We were eating at the kitchen table. I was probably around twelve years old. My mother turned her head and suddenly whimpered in pain. She never voiced any explanation or reason. There were a lot of moments like that as my mother traveled through middle age and into her later years. As the time progressed, her silences grew longer and the pain took over her life.
I was born when Mother was 39 years old, so my memories of her are in her middle and later years. There is a picture I have that was taken on a bright sunny day out in the field behind our home. The wind is blowing and my mom and her three daughters are caught in an informal moment. I am the toddler in the picture. Mother’s face is tilted towards the light and she has a smile on her face. The breeze is blowing her hair and it is a spontaneous expression of joy. It is a look I never remembered seeing on her face.
Mother lived with a lot of physical pain due to arthritis but she had also accumulated mountains of emotional pain through the years. She allowed herself to be robbed of joy during the passage of time. It wasn’t a sudden overnight robbery, it was a gradual runoff through the years hastened by disappointments, anger, relationships which were broken and never healed, and a lack of refreshing friendships. She alienated those who could help her the most.
I remembered all of this when my physical therapist was trying to teach me to relax amid the pain of fibromyalgia. As I did the one neck exercise and moved my neck to the side, suddenly I remembered that kitchen table incident with my mom and I felt the same pain she did years ago. So am I my mother? What is the difference between the two of us? If not for the grace of God, I would definitely be the same person as my mom – early years smiling in the field and later years in a darkened prison of pain. With age my body seems to be shouting pain in a much greater volume than ever before. But one thing I have learned from all of this and God keeps reminding of over and over, is that God resides in the midst of the field, whether the sun is shining or not.
God longs to stand right alongside of me. He offers all of us streams of refreshment, but he never forces His hand. I love Philippians 4:6-7, “May I be anxious for nothing (anxiety can ramp up pain like a rocket) but in everything (yes, everything), by prayer and petition with thanksgiving (yes, drowning out all the other voices in one’s head with thanksgiving), let my requests be known to You, O God. And may Your peace which transcends all understanding, guard my heart (yep, God even constructs Kevlar vests for the heart) and my mind in Christ Jesus.
That’s what I personally want more than anything else, even more than relief from physical pain – to have God’s peace and quiet guarding my heart. That is what brings a smile to my face in the middle of the sunny day. That’s what is offered to those who surrender to Him. That’s the difference between my mom and me: God’s peace in the midst of pain.