Friday, October 31, 2008

Emotions are Powerful, but Pain has a Purpose

Brief Introduction:

Given that a lot of people—religious and non-religious alike—are reading this blog, I share the following deeply personal emotions for one sole purpose. My intent is only to share the gift of peace I’ve had over the past couple days with the hopes that people of all religions might more fully access that gift. That I might be non-offensive, I usually try to remain religiously vague in situations like this. However, in this blog I cannot describe my last few days without being candid about my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although I have respect for other faiths and don’t expect anyone to convert to my Church based on the following, I feel the need to share the joy that stems from it. Thank you in advance to all the readers of this blog for indulging me.

In order to follow this post, you will need to understand the following brief explanation of my religion because I quote often from both the Book of Mormon and the Bible. The Book of Mormon is a book we believe to be scripture, just like the Bible. They were both inspired by God and written by His prophets among the Ancient Jews. The only difference is, as the Bible was being written in the Middle East, and The Book of Mormon was written on the American Continent (by the Ancestors of some of the American Indians). After Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, He visited the people in Ancient America and established His church—complete with Apostles and Prophets—just has He had in Jerusalem. Thus, we believe the Book of Mormon to be a second eyewitness to the world that Jesus is the Christ, the True and Living God. In addition, we believe God continues to speak to Prophets and Apostles today and that the Heavens are not closed. As such, we believe that we know doctrines—about where we came from before we were born, why we are here (really), and where we are going after this life—that are mentioned but not elaborated in the Bible. (If you’re curious to know more, please feel free to visit for further details).

If, however, you happen to already be a member of my church, I do hope that the following may help you to more fully APPLY the knowledge we have if you don’t already know how.

With that short intro, I hope the following post will make sense:

After the shock of Brynn’s early entrance wore off, I suddenly felt a wave of extremely strong emotions. Just staring at Brynn’s tiny, perfect hands would send me into uncontrollable sobs. But then, sometimes nothing at all would trigger the tears. The feelings were so intense that I honestly couldn’t tell what kind of emotion it was. Was I feeling overwhelming love for my firstborn? Or was I feeling grief for having lost all my expectations? Perhaps it was immense gratitude for all the caring hospital staff, the hundreds of people who have sent expressions of support and prayers, my husband’s strength, and my mother’s tireless service. Or maybe it was excruciating sorrow as I watched, powerless to help, as my innocent little girl jerked and strained against her tubes and approached utter exhaustion as she tried to take each breath. I’ve come to realize now that I was feeling all of these emotions at once—as well as exactly 14 other specific emotions that I have listed in another personal journal. The sheer volume of both joy and pain was so immense I didn’t know how to process it all. (Just as a side note, though, making a list was very helpful because I could focus on one emotion at a time, setting the rest aside for later confrontation).

Now, days later (feels like weeks), I’d like to share what I’ve learned about what peace really is. I used to equate peace with emotional composure, quietness, joy, and optimism through life’s struggles. I recognized that I had immense peace most often when I had faith in God and didn’t doubt.

But a strange thing has happened this week—I felt peace in the very moment I was doubled over in painful sobs.

This is a particularly unique development for me because I’ve been conducting an experiment since December. In short, I’ve been trying to see if it really is possible to to experience pain without simultaneously becoming miserable. Isaiah described Christ as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). An American prophet named Jacob describes Satan as one who “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne 2:27). Never in all of scripture is Christ EVER described as being miserable.

I, however, have been miserable many times in my life. The worst of which I remember well because it is the only experience I’ve ever had that has hurt worse in my core than my sobs this week. The misery was caused solely by self-deprecation, a nasty habit I have had very severely since childhood but can safely say I have successfully kept at bay since I began my experiment in December (thanks to God’s grace).

Alma, another American prophet compared truth to a seed and said that if we would plant the seed in faith and patiently continue to cultivate it, we would know whether it was a good or bad seed after we tasted the fruit (Alma 32). This week, I tasted the fruit of my experiment and can testify with certain knowledge that it is possible to have peace during even excruciating pain. May I also emphasize that it was such a contrast to the experience of misery.

I have learned that pain has a limit but misery is a bottomless pit. During my pain, I felt the peace through the atonement of Christ, which eased my burden. Although He allows us to bear all the pain we possibly can, He truly takes over for the portion we cannot. One of my favorite scriptures that kept coming to mind over and over in the hospital is Alma 7:11-12 which states, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how succor his people according to their infirmities.”

Please read that reference again, watching particularly for the word “sin.” You’ll notice it’s not there, and yet often as Christians we think that His suffering was only about bearing our sins. I am a witness to the fact that He bears far more than that, including the pain I’ve been through this week.

