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 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus

John 16:33 NIV

“Pain is temporary”. Or so they say. I would like to poke a thousand holes into this idea. Full disclosure, I have a tendency to be a “comfort seeker”.

Once a year, I am awoken by the sound of chainsaws grinding away at the branches of the beautiful trees directly outside my window. The sound is always an indication that for the next several weeks, I will come home to the beautiful site of a tree trunk.  As much as I prefer the beautiful tree with its long branches and colorful leaves, I know this process is necessary to maintain the health of the trees. So, the tree and I endure the “pain”. Nature might be on to something that humans incompletely understand. 

Thigmomorphogenesis is a fancy word I came across this week that describes a plants response to mechanical stress. This “stress” comes from wind, rain drops on the leaves and animals rubbing on the plant as they pass by. This mechanical stress causes a tree to grow more slowly and results in a shorter, fatter tree. When trees are grown in a greenhouse, these “stresses” are inhibited, resulting in a thinner and taller tree.

The Methuselah tree is the oldest known living organism on earth. Despite growing in poor environmental conditions including rocky soild, harsh temparatures and strong winds, they have managed to survive. Not only survive, but thrive. Why? And How? Thigmomorphogenesis.

Hey chat GPT, what is unique about a Methuselah tree?

“Methuselah trees exhibit incredible resilience in the face of adversity. Their slow growth rates and dense wood make them highly resistant to damage from wind, snow, and pests. Their deep taproots allow them to access moisture from deep within the soil, enabling them to survive in arid conditions. Additionally, their twisted, gnarled forms help them withstand the rigors of their environment, with branches contorted by the elements serving as natural buffers against harsh weather conditions.” Thanks!

Methuselah tree

To prune is to cut back or cut off parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth.

Resilience is the capacity of a strained body to recovery it shape after deformation.

Hmm, maybe nature knows something we humans might fail to fully appreciate.

Several years back, the hospital I worked at cared for Haitians injured in a devastating hurricane that ravaged the little island. The injuries had to be pretty severe for someone to end up in our care, including multiple shattered bones, spinal cord injuries, and severe infections as a result of delay in care…etc. The treatments often involved painful debridements, skin grafting, and screwing bones together with external fixators. That said, I would walk into the room armed with my usual tools aimed at convincing someone in horrible pain that getting out of bed was beneficial for recovery. In other words, I would be the last person I would want to see if I were in this condition.

However, there was something very different about these individuals from Haiti. My usual “tool kit” was unnecessary. Somewhat confused, I would encounter someone smiling, sitting up in a bedside chair or wheelchair, ready to begin their day. Many times, refusing pain medication and sometimes kindly declining their meal. Upon my inquisition, I would gain further insight into this stark contrast from what I was used to. “Pain is part of life”. “You shouldn’t run from it.” As far as the food, “My body is nourished already”.

If I had to describe the affect, it wouldn’t be “stoicism,” “indifference,” or some well-thought-out expression of “strength in the face of adversity.” The only way I can describe the energy in the room is in one word. Joy.

I have been told that going to a developing country is “life-changing”. This experience was the closest I have come to understanding this statement. At the risk of offending some of my American audience, we are fragile.

Feeling “pressure” at work? Change jobs. Feeling “stress” in a marriage? Get divorced. Heck, feeling a blister coming on? Buy a new pair of shoes. Air conditioning on the fritz? Drive to the nearest hotel until it’s fixed. Or so I have heard that’s what others do. 🫠

Some people think that Christianity is a “crutch” or a faith that promises sunshine and rainbows. But, that’s not exactly what the bible says….

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus

Maybe the creator of the universe wanted us to know some things that would be difficult for us humans to comprehend….

The world is full of good, but it also contains evil. Prepare for the storms.

Hardships in this world make us stronger. Lean into the process.

And most important,

In our “suffering,” God’s peace can be experienced. An experience far greater than this world can provide.

“We love because he first loved us”. 1 John 4:19

Methuselah trees exhibit incredible resiliency that doesn’t make sense.  A smiling, joy-filled, Haitian women in arguably immense pain doesn’t make sense.

As someone who self-identifies as a “pain” management professional, pain doesn’t make sense. “Hardships” rarely make sense. And maybe that’s the point.

The question isn’t “if” but “when”. The answer isn’t how do we avoid it, but how do we find the courage to surrender to it.