If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities.2 Corinthians 11:30
I’ve told this story before, but good memories deserve retelling.
Mike caught my attention soon after we moved to the ward. He had a lot going for him: He was sitting in the overflow, had hippy-length hair, and he looked to be suffering in a tie almost as much as I was. Clearly someone I needed to get to know.
I called that one right. Mike ended up being a great friend. I learned that his long hair was a sign of defiance after having overcome leukemia and losing all of his hair during treatment. Mike was a unique soul: funny, intellectual, and eternally optimistic. And he was getting a degree in Russian, as part of his dream to be a diplomat or intelligence officer. My family knew that if he called me, my dinner should be put in the fridge, because it was going to be a while.
Mike continued to fight off and on with health issues, and after he moved away from Texas, the leukemia came back determined to even the score. It eventually did.
I remember one night on the phone with him, during his treatment, when he was telling me about some of the pain he was going through. I asked him how he endured it. He laughed and said, “If I wake up, and I’m hurting, I know that I’m alive.” I could hear the smile. As long as I was in the game, he was good.
Little did I know that years later, my wife would lean over my bed hundreds of times and tell me, “Mike said that if it hurts, you are still alive.”
I don’t recommend pain, although I have become more familiar with it than I like to let on. But years of chronic this-and-that has convinced me that pain is a powerful tutor, one that we can only experience as a result of living in mortality. It has helped teach me things that my stubborn soul would not be able to learn through other means.
Pain can overcome pride. No matter how little you like to ask for help (and I don’t like it at all), that pride has to be set aside when you can’t function without help. I learned to be humble enough to say “I can’t do this,” both to the Lord and to my family and friends.
Pain can magnify love. When people come to your rescue, you see something in them that you would not normally see, and it is unforgettable. There are times during a Sacrament meeting that I will look around the chapel and think about the help that these wonderful disciples of Christ have given to me and my family, and I nearly come to tears (it’s really just allergies, I swear). When you see people at their very best, you can’t help but love them. And you can’t help but forget all the other stuff about them.
Pain can draw you closer to God, even though there are times when, as the Willie Nelson song describes it, we’ve been “too sick to pray.” Pain can reduce us to silent groanings of our spirits that are more powerful than mere prayer and etch in our minds our complete dependence of God. I have learned that only in times of extremity can you accurately measure your faith.
Pain has taught me gratitude and has helped me find joy in the spaces between trouble. It has made me grateful for the essential stuff in life: The touch of my sweetheart’s hand; the laughter of a grandchild; the presence of my wonderful daughters. Pain teaches you that you don’t need much to be well and truly happy.
Pain has been my least favorite professor, but I know I’m a better person for attending its classes. And if a little discomfort wakes me up at night, I just listen to a wise friend and remember that I’m alive. Still in the game. All good.
No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God,Orson F. Whitney