I can honestly feel I’ve joined with Jerusalem’s Apostle Paul, who said “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Since my distress this week was “for Christ’s sake” and not self-imposed like my misery before, at precisely my weakest moment I strangely felt strongest, just like Paul promises.

This is why from this point forward, I sincerely look forward to painful experiences because it is precisely during pain that you learn true joy. Just like I knew the joy of ice chips after I had puked every hour all night long on magnesium (one of the drugs I’d been given in the hospital), I now know the joy of the atonement in a way I’ve never known before. In fact, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne 2:25). But that joy is not experienced until its opposite, pain, has been suffered.

Misery on the other hand is simply pain without peace, or better said, unnecessary pain. And because it is not of God or “for Christ’s sake,” He cannot help us bear it. It is far more painful.

Lest someone feel guilty because they still fear pain, let me share one last experience from this week. Before the doctor put me on Procardia, a heart drug that also tends to relax the uterus, I experienced some extremely painful contractions. I became terrified, knowing from my birthing class that they would get much worse.

I had made up my mind beforehand that I wanted to have a natural delivery, without an epidural, mostly because of the encouragement of my mother. She had experienced a similar peace I’ve described above by feeling and bearing her pain during the birth of her 9 children—2 of which were miscarriages and 7 of which lived. She described how suffering these births had been the very reason she had the confidence to face the trials she’d recently experienced. I, too, wanted to experience what she had experienced and learn from this pain as she had done. But now that I was going through it, I wasn’t so sure. The pain was so severe, I didn’t know if I could tolerate anything worse. I also recognized that my baby was only around 1 lb and that if I thought this was bad, there was no way I’d be able to deliver an 8 pounder naturally.

Feeling guilty for wanting to go back on my promise to myself, but not knowing how to bear the pain, my mother told me three comforting things. One, the little contraction hills on the monitor do not relate to the severity of pain and the contractions I was having may very well feel the worst they will ever get. Second, she said the pain of excreting her two miscarried fetuses, although they were tiny, was much worse than the pain of delivering her full term babies so I didn’t have to fear my inability in the future.

But third, and most comforting of all, was a reference to a particular scripture. When Christ paid the atonement, he had to not only bear all our pains and afflictions, but also our bottomless misery as well. As He was starting His labor, He got a taste of what was coming and started to worry, just like me. In Luke 22:42, He said “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” The suffering “caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18). Knowing that even Christ himself was worried He might shrink from the agony made me feel better that I was experiencing the same. It was okay to feel the fear, and then do it anyway.

After I made the final push that produced my beautiful baby girl, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I’ve never known before. I had done it. Although the Procardia had definitely relaxed my uterus and I’m certain it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, I had kept my promise to myself despite terrifying pain.

In closing, I simply want to reiterate that I know God lives. I know His Son, Jesus Christ, bore my pains. I know He is eager to grant us peace, even when we must suffer. I know suffering produces joy. I hope for and look forward to the day of ultimate joy, when Christ stands before me at the judgment bar and says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21).


tristanandtricia said...

Thanks for those words, Natalie. I have a quote book next to my computer and today's quote was by A.G. Kapp "Our greatest lessons come in times of anguish because we are more teachable." I thought of it again when I read your post today. We're still thining about you and your little family all the time.

laura said...

I remember well the pain and tears at Christoph's birth and beginning. Also the depth of love I felt for him. Helplessly watching him suffer was the most difficult thing I ever did - until now which has been even more difficult. But throughout, I have also experienced the peace of the Atonement and learned intimately of His mercy and grace. Good can come of suffering. May God continue to bless all three of you with strength, patience and love.
We have been praying for you too.
love, Laura and family

Natalie said...

Thank you to everyone who not only posted here, but who also sent me private emails in response. I always love hearing from my dear friends.
Love, Natalie

Emily said...

Thank you, Natalie, for another sweet email and for sharing your faith. I feel very grateful for the feelings I have had about our Savior as I read your testimony. love, Emily

k said...

Natalie, you and Matt are amazing. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for sharing your faith-inducing feelings and experiences. This was a great way for me to start my Sabbath morning.

Thank you again for sharing your story. You are so strong, and you'll need to continue to be strong throughout your visit to parenthood.

Ryan, Melissa, and Family said...

Hey Natalie..I am a little late commenting but I just noticed on Facebook that you had your little girl. I read this post after looking at all the tiny pictures of her and I am so touched. You are an amazing person and will be such a great mother. I guess this hits really close to home for me because we were due around the same time. Thank you for sharing your touching story:)