A recent double blind study concluded that while Tylenol was effective at masking physical pain, it also made those taking it less empathetic. The Tylenol study revealed that the part of the brain that processes our pain also processes how we relate to the pain of others. The connection isn't surprising. While the study did not include any of the plethora of over-prescribed opioids, my own extensive medical training from watching reruns of "House" tells me that such studies would probably yield the same results. This study makes me wonder if it's possible for our own struggles with pain and suffering to transform us into more loving and compassionate people.
I have to admit that most of my pain has been self-inflicted. I've been to the ER more times than I can count to be sewn up and stitched for injuries I've caused myself. Some of my relationship "car wreck" were my own one-car crashes with innocent bystanders. Certainly I'm an inmate at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp through no one's fault but my own. To borrow a phrase from Bartee Haile's book Murder Most Texan, I was "yet another example of the full of himself lawyer overplaying what had become a losing hand."
How do you handle pain? Do you try flight? Will power? Chemicals? What about denial? Projection? I've tried them all. They can temporarily mask the symptoms, but none of them relieve the suffering. Richard Rohr writes that "all great spirituality is about what we do with pain...We don't handle suffering; suffering handles us in deep and mysterious ways that ironically become the very matrix of life." Pain can break us, but it's in those broken places that God's grace can slip into our heart to transform the pain into love and acceptance, then peace."
Rohr also writes, "Followers of the Crucified One will pray for the grace to do what he did: hold the pain until it transformed Him into the Risen Christ. If you do not transform your pain, you will almost certainly transmit your pain to others through anger, blame, projection, hatred or scapegoating."
I'll never welcome pain and suffering, but I can train myself to look at it differently when it happens. Instead of pretending it's not there, I can embrace the struggle to find and experience God's grace in it, so I can hopefully let it transform me to be a more loving, empathetic and compassionate person.
But it's still going to hurt.