Monthly Archives: February 2023

The Purpose of Pain

Photo credit: Joyce McCown


We’ve all heard it said before that pain is actually a gift, because it alerts us to the reality that something is wrong in our bodies. I have been a long time struggler with back pain. When we are in our 20s, we sometimes do stupid things. These things can hurt our bodies for so many years to come. If only we realized that when we were 20something…. My back problems began one snowy winter’s day when I was in grad school and living with three girlfriends. Two of those girlfriends were not in grad school, but were workin’ ladies, and they had to go to work despite the snow. (It was indeed so much snow that college classes were canceled, if that tells you anything.) Being a dutiful friend and roommate, I purposed myself to help the gals get their cars cleaned off and on the road. But four ladies living on their own for the first time don’t happen to own a lot of snow removal equipment. So we turned to the only things we had: cleaning tools. 20 something Catherine thought that shoveling snow out from around the cars with a dustpan was a good idea. Stupid. So that is where my back problems began. Ever since then, I’ve had issues with my hips rotating. As I approach 40, my body just doesn’t want to cooperate, more and more. It’s really frustrating to live with back pain. It prevents me from doing the things I want to do with my kids…. It keeps me awake at night…. It interferes with my gardening…. THE NERVE.


This fall my chiro took some new x-rays because my pain just wasn’t improving. She showed them to me, and even with my untrained eye that has no medical background whatsoever, I let out a low gasp and said, “Oh my!” My hip was horribly rotated. No wonder I was having so much pain! The pain was an indicator to me that something wasn’t right. So my doctor began treating my hip with this new knowledge in view. She told me in no uncertain terms the things that I was not to do which would put undue strain on my hip and cause rotation. For months I was vigilant about these no-no’s. I was SO careful. I continued my exercises and stretches, and I stayed away from the restricted postures, movements, etc. And my hip got better! It was amazing to be pain free!


But as the months passed, I got lax. I didn’t stop exercising or stretching, but I ventured into some of the no-no positions, like crossing my legs while seated, or getting down onto the floor to play with the kids in certain positions. I cocked my hip as I was making my shopping list. I lifted with my back, not my legs. I wasn’t vigilant any longer because there wasn’t any pain. You probably aren’t surprised to hear that the pain came back.


Isn’t this just like my walk of faith? I am a faithful Bible-reader, morning and night. I pray. I listen to worship music. I attend church and Bible study. But sometimes, I also venture into postures that God says I should not take. Sometimes I grow lax against wrong behaviors. I notice that this is especially true when I am not walking through something painful or difficult. Just like I grew lax when my back pain went away, it’s in the good, easy times that my faith can become lax, that my posture can slouch before the God of the universe.


The painful times emotionally and spiritually often serve as an intense motivator for me, spurring me on towards growth in Christ. So I’m thankful for those hard times, for the pain, because it keeps me vigilant. It keeps me careful to avoid wrong things. It keeps me moving in the right direction, rather than the wrong ones. Pain motivates growth.


James 1 speaks to this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (vv 2-4).


I have been noticing in myself lately that I’m not terribly good at “considering it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds.” But when I take a step back and consider the issue of physical pain in my life, I know that I should be grateful for the trials in my life, because they keep me from becoming lax. As the text says, they do produce perseverance in my faith. They do make me mature. The trials I experience are to my benefit if I face them with joy and perseverance. When I meet a painful trial, the choice is up to me:


Will I face it with joy and faith? Or will I grow frustrated and anxious?


Will I persevere? Or will I give up and give in to defeat?


Will I allow it to produce growth and maturity? Or will I become angry and bitter instead?


Just like the pain in my back spurs me on towards physical growth and healing, I want the trials of my life to spur me on towards spiritual growth and maturity. I want them to make me better, not bitter.


Is there a trail in your life that you need to view with new eyes today? Ask the Lord to show you how it can be to your benefit and do your best to embrace it with joy. Even behind hard gifts, the heart of the Giver is good and is always for you.

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Lavish Kindness

I guess God really has some things to say to me about my words lately. I shared recently about what God showed me when I caught one of my kids moving her messes instead of cleaning them up like she was supposed to. God convicted me that I was guilty of moving my messes with my words when I spread negative talk about situations, or when I vented too much about others instead of going directly to them with my offense. Shortly after this thought-provoking clean up session, I had an experience where someone showered me with the kindest words. It was the icing on the cake to this lesson. I know what negative words can do – I’ve experienced that so many times. But the generosity of this stranger’s words really showed me the impact of being so generous with kind words.


Hannah and I were recently out shopping in Home Goods. We had some time and some gift cards to squander. We were looking at all the pretty things. Feeling all the soft blankets. Wandering to our hearts’ content.

In the kitchen organization aisle (one of the BEST aisles in the store!!!) we happened upon a kind older woman with her little dog. We exchanged a bit of small talk about the dog and the store. And then she proceeded to ask me if I was Hannah’s mom or sister. I chuckled and told her I was mom, and I appreciated her kindness so much because my 40th birthday was fast approaching. She was dumbfounded! Truly flabbergasted. She gushed on about how I “couldn’t possibly be….” I looked “far too young to be…” Now, she was a complete stranger to me, so maybe her eyesight wasn’t the best?! But I will never know! All I will know and what I will remember forever, was how kind she was to me, how generous, how lavish her words were. And she was a complete stranger.


