Last week, I learned a few unexpected lessons.
In my experience, some of the best lessons I’ve learned are the ones I’m not expecting. The show up, unannounced, with trumpets blaring demanding my attention.
My unexpected lesson began as I was in the chair at the orthodontist office with my mouth held open by some contraption that pulled uncomfortably on both sides of my cheeks. While I was laying back with every nook and cranny of my mouth exposed, the woman who was taking care of me kindly stated, “We forgot your sunglasses.” Of course. My sunglasses. That will complete this crazy look.
The rest of the appointment consisted of gadgets and gizmos, pressure, and attempts to swallow that weren’t always that successful. Thank goodness I had on my sunglasses.
By the time the appointment was over, I had my braces. And, a new perspective.
I was excited that this moment had finally arrived, but the braces seemed to be coming with a price. Pain. My teeth hurt. My mouth hurt. And, when I opened it to talk I sounded just like Sylvester the Cat from Looney Toons. I was spitting and “Suffering Succotashing” all over the place.
Fortunate for me, in the most sarcastic voice imaginable, that night was the Winter Carnival at the elementary school. I tried my best to talk to other parents without bathing them in a shower of spit. I could feel my mouth moving awkwardly over my braces as I spoke. And the more I spoke, the more my mouth hurt.
By the time we got home, I had developed a decent cut on my inner lower lip and was starting to form one on my upper lip.
This was not what I had in mind when I eagerly hopped into the chair that morning. All that I was thinking about at that time was how great my mouth would look when this was all over.
My how my thoughts had changed. Now all I could think was, “is this worth it?” “Will I be in pain for as long as these braces are on my teeth?”
Of course not. But when you are in pain, it is hard to see past the pain.
I was told it would only last a few days and then subside. In that way, I was fortunate.
What about people who live with chronic pain?
What I learned in those few days of pain was that when you are in pain, it is hard not to think about the pain. It is always there. It lurks in the back of your mind. The awareness of the pain exists along with the pain itself. It stinks.
As C.S. Lewis states in his book A Grief Observed, “I once read the sentence, ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache, and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.”
And with this pain came my lesson, trumpets blaring. Through my pain I learned a lesson in empathy.
When my children wake up in the night saying they have a leg ache and I am snuggled comfy in my bed, not wanting to move, I hope that I may be more sensitive to the fact that they are in pain. Instead of mumbling, “drink some water….try to go back to sleep…that will help” when I know that it won’t, I hope that I will get out of my comfy bed and get them a heating pad and some Ibuprofen because they are in pain.
When they come in with a scraped knee and need my attention, I hope that I may be more likely to run over and give them a big hug and put a bandaid on them instead of saying, “wait one minute while I finish folding this laundry” or “be there in a second” or “oh it looks Ok, you can get back out there and play.”
I want to be more sympathetic. Not just to physical pain, but emotional pain.
Being in pain, whether it is physical or an emotional wound that is struggling to heal, can be exhausting.
This is not to say that God can’t use that pain.
It is often through experiencing pain myself, whether physical or emotional, that I learn how to relate better to others in their pain. He took my pain and reminded me to better care for those around me who are hurting.
The next time I see one of my children laying back in the chair at the orthodontist, I will better understand what they are going through. As a result, hopefully my attitude will be more empathetic, more kind, more quick to offer a hug and less likely to think, “oh come on…it can’t be that bad?”
Because maybe, just maybe, to them it is that bad.
I pray that this lesson will not fade slowly over time. I thank God that I am no longer experiencing pain, and I pray for those who are.
I am thankful for lessons learned at unexpected times, in the most unexpected places. I am thankful that a simple trip to the orthodontist has the potential to be so much more. Thank you, God, for using ordinary everyday experiences to grow me into the person that you desire for me to be.
Thank you God for unexpected lessons.