Saturday, September 18, 2010



I’m working hard on revising the manuscript of my next book, which has to be at Morehouse Publishing by Oct. 8. So this posting will be a little shorter than most, but I think that some of you may identify with the experiences it describes.


This week I got some sorely needed injections in my lumbar spine. I think they helped. In the pre-op room before the procedure a nurse with a clipboard came in and asked me twenty questions. One of them was, “How would you rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the worst?”

The first time I was asked to quantify my pain like that I was puzzled. After all, everyone’s experience of pain is unique, right? I’m sure that there are people who would rate my pain much lower compared to their own. What I’d call a 7 they would call a 4.

But then I learned that the scale is meant to be my own private pain scale, and that the ratings are not made by comparing it with other people’s pain or against some abstract criteria. The idea is to compare my pain now with my pain a few weeks ago: thus if my pain was a 5 last time and it’s a 3 this time then things are getting better.

I was able to give a rating rather easily because my mind tends naturally toward quantitative thinking. You want me to assign a number to my pain? I can do that.

Yet every time I’m asked to rate my pain I also think to myself that there must be millions and millions of people in the world who are experiencing far worse pain than I am, whether physical, psychological or emotional, and who are living with it constantly. I’d be ashamed to talk about my back pain in the presence of someone who was grieving over their dead child, or who was living with advanced bone cancer.


Here are just three lessons I’m learning by having to rate the level of my pain.

First, rating my pain on the 1 to 10 scale helps me to put it in perspective: it is not really that overwhelming if you consider how much worse it could be.

Second, it makes me very conscious of all those around the world who are suffering – many of them in far worse shape than me.

Third, it makes me appreciate more those many long periods when I am pain-free.

All three of these help me to get something out of my pain instead of just gritting my teeth or “offering it up.”

I hope that these lessons will help me to keep my pain from overwhelming me when it’s severe, to be more compassionate to people who are suffering, and to appreciate more keenly all of the beautiful gifts that God surrounds me with every day.





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