I never thought a doctor would ever look at me and say that I had an incurable disease in my body, much less my hips. At 33 years of age, I would have to replace my bones with metal and ceramic. Yet, there I was making plans with my doctor and family to have both my hips fully replaced in the summer and winter of 2012. Plus, this past January, I had to have a revision surgery on my right hip due to complications.
Over the last few years, I discovered a handful of issues about my self. Issues that I have come to find out are fairly common across the life-lesson board. Sharing these is not to prove I am a better person or know more than the next guy, in reality, I share them because it is the only way I stay sane and redeem the worst two and a half years of my life.
First, I found out how to empathize (not just sympathize).
I have been beside hundreds of hospital beds for the last 15 years of ministry. But I had never been in the bed. I had never been on the other side of the beeping monitors and IV drips. Until now.
What I learned is I didn’t truly know how to empathize with the person going through the pain and suffering. I am not sure there is any other way to learn how to deeply and authentically empathize with others sufferings until we suffer ourselves.
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NLT)
Suffering is never wasted. God uses our pain and suffering to develop in us an empathy only known by the sufferer. That empathy has only one true purpose, to be given away to others in their time of need.
Second, I found out how to put family first (and not just say I did).
Suffering puts all our priorities in the right order. Remember The Bucket List, a movie about a guy and his friend doing the most important things before they died? When we truly realize how finite we are, we find out how great we are at prioritization.
What became priority to me was my family—my wife and our two young daughters. When I was looking at major life-altering surgeries that would limit what I could or couldn’t do in the near future, I stopped wasting time and making excuses. There were plenty of other things I wished I could have done before I had to have my surgeries, and honestly all the excuses I can come up with now don’t take away the painful reality that I missed out.
Maybe you don’t have a family yet. Just apply this point to your closest relationships. All I am saying is prioritize now, so you don’t have the guilt of missed opportunity later.
Finally, I found out how to be productive (not just busy).
Before my health issues I said yes to everything. I mean everything. Maybe you have the same issue? I loved being the go-to guy for anything that came across my desk. It felt great to be so needed, and being needed became all wrapped up into my identity.
So the greatest crisis I actually bumped into after my surgeries is having a limited amount of strength and energy. For the first time in my life, I had to say No more than I said Yes. I realized very quickly that if I said Yes to the unimportant tasks, I was saying No to the important ones. If I only had a limited amount of energy and when it was gone it was gone, I was going to have to make some really hard decisions.
Here is my suggestion. Imagine you only have six solid hours of energy in a given day. What would you spend that six hours doing? We plan out how we spend our money (which comes to us in finite amounts), then why don’t we focus as much intentionality to our finite amount of energy. You would be surprisingly pleased with your self if you did fewer great things than a multitude of good things.
Times of pain and suffering will happen to us all. It is not if it will happen, but when. My prayer for you is that when it happens, you do as I have done in this post and redeem your suffering by sharing what you learned through the pain. It may not keep others from going through their own pain and suffering, but it will give them wisdom to suffer well.