Attitudes about pain

Pain is not the enemy, but the loyal scout announcing the enemy. . . . And yet only by learning to master pain can we keep it from mastering us.
– Dr. Paul Brand

While this book isn’t specifically about faith and spirituality, it is as much about it as any other.

Dr. Paul Brand writes this memoir about his experiences in helping others deal with pain and deal with painlessness (which often has more deadly consequences).

If you read his book through the lens of not only physical suffering but any type of suffering, much can be learned about how God can redeem our attitudes about pain.

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Excerpt from Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants

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My professional life has revolved around the theme of pain, and by living in different cultures I have observed at close hand diverse attitudes toward it.

My life divides roughly into thirds—twenty-seven years in India, twenty-five years in England, and more than twenty-seven years in the United States—and from each society I have learned something new about pain.

I served my medical internship in London during the most harrowing days of the Blitz, when the Luftwaffe was pounding a proud city into rubble. Physical hardship was a constant companion, the focal point of nearly every conversation and front-page headline.

Yet I have never lived among people so buoyant; now I read that 60 percent of Londoners who lived through the Blitz remember it as the happiest period of their lives.

After the war I moved to India, just as Partition was tearing the nation apart. In that land of poverty and omnipresent suffering I learned that pain can be borne with dignity and calm acceptance.

It was there too that I began treating leprosy patients, social pariahs whose tragedy stems from the absence of physical pain.

Later in the United States, a nation whose war for independence was fought in part to guarantee a right to “the pursuit of happiness,” I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. Patients lived at a greater comfort level than any I had previously treated, but they seemed far less equipped to handle suffering and far more traumatized by it.

Pain relief in the United States is now a $63-billion-a-year industry [this book originally published in 1993], and television commercials proclaim better and faster pain remedies. One ad slogan bluntly puts it, “I haven’t got time for the pain.”

Each of these groups of people—Londoners who suffered gladly for a cause, Indians who expected suffering and learned not to fear it, and Americans who suffered less but feared it more—helped to form my outlook on this mysterious fact of human existence.

Most of us will one day face severe pain.

I am convinced that the attitude we cultivate in advance may well determine how suffering will affect us when it does strike.

– Dr. Paul Brand

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Read more here from Pain about Dr. Brand’s scare with leprosy

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7 thoughts on “Attitudes about pain

  1. blankMia

    Dear Lisa
    This is an amazing book. I recall a time when Dr Brandt was on his way to London by train, when all of a sudden he lost all feeling in his feet. He was petrified because he thought it might be leprosy. The next day the feeling returned and it was just a case of poor blood flow. He then came to the conclusion that pain is a gift and I totally agree!
    Blessings XX
    Mia

  2. blankBarbara H.

    I haven’t read this but I have been interested to ever since reading his biography, Ten Fingers For God, by Dorothy Clarke Wilson (in fact, I just ordered a used copy of that book to reread). I think it might cover just his time in India, but I do remember the story of fearing he had leprosy from it, so maybe it does go further. I mainly remember his coming as a boy to live with two older maiden aunts while he went to school, and the adjustment to that after having been raised in the jungle. It was enjoyable to read though I am sure it was trying for all of them at the time.

    After TM, I did not feel pain in my right leg, and have had cuts there I was unaware of because I couldn’t feel them. It did give me a renewed appreciation for pain, though I still can’t say I like it very well. 🙂

  3. blankDianna

    Oh Lisa…a MUST read for me. Just reading the excerpts you’ve shared, along with Mia’s comment makes me think of how I described my fibro under the His Gift To Me tab on the blog.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. blankCaleb Suko

    Lisa, thanks for introducing us to this book. It’s so important that Christians have a proper undstanding and attitude toward pain. One book that has really helped me is C.S. Lewis’ book “The Problem of Pain”

  5. Pingback: On the blog in Oct '13

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