The other day Mary Helen and I were part way through our morning walk when a sudden realization struck me. I was mainly focusing on putting one foot in front of the other—something that is instinctive and should have freed me up to gaze around. Like many in the golden years, I struggle with knee and joint pain. They say that exercise in one of the best ways to limber up stiff joints, so rather reluctantly, I give in to Mary Helen’s entreaty that I take a daily 40 minute walk. I can’t say I really enjoy the daily discipline.
That day, like many others, I was concentrating on the goal, finishing a 40 minute walk, and in the process failing to enjoy the scenery. We were walking in one of our favourite lakeside provincial parks. That’s when the realization hit me that I was focusing on the pavement in front of me and how many minutes remained before the walk would end. So I looked up and everything was beautiful!
We were sauntering along the shore of Lake Ontario beneath towering maples and ash. The forest floor beneath the trees was carpeted by giant feathery ferns, some waist high. The sky above was blue. A slight breeze ruffled the leaves. In grassy spaces along the shore, gulls stood watching for a meal to wash ashore. And I felt better.
Part of the effect on my pain sensitivity was due to the balm God’s creation brings to the soul. A similar effect can be felt from a flower, a cloud formation, the stars at night, waves on the ocean, or a blanket of snow. Mystical? I don’t think so. Somehow, lifting our eyes from our own pain and problems to view God’s artistry restores a measure of perspective. Such a focus can return our thoughts to the one who is Able. Why couldn’t all hospitals and therapy centres be set in beautiful, natural surroundings? Wouldn’t that help patients to heal quicker?
I realize that the pain in my joints or the shortness of breath I experience from heart trouble is nothing compared to the agony many have to endure. My walk that day reminded me to be more sympathetic with those who live with pain. No wonder their focus is so constricted.
The Bible tells us that we can learn much from pain if we’re teachable. Sometimes it’s the only way God can get our attention. Sometimes, it teaches us to esteem what is really valuable. Pain can not only hinder perception, it can heighten it. And without pain, or its twin, tribulation, we won’t grow in Christ. “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3). Learn maybe, but rejoice? Lord, I’ve obviously got a long way to go.