Saturday, May 17, 2008

pain math

i'm seriously no good at math, but i couldn't prove that to you by showing you my transcripts. i aced every class i ever took. in fact, i took a statistics class in college back in the days when you had to do all those problems manually and it would take two pages to solve one problem (yes, that was an "i'm old" reference), and even though i was terrified going into it i ended up helping other students. it always struck me as miraculous that i would come up with the right answer after all of those mathematic gymnastics. the problem is that if you tested me a month after the class ended i would flunk the test i previously breezed through. numbers don't seem to stay in my head. even simple things like the multiplication tables can't seem to stay put. i've memorized them about eight million times and they just don't stick.

that's what i feel like when it comes to pain. i've been in a lot of pain recently, and i guess you could say that i've experienced a lot of pain my whole life. (no worries, i'm not seriously ill.) if it's true that pain teaches you things (and i believe that's true) then i should be a pain genius, but i'm not. the lessons slip away so quickly and very soon after the pain subsides i forget what i've learned. so here's my attempt at capturing what i've learned from this latest run-in with my old latest pain exam. i'd better write it down before it pours out of me like water.
  1. i am finite. probably all of you learned that a long time ago, but i pretty much live my life as though this was negotiable. i have limits, and i ignore them at my own peril.
  2. i need other people. it's hard for me to ask for help, but then pain comes along and demands that i live my life in the context of closely woven relationships. weird. but very, very good.
  3. the world doesn't really need me. please don't argue with me on this will only sustain my poisonous illusions. the world plugged along just fine while i was sick, and it would have plugged along just fine even if i didn't recover and could never again do any of the things i'm doing now.
  4. my value doesn't have anything to do with my activity. i can't explain how pain teaches me this...maybe it's just that it stops me long enough to realize that i am valued apart from my contributions. it's easy for me to forget about that.
  5. there is something more real than pain. when i am helplessly at the end of myself, i always bump up against something larger than me. it's very similar to what happens when i go on my silent retreats, only much less comfortable. somehow, God shows up.
so there it is, the algebra of my pain. i'm sure i'll slip into my normal amnesia soon enough. but the people around me will probably keep reminding me in that annoying way they do. and if they forget too, pain is always willing to lend a hand and bring me through my multiplication tables once again.

i just realized that i never updated you on how i'm doing...i was discharged from the hospital on tuesday and i'm feeling much better. i'll return to work on monday. thanks for the prayers and kind words. love to all of you...


  1. Three thoughts:
    1. You're right. The world doesn't need us. God doesn't need us. But He loves us. We are beautiful useless to Him.
    2. Paul's thorn in the flesh, anyone?
    3. I'm with ya on the math. Always got good grades, even in college Calculus. But you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who says I'm good at math.

  2. ouch. that last part about pain being just around the corner to teach us its lessons when we forget . . . i'm not sure i like that one! but at the same time, i can feel inside your words the goodness of all these lessons, the good with the bad. hm. that sounds kind of like being human, being whole: holding the good with the bad.

    so glad you're home and on the mend, reentering the world in this coming week. it's been like water on a parched soul to receive your words again this week, after the quiet.

    love to you . . .

  3. Hi—Pain is truly a great teacher. It makes us remember we really are more than our physical bodies. Very hard to smile through it though. Wishing you a really speedy recovering and sending a big hug from Boston!

  4. I hate pain. I hate it even more when you are in it. Glad you're feeling better hon. I need my baby back . . .

  5. these are all good reminders; and it's a good thing you wrote them down, because i (and you, and most people i know) have a short pain memory.