There are many wonderful friends and family members in my life who are generous with their kind words towards me. I know the balm that the words of a friend can be. But I have rarely been so positively impacted by a stranger’s words. Until this experience, I never considered the potential of my impact as a stranger to someone else. What I realized through this encounter is that every person I cross paths with, stranger or not, is an opportunity. There are three choices on the path: I can say nothing, leave no impact. I can be rude, and leave a negative impact, or I can be lavish and generous with kind words. That stranger in Home Goods left me feeling like I was walking in the clouds that day. To think, I could have that kind of impact in another complete stranger’s day, if I took the time. I’m often in a rush when I’m out and about, or working, or just doing the daily grind. What if I slowed down enough to really see people? What if I was generous with kind words, intentional about lavishing them on others?


Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” I certainly learned how true this verse is on that day in Home Goods.

Both of these lessons on my words – the messes of negative words, and the power of kind words – are also reflected in a well-known Proverb. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring life or death.”

Every word is an opportunity. If only we were more careful when choosing what to say! What would your world be like if you considered your words each time you opened your mouth, if you filtered them through these two verses:  

Are these words bringing life, or death? 

Will these words be sweet to the soul of the listener?  

Because of this experience, I want to slow down, to see people, to be intentional, and to see the opportunities to lavish kind words on another, to choose words that bring life and sweetness to someone else’s soul.

It costs you nothing to be generous with your words. And you never know the impact you may have on some nearly-40-year-old’s day!

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Moving the Mess

We have a nightly routine around my house to help stay on top of the kids’ mess. About 15 minutes before their bedtime routine begins, play ends and clean-up begins. Anything that’s left out after the clean-up session ends and the bedtime routine begins, Mom picks up and takes possession of for the next 24 hours. So if the kids want to keep their toys, they’ve got to clean them up off the playroom floor. Otherwise, they’re mine.


This has been a fairly effective policy for managing the messes around my house. However, the littlest cleaner found a loophole last week. After our clean up session had ended, we moved to the bedrooms to start getting ready for bed. And what did I discover when I entered the girls’ bedroom? The floor was covered with items that had formerly been littering the playroom floor. Hannah had not actually been putting her toys away; she had just been moving the mess.


“Hannah,” I said, “moving the mess is not the same as taking care of the mess. You’ve only created more problems for yourself now, because the stuffed animals that you want for bed are not in your bed, but still all packed up in this backpack. And clean up time is over. Now we’re getting ready for bed, and you won’t have the things you need for bed.”


A resigned answer followed, “Sorry Mom.”


Yes, it was a quick fix to unpack the stuffies from the bag that she needed for bed. But a spiritual lesson hit me as we talked about moving the mess. Something I have struggled with in the past is spending too much time venting my frustrations or spreading outright negative talk when I’m upset. If you think about it, this is just like moving the mess. I’m upset about something, but instead of actually taking care of the mess, I’m just offloading it onto other people. There are certainly times where it is appropriate to discuss a problem or emotion with a close trusted friend. I have a few of those friends in my pocket, and they are more valuable than gold to me.


But what I’m talking about here is the times we unnecessarily bring negativity into an environment by being overly negative about something or someone. For example, on a recent Sunday, I was frustrated about some issues we were having with a volunteer shortage. I was venting my frustrations to a coworker when another dear volunteer greeted me. He immediately sensed my frustrations and asked me about it. I tried to grin and downplay it, but the damage was done. I had allowed my negativity, my mess, to move into two other lives, instead of simply releasing it to the Lord and trusting that he was going to take care of my volunteer situation (which he 100% did!). I had lost an opportunity to have a positive conversation with my volunteer, and I moved my mess into his space.


In other instances, we may be upset with a specific person, but instead of going to that person, we go to someone else. We move the mess of hurt or frustration from our own hearts to someone totally outside the situation. As a verbal processor, I understand that this is sometimes helpful in working through my thoughts and emotions. But the words I choose to speak into existence about others have power. And they have the power to build someone else’s perception of that person, too. Wouldn’t it be better to do my verbal processing with God, and then go directly to the person who hurt me or upset me? Otherwise, I’m not really taking care of the mess, I’m just moving it. Case in point, my kids come to me ALL. THE. TIME. when they are upset with another sibling. They want me to handle the mess. Now that my kids are 11, 8, and 5, there are a lot of messes that they can handle for themselves. They know what to do when someone hurts their feelings, or physically accosts them, or won’t share! So when they come complaining to me, I’ve started to send them directly to the person who offended them. I listen and decide for myself if they can appropriately handle the dispute, and usually they can. I’m not the one who needs to know about their hurt feelings – the one who hurt them is! How many times have I been guilty of moving my mess in the same way? Instead of going to the person who upset me, I unload on someone else. The mess isn’t taken care of because the person who upset me never even knows about it to be given the chance to fix it. Then the hurt stays in my heart and the relationship is damaged. There’s no advantage to moving messes in these situations.


Ephesians 4:29 is a verse I memorized a long time ago to help deal with this wild mouth of mine. It says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.


What if we all did this? What if we did our verbal processing with God and then went directly to the person who offended us so that our relationship could be strengthened through forgiveness and grace and open communication? And what if, when circumstances disappoint us, we take those feelings to God, and speak positively, with faith, about the situation even when it doesn’t look good? Think of how uplifting our conversations would be if we quit verbally dumping all the time and instead tried to meet the checklist in Ephesians 4:29!


Nothing unwholesome.


Helpful for building others up.


Focusing on others’ needs.


Benefitting anyone who is listening.


This is a hard list for me. But I know it’s good. If all believers put this into practice, our world would be a very different place!


Are you guilty of moving messes too? Is there a mess you can take care of today? Seek the Lord for an opportunity to clean up your messes today so they don’t cause more problems down the road.