My Greatest Teacher
I have had some amazing professors over the years. One of my favorites is Dr. Gerald Stevens, Professor of New Testament and Greek, at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I didn’t know who he was when I enrolled for one of his classes. A friend of mine was shocked that I signed up and said, “If I were you, I’d drop the class. He’s tough! I have successfully managed to avoid him for years!” I nervously laughed it off.
About a week before the first day of class, I received a document from him that read, “Things to do before the first day of class.” There were three pages of pre-course work! I couldn’t believe the amount of work that was expected of me—before we even met on day one! I spent many hours in the library reading and studying.
My friend was right about Dr. Stevens. He was tough. In fact, the toughest professor I have ever had. I worked twice as hard in his class as compared to others. But, at that same time, I grew immensely. He instilled in me a passion to learn and work hard. As a professor, he was painful, but profitable. As I think about some of my greatest growth, it has come through my deepest pain. Pain has truly been my greatest teacher.
“Why don’t you take the lead?” my running partner said recently as we began mile four of a five-mile trail run. It was extremely hot and humid and my breathing was labored. My legs were tired and heavy and I was beginning to drag. I was out of gas. My guess is he could tell. He knew if we traded positions, and I set the pace, I would dig deep and regain some strength. He was right. Somehow, as I took the lead, I was able to dig deeper and work through the pain.
I have a love/hate relationship with running. It’s inevitable, but every time I head out on a run, I say the same things, “why am I doing this? This is no fun! Why don’t I just sit on the couch with a mocha latte and eat a Snickers ice cream bar?” As I press on, every fiber within my being says, “just stop.” Yet, I listen to a greater voice and put one foot in front of the other.
Deep within me, I believe that running is good for me physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.
I heard someone say one time, “I run because I hate not running worse than I hate running.” I get it. What separates the good from the great runner is the ability to run through the pain and discomfort because of a greater goal. The old adage is true, “No pain. No gain.”
Samuel Morse was an American painter and inventor, but is best remembered for his creation of a device used to send electric signals over a wire. After creating the device, he then developed a coded system of dots and dashes that represented the alphabet. It was named, Morse Code.
The invention of Morse Code dramatically and instantaneously changed the world and opened up the possibility for long distance communication—something that was not possible before. But, the new technology came at a price.
As a painter, in 1825, Morse had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Lafayette in Washington DC. While there, a messenger on horseback delivered a letter from his father that read, “Your dear wife is convalescent.” The following day, he received another letter informing him that his wife had died. Morse immediately left for his New Haven home. Because of the great distance, and delay of the letters he had received, he was heartbroken to find that, upon his arrival, his deceased wife had already been buried.
Rather than bury his sorrows, Morse decided to redirect his pain. He decided to explore long-distance communication. The process was long and labored. But, almost twenty years later, on May 24, 1844, Morse sent the infamous message, “What hath God wrought,” from the Supreme Court chamber in the basement of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D. C., to the B & O’s Mount Clare Station in Baltimore. His pain opened up great possibility and productivity.
No one likes pain. Like thief, pain interrupts our balance and robs us of wholeness and happiness. Most of us avoid pain whenever we can. Yet, we all know that some level of pain is inevitable. I have also come to the realization that pain can be invaluable. Pain awakens something deep inside of us. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis said, “pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Some time ago, I had the privilege to baptize a man who chose to give his life to the Lord. He came to this decision through pain. Although he has fought valiantly, the aggressive, relentless cancer, and effects of the chemotherapy and radiation, were taking a huge toll on his body and his spirit. It was his pain that drove him to his knees. I met to pray with him one day. I said, “my prayer is that God would heal you and restore you to wholeness.” He responded sincerely, “I’m not afraid of death because I know I will be with the Lord. It’s just that,” he said tearing up, “I just love my family so much.”
I admired his faith and his strength. Although I am not qualified to answer the question, “why”, I reminded him that pain and sickness are the result of this fallen world in which we live where bad things often happen to good people. His response was profound. “Yeah, I know. But, if this cancer is what it took for me to come to know Christ as my Savior, it was worth it.”
I left his home that day thinking, “he’s one of my heroes.” His pain is beyond my comprehension.
Not all of us experience that level of pain. But, we all experience at least some level of pain—be it physical or emotional. In my own times of personal pain, I pray for God to supernaturally intervene and bring balance.
I also pray that if there is a lesson to be learned, that my heart is open to learn the lesson quickly. I also try to look for reasons to rejoice and bring glory to God.
To me, pain is the ongoing reminder that something in this world is terribly wrong. We’re stuck on this perpetual, painful rollercoaster. But, one day, the ride will stop. The great promise of God is that one day, all that is wrong will be made right. The book of Revelation records, “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” (Rev 21:4).
So, I guess the question of pain is not if it will visit, but what will we do with it when it arrives? Perhaps it might be beneficial to think of pain, not as a curse, but as an opportunity for introspection on the road to a greater destination.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.