    "i should be a pain genius, but i'm not": this is good (and appropriately painful) reminder.

    the being valued apart from what i do or produce is such a hard one for me (i know we've talked about this). but at the end of the day it's true. profoundly humbling (well nigh humiliating sometimes), but nonetheless true. this is also true of needing other people or asking for help. personally, i'd rather get teeth pulled without medication or go to a woman's doctor appointment every week. you might be laughing, but i'm actually serious.

    thank you, jesus, for teaching us, reminding us, reorienting us: the world will go on without us, we are not indispensible, we are cherished and loved and of inestimable worth beyond what we do or accomplish, we have definite limits. You are always there, whether or not we're aware of it, or whether or noto we've reached the end of ourselves (which, let's face it, is not very far to begin with).

    glad you're better, friend. so glad.

    [insert big heaving sigh of relief here]


  6. heather:
    1) oh, i'm so glad that "needed" and "loved" are not synonymous.
    2) i've never thought of my particular stuff as a thorn in the flesh...i'll have to try that on.
    3) a fellow math-phobe. hi, my name is terri and i'm afraid of numbers. hi terri!

    christianne: i like that you said you can feel inside the words. you don't just read what i dive into it and get all messy with me. thanks for that.

    cathy: i'll take that hug.

    dave: awwww. you've been so sweet through this whole nightmare. i love you.

    kirsten: oh, my lovely friend who knows exactly what this feels like...we're all in this weird place i think. humiliating is a good word for it. thanks for that prayer. i'm praying it too.

  7. Thanks for the things you've put words to here. It hits very close to home.

  8. Terri...your analogies always amaze me...this one on pain and math...well, I say...amazing.

    I'm glad you're feeling better! I can't wait to connect.

    PS...I quit math when I was introduced to algebra and letters were added to numbers...what the heck! ;-)

  9. I believe that we walk through life as children in adult skin. Pain is the one thing that removes that "all grown up" shell and breaks us until we become like a little child, dependant on God.

    There is something perverse about living in an adult world, it slowly strips away our innocence. It seems that our human strength and stubborn independence blindfolds us from seeing the face of God.

    Someone mentioned Paul's thorn in the flesh. Paul cried out to God on 3 occasions that He would remove the pain from him. God did not take away Paul's pain, He took away more and more of Paul.

    I think that like Jacob, we have those experiences where we wrestle with life, and come out with a limp. Our limp eventually heals BUT, God holds our tears in a bottle and somehow in the midst of those painful things we see the face of God.

    Great post Terri, wonderful analogy.

  10. I saw the title of your posting and thought, "math DOES hurt."

    On a side note, I peeked at Dave's blog and noticed that he doesn't capitalize his sentences either. Wonder what this means?

    So glad you're feeling better.

  11. You would think pain would embed itself deeper on our psyches. And this would prevent us from making the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe it does embed deeply, but maybe we just develop a high pain tolerance over time? Maybe if we experience enough pain in our lives, we simply learn how to negotiate it by default? And maybe, as you said, this is to our detriment?

    What you’ve written here scares me. I feel like I handle pain well. But there is some pain I’d rather not ever experience again. I’m not sure I could survive it. And maybe I’m running headlong into it again? I don’t know. But what you’ve expressed has caused my mind to be stationary for just a moment.

    Terri, I’m sorry you’ve experienced so much through this harsh schoolmaster. I am relieved that you are feeling better and will be returning to work. And I want you to know that what you write challenges me . . . causes me to think . . . changes me. I’m grateful that I’ve found a friend in you.

  12. For me, it's so hard to know this when the pain is present. Look back, and it's easier to see what the lesson might have been in the pain. You've really disilled some deep lessons from your experience. I'm glad to know you're feeling better now, though.

  13. eclexia: hope it didn't hit close because you're in pain. take care...

    mia: how about when they got rid of numbers and letters and moved on to fractal designs. never did get that. get your butt home already.

    tammy: yeah, i did regress quite a bit at the worst of all this. dependent is not something i do well, but i got a lot of practice in it the last couple of weeks. humbling.

    mary ann: i don't capitalize when i email most of the time and sometimes i just get lazy here too. did you know that they're thinking of doing away with capitalization altogether? at least that's what i heard recently.

    nathan: if you're making a reference to the pain we've talked about lately, i think it's good for you to wonder whether you're not setting yourself up for a great big dose of misery. sit for a while. i have faith in you, i want good things for you little brother.

    imelda: there is a weird little window of time that the lessons become clear. in the midst of the pain you're not really thinking clearly and after a certain amount of time passes you forget. but there's that sweet spot when it's subsiding that everything becomes clear for a moment. thanks for the kind words.

