Discomfort is one of those words that requires a scale to explain. In particular, there is a point where discomfort and pain intersect. But it’s essential to be discriminant in using these terms and recognize that they are both very personal.
Doctors and healthcare professionals try hard to help us communicate using a common scale for pain so they can better prescribe a course of action that offers relief. Nevertheless, I can’t know for sure if you describe your discomfort as a “five” that you’re feeling the same level of discomfort as me when I use the same number.
Nevertheless, since communicating our level of discomfort is so personal, we’re in control, to a large extent, of what gets written on the prescription pad to help us deal with our pain.
I’m tired of using the word “epidemic,” but what else do you call it? Overdoses in Michigan are ten times higher than they were in 2000. And overdoses from opioids took the lives of nearly 47,000 people in the U.S. annually through 2018. The data is still being analyzed, but experts anticipate that this number has doubled since the COVID pandemic began.
In their book, I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers write, “The trouble with opioids is that they are both life-giving and life-taking at the same time.” An opioid can be a drug prescribed for a patient to ease physical pain. And a drug known to be dangerous to our wellbeing, heroin, is also an opioid.
Opioids are an example of a paradox. Painkillers can be lifesaving for many patients, but all opioids can take a life when abused. Beth and Sarah note that “27 percent of opiate abusers get the drugs by prescription, and 49 percent get them from friends and family.” But too often, opioid abuse begins with a prescription to ease suffering.
Most, if not all, health insurance plans willingly pay for opioids while limiting access to physical therapy. And insurance coverage for non-medical pain management techniques is rare. So the alternatives for managing pain are limited.
This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
1 Corinthians 2:25
My choice of “And” as a title for this week’s message is a recognition of paradox. A paradox is a situation where two things are valid at the same time that we ordinarily would choose “Or” as the proper connecting word. With a paradox, either this is true, or that is true becomes this is true, and that is true.
John’s Gospel begins with just such a paradox. Jesus is divine, and Jesus is human. This statement defies the traditional experience that humans cannot be divine. Similarly, God is S pirit and invisible, concrete and visible. Our belief that God’s essence is three in one may be life’s ultimate paradox.
The concreteness and directly relevant life and teachings of Jesus Christ resonate with our humanity. We know that Christ gave His life out of love so powerful that its intensity seems beyond reach. We identify His finiteness and take comfort in His infiniteness.
God represents the power it takes to create everything. A source of energy that boggles the mind. An infinite power that is incomprehensible.
And the fluidity of the Holy Spirit is both comforting and frightening at the same time. A paradox in its own right, God’s Spirit is everywhere at once. In the beginning, the Holy Spirit was the arbiter of God’s creative power. And yet the Spirit is as personal as our very breath that allows life to continue.
God is a paradox beyond our abilities to grasp, leaving us in a perpetual state of discomfort. Yet God asks us to rely on divine grace as the only reliable hope. And too many of us find this commitment to be too much. So we turn elsewhere to ease our discomfort and our pain.
Since God made all that there is, God’s creative energies underwrite the various substances that ease pain. From the poppies harvested to create natural opioids and their laboratory cousins, God’s creative power makes opioids, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances we turn to ease our discomfort possible.
Opioids affect how we feel pain offering relief. What a wonderful creation for persons suffering from chronic pain. However, this same benefit leads an increasing number of persons toward an early grave, wrecking lives and relationships.
Sarah and Beth remind us that “We don’t like that there is no one person or group to blame for the problem.” However,“politics is not a collision of good and evil; it’s a painstaking analysis of valid, competing priorities. Whether we are discussing policy goals or philosophical ideas, let’s allow space for the ways in which this difficult issue can seem to point to contradictory and competing truths.”
Not all discomfort is bad. Ask anyone training for the CRIM. But pain is usually a sign of a problem to be acknowledged, researched, and a solution put into motion. It is important to recognize the difference.
As we conclude our Masterpiece series it is my prayer that each of us recognize that we are created by a loving God as a work of beautiful art. And that we strive to work together so that each of us has the opportunity to share God’s art for the good of all.
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Content for this series is based in part on:
Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth A. Silvers. I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019.
“About the Epidemic.” © State of Michigan Website, 2022. Retrieved from: link