I went under the knife again this past Tuesday. It was the third operation I’ve had in the past six years for the same old nose of mine that seems to give me constant grief. Fortunately, compared to the previous two operations, this one was relatively minor and the recovery isn’t too bad. The doctor used some instrument to shrink the turbinates (the spongy part in your nose) so that I can breathe better. I’m crossing my fingers that this is really my last.
Surgery can be a good thing. It is often needed when things in our body aren’t right, and operations are performed in order to allow our body to function as it should again. For me, surgery was done specifically so that my nose can regain its full function and lead to a better quality of life. For others, surgery can be a process that literally means life or death if something isn’t removed or corrected. I am thankful that I live in a country where I can get the treatment I need from many qualified doctors.
But surgery can be a painful thing, too. This seems to be the absolute theme in all three of my operations. The initial aftermath is difficult and physically demanding, at times unbearable. You might be dizzy or weak from the anesthesia and all the other drugs that they put you on. You might feel numbness and tingling all throughout your body. You might vomit pools of dark blood or scream in agony from the pain caused by urination. It is learning to be thankful for these things that is the challenge.
In these moments, when I am riddled in bed, wholly dependent on my ever-patient mother and father for my every whim, I can react in one of two ways. One is to be bitter and self-pitying. To play the “woe is me” card and to demand from God reasons why accidents happen and why I have to suffer. It seems natural to take this route, but this is the foolish road.
The other is to see the story beneath and above it all. To be reminded of how loving my parents are, holding me up when I walk, feeding me when I can barely chew, caring for me like I was a newborn not too long ago. Or to be able to think and pray for little boys and girls who are suffering even worse, hooked up to wires and machines in hospitals because of their leukemia. Or to remember the little ones around the world who are suffering everyday without food and clean water, those who are living out their darkest days of despair. You can learn to be thankful in suffering, too. This is the greater road that God paves.
Wisdom is the gift that suffering can bring. It’s just hard to receive because it comes in shoddy packaging. The wrapping isn’t pretty and we can’t be prepared to discover what’s hidden inside it all. But if it is given to us let us not forsake it. You might find that the lessons learned in these times are priceless.
As a friend once told me, “Don’t waste pain.” Indeed, pain is one hell of a teacher.