  14. Dearest Terri, your experience with pain is remarkable and so very chillingly familiar to this me. I had thought to try and put into words what deep pain does to you, the journey through it, but haven't ever got around to it. You have summed it up so very accurately at least in my experience. You also describe the other lessons we learn through being ill beautifully, I too needed to learn to lean upon others, something which certainly did not (still doesn't) come easily to me! Thank you for sharing this and I hope with all my heart that you don't have to feel pain like that again any time soon and that you are truly on the mend. I feel really bad that I didn't know you were unwell. Anyway,thanks for your wise comment on my blog yesterday too Terri, I appreciate it and pray that I will do what is right. Take care my friend, love and hugs to you Jen B xx

  15. 1. Glad you're better!

    2. You just tied together two questions I'm dealing with right now that seemed unrelated on the surface.

    One is the suffering question. The other seems prosaic by comparison but maybe it isn't. I never completed my degree and I've been contemplating returning to school after many, many years to do so. One reality I face (apart from middle aged short-term memory loss) is that the minute I got a final grade in any math class my brain dumped everything.

    I never used, say, trigonometry in my daily life and that's how many people retain math lessons. Seems pain works the same way. Use it or lose it. Thanks for the reminder.

    Of course, the lessons you listed prompted me to take an honest look at WHY I want to go back to school. That hurt.

    What was your name again?

  16. Hang in there Terri. Glad you're feeling a little better and praying you continue to heal and truly rest.

  17. Pain is something I know and am remembering as it is coming back again...

    I know the alphabet backwards really well, when pain comes I recite this to myself, it helps a little.

    I liked reading your thoughts on pain and maths.

    I did cabbage maths at school.


  18. And your recent comments at my place have been like Tylenol 3. Thank you. Get even better soon.

  19. kirsten: you know it's mutual.

    jen: it means a lot to me that this rang true to you. you've been on my mind so much as i went through this. i can't tell you how much i respect the way you have remained engaged despite your own suffering. i tend to withdraw. praying for you...

    johnny: i'm glad this pulled together some things for you. i know what you mean about those particular questions regarding school. i've toyed with the idea myself and wondered about my motivations. i'll be interested to hear what you finally decide.

    tara: thanks. hope you're feeling better too.

    katherine: welcome to my little blog. i'm sorry you're dealing with pain like this. and it sounds like it's nothing new. hope you're back to good soon. (what's cabbage math?)

    karen: you take care dear. you need to rest for all that heavy lifting and love.

  20. i never like Math. I cant say im not good at it becuase i think everybody can learn. i just dont have the patience to focus on it. if i can avoid ill do my best. taht why i took comm arts in collge becuase it has less math subjects :-)

    im glad to hear you are speedily recoveing. i miss hearing from you.

  21. I tagged you....go to my'll see what I mean!

  22. pain is a wise teacher.
    a pain in the ass but a teacher none the less.
    I was nodding my head to your list of lessons learned, remembering those days and weeks post surgery, cancer, and all the pain and body work that comes with it.
    Pain has a way of putting me in my body in a way that sucks and yet makes me go all soft and tender, which is welcome, needed for me.
    And it shows us our place in the family of things, that we do need others and that life goes on and that something or someone else, is more present than we can know when we are so busy, caught up in our importance of all we must get done.

    Hope you are feeling better each day.
    Thanks for checking in and letting us learn with you.

  23. deli: sometimes i wonder how much of my life and my choices were driven by fear of math. :)

    tess: i'll get on that as soon as i can dear. meme schmeme revisited.

    bella: that's a good point. pain does land me in my body, a kind of homing device. it's a big sign that says, "you are here." i am here. thanks for keeping me company.

