The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain

Reflections Along the Camino de Santiago

First let me state that I am indebted to C.S. Lewis for coming up with such a captivating phrase, “The Problem of Pain.” I haven’t read his classic book for many years and could never add anything of substance to what a great mind has already written. I was in pain and I didn’t like it.

My feet looked like stuffed summer sausages.

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As an avid trail runner, I never thought I’d be injured along the Camino. Sure, some of the guys had blisters or tendonitis, but I had never dropped out of a race in my life. I struggled through leg cramps at 7,000 feet in elevation during one sprint triathlon in Los Alamos, New Mexico, but I staggered on and worked through the pain. Running necessarily involves pain, you just have to work through it.

This was different, I still had days to walk. And here I was one night in Astorga with swollen ankles. Seth called them “cankles” a neologism implying my calves and ankles had merged. He was right. I knew I need to ice them and elevate my feet. But ice is a scarce commodity along the Camino. I had the guys pray for me the week before–Colby and Hugh prayed for my lower back in Terradillos. I had injured my lower back lifting weights immediately before leaving for the Camino.

God healed my lower back in Terradillos, that much I’m sure of. My symptoms were exactly like they were in 1995 when I herniated a disk in my lower back and had to have surgery. I was in constant pain for about six months. I couldn’t drive a car or sit in a chair. Sleep was impossible. Pain surrounded me like the surf envelopes a swimmer. For the first time in my life I felt true empathy for those in pain.

Now along the Camino, I wanted to see God’s power. I wanted to be healed in a way that could not be rationally explained and I knew some of the Kingdom Journey guys had been part of miraculous healings while on the World Race. I knew God still healed people. Now I was one of those people. My back pain, which should have gotten worse by carrying a backpack, didn’t, and in fact within a day I was pain free. I witnessed a healing in myself. There were no bright lights, no electric spark ala a Tesla experiment, no hocus pocus, just the quiet prayers of righteous men.

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Now it was my ankles.

I “sucked it up” as my high school football coach used to say for a couple of days and then hit the wall. I boinked. In Villafranca, I had to decide whether to take the bus to the next town or try to walk. I got up at 0530 and met with the guys. I had to go down stairs sideways. Daniel said this was the hardest day coming up. My spirits crashed. How could I make it 18 miles up and down a mountain side when I had a hard time going down stairs?

I told Seth and Mac I couldn’t make it and went back to my sleeping bag. I tried to lie down but I was wide awake. I heard Damon downstairs and I thought, “I didn’t come across the Atlantic to walk the Camino and find myself taking a bus.” I’ll walk slowly. Up is fine, down is not fine. I’ll pray for a special dispensation of mercy.

Something said, “get up and walk”. So I warned Damon, Dusty, Fabio, and Zeb that I would try to walk but it would be slow. Fabio, an Italian Francisan friar had be-friended our group a few days before and was our travelling partner. He exuded God’s love and grace. A twenty something year old graphic designer, he took a vow of celibacy and poverty when he joined the Franciscan order. We all had hours of really great discussion with him.

They were supportive. So off I hobbled in the dawn, tenderly over the ancient cobblestone streets, and immediately up the steepest grade of the Camino. The views were stunning and slowly the pain dissipated. We walked slowly, took lots of breaks and photos and thanked God for the beauty of creation.

The sun came out and I met a retired Canadian Army officer who told me the last leg was the “worst” of the entire 500 mile Camino. But, the sun came out, the birds sang their ancient joyful songs and I trudged onwards and upwards, ever upwards, with my brothers.

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We made it into O’Cebreiro at 1800 hours. Spent. Devoid of energy. This was about an 11 hour day of walking. Neil greeted us and I walked by him. I couldn’t stand, I had to keep moving or drop. The views were breathtaking, but I had to find a room to collapse into. Miraculously, one of Fabio’s Franciscan brothers was waiting for him at the edge of town. How he knew Fabio was coming with us is a mystery to me.

The Camino is full of miracles and full of mystery. I bore witness to that.

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  • seth_barnes

    What a great day that was! I love that you pressed through the pain. I love that about you and about our group. We are well acquainted with pain know what it is to press through it. Glad that I was there to see Jesus show up for you.

    Thanks for sharing the story.

    • glace

      Thanks, Seth. I knew the hardest day would be the most beautiful. And it was. Funny how sometimes the hardest things end up being the most rewarding.