Pain is Sometimes Necessary

...sometimes momentary pain is necessary for a greater good.

   We know that in this life, sometimes momentary pain is necessary for a greater good. The obvious illustration that we often give is in reference to medicine. Starting in childhood, we learn to deal with a bad taste, a huge pill or even an uncomfortable shot. I was reminded of this very basic truth recently.

           I now take weekly shots due to some odd hormone issues that I have, likely caused by a pre-COVID virus that did some damage to my body. The cause isn’t relevant to my point, but the medication is. It was one thing to go in once a month and passively receive a shot from a nurse. I could make myself relax and let someone else do it, but when we needed to move to weekly injections, I had to do it myself.  

Recently, I was sitting in preparation for my shot, looking at the needle, and dwelling on how huge it seemed to me. I had purchased a needle snipper for disposal. It’s a device commonly used by diabetics for their own needles, to cut off and trap the sharp inside what looks like a small stapler. I was dismayed to discover that my needles were far too thick for them, which only reinforced my perception. While I would later look up the gauge and learn that it’s really middle of the road — 22 to draw and 18 to inject — it still felt and looked huge.  This more recent concern was born out of childhood fear.

I grew up terrified of needles. I can remember, even into adulthood, that not all nurses or phlebotomists were equal in their ability to inject me or draw blood from me. Some were too quick, others too forceful, and a few simply had bad bedside manner. The hardest part was always willing myself to be still and to allow someone to cause me pain, even if it was minor and brief. Our whole body seems wired to avoid pain; it’s a signal that something is wrong, and yet logically, we know it’s sometimes needed.

My family knew that I was terrified of needles, from childhood into adulthood. I could be very sick, but I still wanted to avoid them. My family also knew that I was stubborn, and, in a stunning moment of youthful rebellion, I got a tattoo at about 21. I thought that this would be a moment that could help me face my fear of needles. Nope! Those needles were different: I could envision a cool end result, and the conversations I had with my high school friend who gave me the tattoo were far different than the more surface-level conversation associated with a doctor’s office visit. I still feared them. When I say “fear,” I mean I get physically sick to my stomach, shake a little, feel compelled to look away, and maintain a death grip on a chair or other item to try to power through receiving a shot with even the smallest of needles.

Once my doctor determined that I would need treatment for my current condition, I tried everything to avoid shots. They made a gel… insurance denied it. They made a patch… insurance denied again. I tried to convince Heather that we should pay out of pocket… my wife denied it. Rightly so: it was expensive. I was allowed to be in a position where I had to face my fear regularly. Slowly, over many shots and regular blood draws, I got used to it. I no longer shook, I didn’t get sick to my stomach, and while I still usually looked away, I was nowhere near as dramatic. All that still involved someone else actually giving me the shot.

May God bless the poor nurse who had to teach me how to give myself a shot. When the decision came down, I probably grew even more pale than normal. I’ll never forget her instruction to “flick your wrist, just like throwing a dart.” I managed to do so and jab myself with the needle… then froze. I was completely unable to move my hand to the plunger and inject the medicine. I had just stabbed myself, on purpose, and for me it took willpower just to not pull the needle right back out. I had to ask for help. I was afraid that if I moved, the needle would somehow move around inside me and do some damage. She graciously injected the medicine, and then I pulled the needle out. She had to walk me through how to move my hands and push the plunger for the next time. I honestly think I needed a practice dummy!  

I’ve been giving myself injections at home for months now, and the most important lesson I have learned is that, because I need to penetrate my skin and hit muscle tissue, I must flick my wrist hard. Twice now, I have caused myself more pain, because I only lightly pushed. In other words, to be effective, it needs to be sharp. There is some small pain associated with the breakthrough.

The results have been great. Some of the side effects I was experiencing have faded and the self-injections looks to be a routine for a long time to come. I can’t imagine I’ll ever enjoy the shot, but I do hope it gets easier over time. Currently, each one is a reminder to me about something more important.

Jesus’ call to “take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) inevitably involves pain. Serving Him, serving others, and reaching out to a world in a state of rebellion, some knowingly and willfully in rebellion, inevitably involves pain. Yet Paul tells Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (1 Timothy 1:7) Even knowing there can be pain, we can’t shy away from what we are called to — that which is good for our very own soul — and that is obedience to God. In fact, that pain is part of the process that conforms us to His image.

2 Corinthians 4:17 “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…”