Pain is a subject and an experience we would all like to avoid, but living life in this world means we will all experience some form and variation of pain more than once. Sometimes it will be as minor as a pin prick. Other times it will upend our lives physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and financially, and we will feel overcome with the grief and exhaustion of it all and wonder if we will survive.
In The Hem of His Garment:Reaching Out to God When Pain Overwhelms, author, Dr. Michelle Bengston, opens us to her experience and heart as a neuropsychologist and pain sufferer to offer hope and guidance for those who are in pain or are watching a loved one experiencing pain. Even if the reader is not in pain now, you likely have been or will be.
“We can consider pain a storm: We often have little forewarning of it, we feel trapped under it and miserable during it, and we have no inclination of how long it will last or how we will get through it.”Dr. Michelle Bengston
How often we are asked to describe our pain and give it a numerical number for intensity? It’s an impossible question to answer for the pain sufferer to answer most times. It’s an experience invisible to the one asking. When I have been asked, I never knew how to answer the question and usually felt inept as a result. But add to that something the author calls “secondary pain” and you may well be able see how clearly this book understands what you have experienced or are experiencing.
“Secondary pain is the painful experience caused by the words or actions of others, either intentional or unintentional that worsens the pain we already fight. Frequently it comes in the form of blame or criticism, even if well intentioned.”Dr. Michelle Bengston
Each chapter of this exceptional book looks at another aspect of pain and provides the reader with an awareness the author has heard them, seen their tears and anger, questions about God and more. The result gives the sufferer a sense of not being alone and adds power to her recommendations of how to “go through the storm rather than camp there.”
Dr. Bengston’s faith will be evident page by page but absent the words so casually offered by those who have not endured it. She has endured cancer and watched her husband deal with more than one type of cancer. She has endured the roller coaster of emotions, the spiritual uncertainties when pain was at its worst, relational disappointments, grief from a miscarriage, financial upheaval, and depression. Her book gives a vulnerable look at each of these and shapes her understanding of what you may be experiencing.
“It’s a very fine distinction, but essentially pain is what we feel now whereas suffering is our ongoing experience because of today’s event. Suffering includes pain. Pain is the discomfort, and suffering is the process of dealing with the discomfort, a sense of pervasiveness resulting from pain.”Dr. Michelle Bengston
The battle with pain exposes our need for God as nothing else. We feel powerless to overcome it and cannot fathom why He has allowed us to experience it. It challenges our thoughts about everyone and everything including ourselves and God. It is fertile soil for the enemy to whisper lies to us in the lonely experience of enduring the pain. And it is then whatever our relationship with Him was like before the pain that gives us the tools or lack of them to combat the lies. Then is the time we are challenged to trust his character when there are no answers to our questions or end to our pain.
Because “pain creates a common bond between sufferers” it “affirms that we are not alone in our suffering.” And this describes what you will sense as you read each paragraph of this treasure trove of a resource. Her understanding and words will also remind you there is another who knows this common bond – Jesus Christ. He suffered in innumerable ways beyond what we can fully imagine out of his love for us.
I could quote numerous sentences in this book, but it could not capture the whole of the message it contains. It is one you will want to read for yourself, share with others, and keep on a shelf to revisit again. Let me leave you with this one:
“Sometimes pain and suffering are just that. They don’t always make you stronger. They don’t always build your character. Sometimes they just hurt. And there’s space for that without trying to wrap it up in a pretty bow.”Dr. Michelle Bengston