My ears blared sirens in my head, not of sound but of hot-pokered pain.
I sat on the crinkly paper in an exam room.
“Your ears are fine.”
“What? Then why do they hurt so much?”
“Your throat is inflamed, and the pain in your ears is referred pain.”
“That means my throat is sick but my ears feel it?”
When I got home from the doctor’s office, I opened my mouth in front of the bathroom mirror and shined a flashlight in it. Wow, he was right. My throat was fire engine red, and as I considered it, I could tell the pain emanated from my throat and not from my ears.
I have experienced referred pain in my relationships too. My friend grieved over her wayward child. Her heartache settled over me like a stalled low pressure, and I could think of nothing else but my friend and her child for days on end. The intensity of the burden surprised me, but I likened it to referred pain. Though she felt the real pain in greater measure, it felt like the “real deal” to me.
Lies without recourse injured my husband. Blood filled my head and pulsed behind my eyes. I stomped a two mile trek through the neighborhood, like restless body syndrome. Referred anger?
Last week a news report on Syrians confined to their basements stole my appetite. Cramped children, for two months without sky or adequate food, crushed my heart, thousands of miles away from bombing and politics. Referred despair.
I wonder if my carrying the bowling ball of emotion in my gut relieved any of their distresses? I can take some actions like give a hug, send a note, or contact my congressman, but sometimes, prayer is the sole outlet, prayer that only God will hear, when only God can act.
The apostle, Paul, likens us who belong to Jesus Christ as a body. God gifts each of us with different roles necessary to the health of the body. It makes sense, then, that when one member experiences something significant, the whole body feels it.
If I don’t feel the pain of other people, what message does my indifference speak? I’m not plugged in or invested enough to care, perhaps? I’m bitter, because I didn’t sense anyone sharing my burden when I was hurting? My current personal baggage is too heavy to take on someone else’s cares?
As a member of the body, I should be aware of other members. I don’t have the capacity to shoulder every person’s pain, but my LORD chooses a few individuals for me and lays their sticks of pain on my wagon. He chooses other people to care for different people so that everyone in need gets help carrying their loads.
In the same way, I must accept help when God assigns my baggage to other people. I must admit that I cannot function healthily as a lone survivor, and I rob people of their fulfillment when I usurp their jobs.
To some, contributing is harder, to others receiving is more challenging. Phases in our lives also throw us temporarily into one camp or the other. Receiving is more difficult for me, so I must consciously work on that while fulfilling my call to contribute with whatever gifts he gives me for the benefit of the body, even when I feel inadequate.
Romans 12:4-6a For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:
I share the body’s pain, but I also share the body’s guilt. My mouth may want too many slices of greasy, cheesy pizza but, other parts of my body pay the price. My stomach complains, my limbs are leaden, and the scale rises.
When I hear of a failed marriage or the long-absence of a member, I am responsible for my “siblings.” I’d rather someone else tend to them while I curl into my comfy love seat and work through a Bible study, but I am called to spend time with people, take meals, go to the hospital, and pray, pray, pray.
I John 4:19-21 We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
Referred joys are also a privilege. Soon, we will honor graduates. I know from our sons’ graduations, that this event is a significant marker. A marriage, birth, successful surgery, or science prize in the body deserve my celebrating. When someone else triumphs, I win too.
Being connected to the body is a blessing and a responsibility. I never walk the Christian life alone, but I am responsible that my brothers and sisters don’t walk alone either.
Bill Withers sums belonging in his song, “Lean on Me.”
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
I need you sibling!
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.