Pain as a teacher of grace

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

For me, Spring is a time of daily sinus headaches. Mornings aren’t too bad, but afternoons are a crescendo of pain to near migraine levels most evenings.

There’s no congestion or infection, so there’s nothing to fight with medication. It’s just a combination of allergies and sensitivity to changing weather patterns.

Some days, all I want to do is lie down in the dark with cold compresses on my face, but life’s responsibilities don’t allow for that. Instead, I wind up pushing through while feeling irritable, mentally foggy, and unmotivated. My “best” is nowhere near its usual level.

Every year this experience reminds me how little we know about what others are dealing with at any given time. Because my sinus headaches do not come with congestion or a runny nose, there is no external sign for other people to know that I’m dealing with a season of chronic pain unless I tell them. All people may see is that I’m more irritable and less productive than usual.

That’s not unlike many other kinds of invisible physical, mental, and emotional challenges that others are dealing with all around me.

I may know that my irritability is just a reaction to sinus pain and at all about the people who may experience it, but they don’t know that. I know that my mistakes and unclear thinking patterns aren’t laziness or lack of effort; it’s pain scrambling my attention. Because I know this, I am able to offer myself a bit of grace when I’m not able to meet my usual high standards for myself.

How often do I judge others harshly, though, when they might be dealing with a similar distraction by physical, emotional, or psychological pain? It’s easy for me to make up stories about why they are doing (or not doing) whatever that don’t allow for the possibility that they are struggling with some challenge that I can’t see.

Being in need of mercy myself right now reminds me of the importance of offering that same mercy and compassion to those around me, even (or perhaps especially) when I don’t know what their challenges are. Even in moments when I might need to enforce boundaries against bad behavior from others, I can still do so in a spirit of compassion and mercy because I don’t know what might be driving the behavior.

This year’s season of sinus pain is already passing, and I can feel myself slowly returning to normal. I’m lucky in knowing each year that this season of pain won’t last forever. I know it’s just for a short while. That’s not the case for many who are in pain (physical or emotional).

Even though I don’t enjoy “spring sinus season,” I’m grateful for the reminder every year of the need to offer grace and compassion to myself and to others when we’re not at our best. Chances are good that we’re all doing our best given what we have to work with in the moment.

That reminder—and the grace and compassion that I try to nurture in response—is the kintsugi gold of my sinus pain. What’s yours?

How have your times of brokenness and pain taught you to offer more grace and compassion to others when they’re not at their best?

Have your own experiences with invisible pain and struggles made you more or less likely to judge others harshly when their behavior isn’t at its usual level? What stories about their motivations fill your mind first? Are those helpful?

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