Pain Ball

29 Mar

Suffering is the necessary deep feeling of the human situation. If we don’t feel pain, suffering, human failure, and weakness, we stand antiseptically apart from it, and remain numb and small. We can’t understand such things by thinking about them. The superficiality of much of our world is that it tries to buy its way out of the ordinary limits and pain of being human. Carl Jung called it “necessary suffering,” and I think he was right.

Jesus did not numb himself or withhold himself from human pain, as we see even in his refusal of the numbing wine on the cross. Some forms of suffering are necessary so that we know the human dilemma, so that we can even name our shadow self and confront it.

Brothers and sisters, the irony is not that God should feel so fiercely; it’s that his creatures feel so feebly.

– Richard Rohr

It’s called ON-Q Painbuster Post-Op Pain Relief System.

This is what it looks like.

I carried it around for a week like a literal ball and chain when any such additional weight, was, well, let’s just say unwelcome.

But it was connected by catheter through my side somewhat like a soaker hose right to my substantial incision to “get the patient back to normal faster by automatically and continuously delivering a local anesthetic directly to the wound.”

Great idea. Great system. Go to the website and play the little video demonstration ( .

And over the course of five days it accomplished…nothing.

My surgeon in going through the release process asked to see what I called “the pain ball,” and not being a demonstrably emotional man (which is not to say he is cold – listen, do we necessarily want a surgeon operating on us who is given to great sways and outbursts of emotion? Fine for the stage and opera and perhaps even pulpit, but I’m thinking not in someone standing over me with a sharp knife), he didn’t react much outwardly as he picked it up and pretty quickly realized absolutely no anesthetic had been administered from the pain ball. None. Nada. Not a drop.

ON-Q was so not on cue.

LaWayne clearly read the irritation on his face. I was hoping no one would get chewed out for messing up or missing something. Or was it just an equipment malfunction? A break in the delivery system? Bad catheter? I don’t know. But he clearly wasn’t happy. I just said with a smile, “Well, it’s a good thing I evidently didn’t need it. I made it through all right.” But then immediately thought to myself, “Oh Lord, and I just carried that additional, ultimately dead weight for five days.” How nice it would have been to be free of that additional restriction on movement and mobility sooner.

Now, replace “pain ball” with “religion.”

What a compelling image for so much of what passes for religion of whatever flavor, stripe, or bent – but I’ll stick with the brand I’ve experienced primarily in Christian evangelical expressions since it’s what I know: a pain ball filled with anesthesia that fails to deliver on cue due to a faulty distribution system but that remains in place, wrapped around your neck, a dead lead weight bumping against your wound as you continue to struggle just to get out of bed; as you shuffle along in the pain it is unable to numb; as you have to stand in the bathroom praying for your bladder to wake up at two in the morning so a catheter isn’t reinserted to drain it, it’s faulty delivery system jabbing into your skin when you try to lie down, causing you to strain at your sutured wound as you have to lift your body up to readjust the tubing?

Now, don’t misunderstand, I’m very happy I did have a pain button that did function (I’m a wimp, what can I say?), but that whole image of the worthless, heavy pain ball so elegantly underscores the truth that Jesus didn’t come to anesthetize any of us or our wounds. He came to wake us up. He came to wake us up first of all to the pain at the center of the Good News, at the center of what Peter Rollins calls “the liberating horror” of the cross.

Those days in that hospital room, a crucifix hung on the wall right before me night after night. Catholics are gutsy. Seeing him figured on that cross was seeing myself there. There’s no evading it, escaping the vision, the reality. And that vision liberates me to feel on some level the excruciating pain of the loss of God that Jesus experienced on the cross in his heart-rending cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!?” As Rollins observes in his book Insurrection, if Jesus were just quoting scripture (in between whistling “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”) it would have been in Hebrew. But it was in his native tongue, Aramaic. It was from his gutted heart, not his good memory.

Protestants are wimps. Our cross is empty. Perhaps no Christ hangs there for the deeper, subconscious wish/demand that we better not ever be there either.

But as our coaches like to say, “No pain, no gain.” Accessing rather than masking the deep, excruciating pain I experience with him and he with me in the liberating horror of the cross frees and shapes us for the genuine power of resurrection, of life. What a travesty that Jesus could ever be reduced to a pain ball – just another offering in our seemingly endless line-up of choices for numbing agents to ease, evade or erase our pain. I’m convinced we need fewer songs of victory and celebration and more of humiliation; we need more liturgies of pain. Through death to life. That was his path, why would Jesus-followers assume it would be any different for them? Jesus doesn’t challenge us to take up the empty shroud marking resurrection, but to take up our cross marking our death. Daily, as I recall.

Clearing out of the hospital room, I saw one last item I simply couldn’t leave behind. Turning I saw the now empty black nylon pain ball bag discarded in the trash, the large logo “ON-Q” printed stylishly on the front. I snatched it out and asked LaWayne to pack it too. It now hangs on my wall.

Who knows?

Might make a nice fanny pack one day.


Posted by on March 29, 2012 in musings, Religion, Suffering


Tags: ,

2 responses to “Pain Ball

  1. Kristi Harris

    March 29, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Wow. I feel called out, and rightly so. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So beautiful, convicting, inspiring, and irritating 😉 I grew up Catholic, and I’ve wavered between embracing and resisting the notion that suffering can be a tool for refining, or a path to greater Christ-likeness, or serve any useful purpose at all. No Sir, I don’t like it. I like my anesthetics in their various forms. Much to think and pray about. P.S. Glad you’re on the mend!

  2. wordhaver

    March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Those are good adjectives for describing truth…maybe I have stumbled onto some. Blessings to you Kristi in your journey…and thank you! 🙂


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