Ponder this for a moment: You are in chronic pain. You have taken all of the over-the-counter pain relievers on the market with little relief. You have consulted holistic doctors, taken vitamins and supplements, worked hard at physical therapy, and even altered your routine. While there have been brief periods of relief, that dull but constant aching has been your companion for many years. From time to time the pain flares up and ruins your day. Most of the time however, because you have been dealing with it for so long, you barely notice. During a routine check-up your physician mentions that there is a procedure that has a 98% effectiveness rate for taking away the pain for good – eliminating both the flare ups and the dull, constant pain. When the surgery is complete you will feel better than you have in years, but both the surgery and the recovery are difficult and painful. Do you have the surgery?
As a pastor I have been in pre-surgery rooms with many who have chosen the surgery. I have been there for the hip replacement that will take a month of difficult rehab, the gallbladder removal that will lessen the pain after a period of pain, or the hernia operation that will improve mobility after days of recovery not wanting to move a muscle. I would venture to guess that most of us would opt, or have opted, for the surgery. We reason that the short-term, acute pain and difficulty is a fair trade for a pain-free future that will give us the ability to function again.
Yet when it comes to our emotional lives, most of us (including me) choose the chronic pain. We put up with the bully in the office. We walk on eggshells around the broken ones in our families. We alter our routines and/or compromise our values to be “nice.”
Many of us, in other words, choose the dull chronic pain rather than have the emotional surgery. We think it will just “go away,” but in the words of Desmond Tutu:
Our common experience in fact is the opposite – that the past, far from disappearing or lying down and being quiet, has an embarrassing and persistent way of returning and haunting us unless it has in fact been dealt with adequately. Unless we look the beast in the eye we find it has an uncanny habit of returning to hold us hostage (Tutu 28).
Is there a beast holding you hostage? a growth that needs to be surgically removed? Consider dealing with the short-term pain so there can be real recovery.
Tutu, Desmond Mpilo. No Future Without Forgiveness. New York: Image Doubleday, 2009.