Spiritually Speaking Column by Reverend John Hudson: Be Prepared for Pain

Reverend John F. Hudson

“Pain [is] the touchstone of all spiritual progress. — Alcoholics Anonymous

“Tell me if it’s going to hurt.”

That’s my only rule for pain, at least physical pain. If you are going to give me an injection or stick a needle in my arm to draw blood or do anything in my body that will cause pain, let me know. OK?

I thought of this personal maxim as our nation began to emerge from COVID lockdown and masking and has now moved into a time of COVID slowing and masking. It’s like spring 2021 again. I’m as into it as the next mask wearer but then it happened to me. After one of the very first major social situations I’ve gone to without a mask in nearly a year, the next day I received a text telling me that a close contact at the meeting was sick with COVID and had tested positive. They didn’t know they were contagious, but that’s often how things work when it comes to COVID.

It’s fine until it’s not fine. You are safe until exposed. You are healthy until you get sick. You get sick and maybe it’s mild and you recover quickly or maybe it’s worse and you’re lying down or even hospitalized or maybe you’ll still have long COVID or maybe that will take your life. I try to remind myself of these possibilities regularly, especially now that people are shedding their masks so quickly and so happily.

Hi, that’s what I did!

I want to get rid of masks forever and everything that comes with COVID, all the pain, all the ways it has inflicted very real pain: physical, economic, social and emotional. COVID is a pain! I wish it would go away! Hush! But reading the news and listening to scientists and epidemiologists, browsing government websites, considering people who really know what they’re talking about, the message I’m hearing is… we’re fine for the moment but it could come back. There could be another wave. Or another variation. The need for another shot. But we don’t know if or when.

Damn virus! Ugh.

But at least I know the pain could make a return commitment. Let the evil return. HEADS UP! I prefer to remember that this possibility is real. Because the idea that right now is actually the time, FINALLY, when we can all get back to “normal” for good. … Maybe normality is back. Maybe not.

This I know. COVID is still a pain. A pain in the… well, you get the picture.

I guess the one element of goodness I can still get out of badness is this: Pain almost always makes me grow and grow spiritually. Pain, for all the struggle: it generally changes us. Deepens us. Brings us back to our faith or recommits to our sacred beliefs. It can make us more powerful and resilient. Pain – physical, mental or spiritual – I know is the thing that has most forced me to change in this life.

I’m not looking for pain, no. Nobody does. And the God I love doesn’t inflict pain either. But when pain arises – and it always arises in every human life – we cannot negotiate to eliminate this truth. When the pain stops and times are hard and the valley we descend into is dark and full of shadows, I am often wrong. “AWESOME! Another amazing growth experience!” But there’s some truth to that.

The pain of COVID has taught me how much I need and love my family and friends. I hope I never, ever, ever take them for granted again. The pain of COVID has taught me what a deep responsibility I have to care for the most vulnerable, the very sick, the very old, the very poor, the uninsured, because they certainly suffer more than I do. The pain of COVID and almost getting it (knock on wood!) reminds me how lucky I am to have access to quality health care, and it drives me to work so that one day all people have decent health insurance. The pain of COVID and its isolation made me appreciate doing things more live and with real breathing, living human beings. Go to a baseball game or to the movies or to choir practice. Yes, it’s always a risk but I’ll take it.

Will it hurt? If you have to ask the question, the answer is probably “yes”. But thanks for the warning!

Reverend John F. Hudson is senior pastor of Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have any comments, send them to [email protected] or c/o The Dover-Sherborn Press ([email protected]).

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