The Greatest Pain Story Ever Told

In Pain

“You mock my pain,” spits Princess Buttercup at the Dread Pirate Roberts. 11059_1213488140452_500_271

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Those are some of my favorite lines from the greatest pain story ever read to a sick child.

And yes, I know, The Princess Bride is commonly mistaken for a love story, of which I agree there are elements, but seriously, a story of being mostly dead, kidnapped, robbed, accosted by giant rats, tortured and fighting “to the pain” can hardly be considered “mushy love stuff.” It’s first and foremost about pain, which I find rather intriguing.

I especially find myself relating to the six-fingered man when it comes to his curiosity about pain. In a tender moment he shares with Westley his deep affinity with the subject matter:

“I’m sure you’ve discovered my deep and abiding interest in pain. Presently I’m writing the definitive work on the subject, so I want you to be totally honest with me….How do you feel?”

If Wesley had been at all articulate, I might have put forth a few more questions about pain. For example: Why does it exist? What is it really? Can we be curious about it? Should it be avoided at all costs? And what would that cost be? Addiction? Self-indulgence? Immorality? Loss of conscience? Even malevolence?

To me, pain is a gift. It means we can feel, that we exist, that our heart can be broken by the things that break the heart of God. But, I admit, I don’t enjoy it. I would prefer to sip a cold drink by a pool in Cabo than receive the “gift” of pain.

I especially wish this when I’m at mile 8.7 of a 10 mile training run. But somehow I keep running. In pain. In spite of the pain. Because what I want is beyond the pain, on the other side of the fire swamp.

Like all emotions and sensations, pain is merely an indicator. It points things out to you. It gives you information. Sometimes we have to react immediately to that information (like when we touch a hot stove), but sometimes we need to react more slowly (like when the blue makes a bad call at 1st and your son is called out…WHEN HE CLEARLY BEAT THE BALL!!!!!) Obviously, not all pain requires an immediate and intense reaction. Sometimes you just have to sit with it, learn from it, grow with it.

I work with my unsuspecting 5th graders each year on the concept of pain. I talk to them about pain being an idea, but not really an absolute. An indicator that something may need to be altered, but not a requirement for immediate action. Because there is more choice in how we handle pain than we may think. Westley didn’t run from pain; he stormed the castle while still mostly dead.

As an experiment, I give each of them an ice cube and ask them to close it in their tiny little fists.

For two whole minutes.

When their bodies begin to tense up in agony, and their brains start suggesting the abstract idea, “Pain! Pain! Pain!” I simply ask them to be more specific.

I ask them to observe this concept of “pain” and describe it. As they do so, their body language changes. Instead of cringing and begging for escape, their eyes begin to soften and their noggins begin to activate. They relax and become poets.

“I feel the drips coming down my wrist, like a mountain waterfall.”

“It’s like being stuck with 10,000 little needles.”

“It actually feels hot, like it’s a burning meteor.”

Then I ask them, while they are still curious, if they can turn their attention to their other hand. The hand without the ice cube and describe it. Can they notice the absence of pain simultaneously with the presence of pain? Can they discover that it’s possible to experience relief, not just after they let go, but while they are still hanging on, just by shifting their attention. That a love story can be discovered smack dab in the midst of a pain story?

I wonder sometimes if that “other hand” is what sustained Jesus during his arrest, torture and murder. The joy of victory that was happening simultaneously with the agony. The love story that existed in the midst of the pain story.

I am frequently sustained by my absolute conviction that God is love, not just in the times of pain’s absence, but even in the midst of my own deepest pain stories.

Once I sat in church in the middle of my very deepest pain story. I was about to be in big trouble. A sin only a few knew about had the potential to become public. Very public.

So I sat there in church, and I begged. I pleaded. I wrestled. I squeezed that ice-cube, tensed every muscle in my body and asked God to please, please, please work a miracle and make it okay. To help me keep it hidden. To protect my family from the pain of my choices. I focused only on the agony of that darn ice cube and how badly I wanted to let it go. And I heard a crystal clear response.

“I will be with you.”

And I thought, “Crap.”

The road I was on was not going to be pain free.

And it wasn’t.

But He was.

He was with me before the pain, through the pain, and in spite of the pain. His answer didn’t remove it, but when I focused on him holding my other hand, I realized there was a way through it. His love was holding my hand and filling it with restoration, hope and promise.

Yes, there is a road marked with suffering.  But he promises to hold your hand all the way down the road.

You get to choose which hand gets your attention.

So, today, I stand with both hands outstretched saying, “I welcome the pain story in the midst of my love story” because I think what the Dread Pirate Roberts meant to say is, “In this world there will be trouble, but take heart, Highness, for I know the one who has overcome the world.”

Anyone who says differently is selling something.

*******If you’re a sucker for pain…there’s more! Continue reading at!!******

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  • Allison Hughes

    Thanks for this, Susan. I love your perspective. (And I happen to also love “The Princess Bride”!)

  • Staci Lee

    Love the idea of love being in the middle of a pain story. It changes everything, doesn’t it! xx

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