  24. Just wanted to say thanks for your post. As I prepare to go in for a C-section in 2 days ... there is so much fear and anxiety and hope. Thanks for helping me change my perspective about the pain of recovery ... even the pains of pregnancy. Not all pain results in a tangible blessing as lovely as a baby, but pain does changes us forever and brings us to a truer self, I think. Anyway ... thanks.

  25. ah yes, the gift of pain. you know those rare people who are born with no sense of pain? and how they end up chewing off their fingers and poking out their eyes and stuff? If pain is one of the opposites of numb, then it is indeed a needed element for being fully alive.
    however, a little more distance between your "lessons" would be much preferable, wouldn't it?
    that's what I am praying for you.
    love and peace

  26. Hope that you are feeling better and that your pain and ability to cope with it are there for you as well.'

    Terri, it can be no fun at time with pain rippling through my body and the fact that I face limitations where it can be a struggle to walk a short distance or wait for a bus. But I have Jesus holding me up.

    As you say with the algebra of pain, it is an apt metaphor. In math, I learned to solve for the variable. By isolating everything to the other side. By making the proper adjustments so that in the end , it was simplified to x=9. Yet, many times several steps were taken. And when the equation has many unknown variables, many more steps are needed.

    In our walk with Christ, we know the outcome of our lives. End=Heaven if belief in Him.
    Yet, how we get there from belief is like those long word chain puzzles in 4 steps like going from the word much to life.

    So Peace to you and your family and your flock and your faith. Peace in Him.

  27. Dear Terri, I hope you are feeling much better now as I type this to you. Pain is certainly a great teacher isn't it, although I believe I've had enough learning now LOL!!! It's the 'nerve' pain that gets me, that is just so darn difficult to cope through. Here's hoping your pain levels are manageable and you are safe and sound relaxing at home surrounded by love. Take care my friend, Jen B.

  28. Terri,
    Heh, I'm not sure how this will find you at the present moment (which is all we have) but your own husband drew first blood....and now I tag you for this meme deal. If, for some reason, the thought of taking on this challenge is abhorrent, let me be the first to say "I understand"....

  29. Terri, well said.

    I wonder why we can forget some pain so easily, and other times it dogs us?

    I think of the Brand/Yancey book about pain: that it tells us that something is wrong, this isn't how it's supposed to be.

    I agree that the world "gets along"without us just fine, but you must agree that it would be much different (in the lives of our family) if we were not there.

    Clarence, the angel from It's a Wonderful Life, said,"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

    I love what you had to say about "value."

    Glad you are doing better, Terri.

  30. brandy: welcome to my little place in blogland. i read your blog and heard that your surgery went well and saw the pictures of your new daughter. seems like your particular pain produced something really beautiful.

    marcell: i'll take pain over numb any day, but it would be nice for a little more space between lessons.

    scott: sounds like you know a lot more about both pain and math than i do. there are an awful lot of those unknown variables in my own experience...too many to ever really nail it. so we're left with faith, i guess. thanks for the blessing.

    jen: i think you've had more than enough pain my friend. thanks for the kind words, and i hope the same for you. i can't tell you how often you're on my mind these days.

    james: i'll get right on that. i was actually tagged already, and i just haven't gotten around to plunking out the randomness yet.

    23: it's good to hear from you! i love that movie. i know that i matter, and that the ripples that go out from each of us make a difference. it's just important for me to remember that the world keeps going just fine when i stop.

  31. i read this with you and never commented on it... but i really liked this post momma... you're so creative!!! thank you for this... i'm learning so much through your blog posts! love you!

  32. Terri- I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been in the hospital and in pain. I know what you mean about amnesia to the lessons of pain (and numbers) as I suffer from it too. It’s so easy to forget the truth while we’re caught up in the day to day momentum. Thank you for your stillness and for your reflection.