had the same misfortune of needing a hip replaced cheered me on. “You will feel like a new man.” “You will be back on the court in no time.” My surgeon said, “You are young and in shape. You should go home the same day.” And given I was riding sixteen miles a day in the summer, and swimming vigorously in the afternoons, I was ready to be a “hip” success story. But it has not been so smooth.

An ever present aching hip and leg, a trip to the ER, a herniated disc, a steroid injection, and possible back surgery—along with 24/7 pain—have turned my life upside down. I walk like Jacob. My wife sleeps in another room to get sleep. Even my dogs avoid my bed. I wake up thinking it has been a decent sleep—but it is only midnight, and then the pain sets in. Time seems to decelerate and move at an interminable pace. I find myself staring into the vacant space. I sometimes turn on TV in the evenings, only to watch unimaginable sufferings due to horrific hurricanes and fires and earthquakes. I turn to PBS to watch the series, Vietnam, but after one episode I am in a total funk. I could go into the other room, where my wife is hooked on British murder mysteries. But even this is painful. In every episode, someone is getting killed.

If you are over 65, you likely have your own story. This is what I have discovered when you get older. People really do care, but they have their own maladies—irregular heartbeat, gout, retina repairs (that’s right, I am also dealing with this), vertigo (let’s not go there), knee issues, enlarged prostate, sexual performance anxiety … Once you open up about your journey, it’s only fair to hear the next. I have found most stories trump mine. People are kind, but probably thinking “And so…is that it???”

This is the good thing about a blogpost—no one interrupts. But then, no one may be reading by this point.

Don’t get me wrong. I do care—and frankly, in many of the stories I hear, what I have gone through—and am going through—is so minuscule. Watching the stories coming out of Puerto Rico, I can feel so self-centered and whiny. September has been a difficult month for so many. What saves me is a sense of purpose. There are classes still to teach, a book to finish, a sermon to preach, a cabin to hopefully get back to, and an amazing God to serve.  What matters is having a purpose that transcends pain. Difficult days, ones that slow us down, force us to make sure there is more to life than the well-being of this outer shell—or the success of our careers.

God used a story the other night to make the point. I am working through Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Doris Kearns Goodwin was commissioned to write about Johnson’s life. He had a great fear he would be forgotten. I suppose it is a fear we all share. He insisted she spend every weekend with him, so that he could tell her about his life. Listen to this stunning summary—

“When Johnson left the White House, he should have had much to be grateful for. His rich political career had taken him from the House of Representatives to the Senate to the Presidency. His years in the nation’s capital had spanned the depression, the New Deal, World War II, the cold war, the Eisenhower years, the New Frontier, the Great Society, and Vietnam.

A millionaire, he had all the money he needed to pursue any leisure activity he wanted. He owned a spacious ranch in the Texas hill country, a penthouse in Austin, a half-dozen cars fully equipped with telephones and traveling bars, a sailboat and speedboat, a movie theatre on the grounds of his ranch and servants to answer his every whim. He had the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world and the love of an extraordinary woman and two spirited daughters.

Yet…the man I saw in retirement had spent so many years in pursuit of work, power, and individual success that he had no inner resources left to commit himself to anything once the Presidency was gone. So dominant had politics been, consuming all his energies, constricting his horizons in every sphere, that once the realm of high power was taken from him he was drained of all vitality. Retirement became for him a form of little death.”

Life has its curves, and in such times, you do come face to face with what inner resources, inner vitality, are there. This is where God confronts me. Every day is a new opportunity to shore up the soul, to make sure life still flourishes. It’s the little death—the life without meaning and purpose–that we must avoid at all costs.

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  • You are young. Once you span another 10 years or so, these kinds of episodes will have passed and you will simply have a general level of constant discomfort – your back, your legs, maybe even your ears. May God grant you a minimum of such experience as you labor to serve Him.

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