The School of Pain

I used to go to a bright school
Where Youth and Frolic taught in turn;
But idle scholar that I was,
I liked to play, I would not learn;
So the Great Teacher did ordain
That I should try the School of Pain.
One of the infant class I am
With little, easy lessons, set
In a great book; the higher class
Have harder ones than I, and yet
I find mine hard, and can’t restrain
My tears while studying thus with Pain.
There are two Teachers in the school,
One has a gentle voice and low,
And smiles upon her scholars, as
She softly passes to and fro.
Her name is Love; tis very plain
She shuns the sharper teacher, Pain.
Or so I sometimes think; and then,
At other times, they meet and kiss,
And look so strangely like, that I
Am puzzled to tell how it is,
Or whence the change which makes it vain
To guess if it be Love or Pain.
They tell me if I study well,
And learn my lessons, I shall be
Moved upward to that higher class
Where dear Love teaches constantly;
And I work hard, in hopes to gain
Reward, and get away from Pain.
Yet Pain is sometimes kind, and helps
Me on when I am very dull;
I thank him often in my heart;
But Love is far more beautiful;
Under her tender, gentle reign
I must learn faster than of Pain.
So I will do my very best,
Nor chide the clock, nor call it slow
That when the Teacher calls me up
To see if I am fit to go,
I may to Love’s high class attain,
And bid a sweet good-bye to Pain.
~ Susan Coolidge
When I was little, I used to love the What Katy Did books where the above poem can be found. As with so many things, I’ve wanted to adapt it slightly so that it becomes more grace filled than reward based but there’s still a whole host of things that have been helpful to me and that I’m grateful for.
I love metaphors. I love pictures. I love different ways of understanding reality. And I love the idea of a School of Pain and Love. Because life is about learning. And I just can’t stop learning, even if I wanted to. The Great Teacher is everywhere. His lessons are all around. I can learn in the quietness and stillness of a sleepless night. I can learn in the hustle and bustle of a tube train. I can learn in the laughter and joy on my nephew’s face. And I can even learn in Hospital Room 16.
And that’s where I’ve been. On my own little intensive course. The Teacher sent me off. Away from the comfort of my home and my husband and into a new environment with new and harder lessons. I know I haven’t learned the lessons that He has for me. But I’ve made a start. My handwriting’s still messy. I still can’t walk in a straight line. And you should see the way I mispronounce words. But over the course of 16 days in Room 16, I’ve begun learning lessons that last.
I’ve learned that a hospital room doesn’t have to be a place of spiritual barrenness. I’ve struggled with that in the past. They are some of the places that I’ve felt most alone. But it isn’t good for people to be alone. And so God showed himself to me in Room 16 and I knew I was truly loved. I’m not a very emotional person, the emotional capacity of a teaspoon is the way my family often describe it. But I cried more than once because I knew that my Father was with me right there in Room 16. 
I’ve learned to give thanks for small blessings. They’re always there, these small blessings. Even if they come in the form of having an IV line in my left arm instead of my right. Or being able to bless people in little ways – nurses like to be smiled at, cleaners like to be chatted to, catering staff like to be thanked.
I’ve learned the power of prayer. I had an inbox full of emails from people saying that they were praying. Some of the things we were praying for got answered with a no. But the power of prayer isn’t just about getting a yes. It’s about being able to ask in the first place. It’s about the joining of hearts and minds asking that God’s will be done. It’s about the encouragement that knowing people are praying can bring. And it’s about the privilege of talking to the King.
I’ve learned to say thank you. My thank you prayers are often hollow. But I thanked God for the suffering and meant it. I’m learning the joy that comes with saying, ‘Your will be done.’ Joy can be found in the strangest and hardest of places. But it’s worth it. 
I’m not perfect. Far from it. So far from it that God sent me to Room 16. I’m grumpy. I’m ungrateful. My refrain is often, ‘It’s not fair.’ I’m short-sighted. Don’t be fooled into thinking anything else. God is love. And I’m the loved. Wonderful, crazy love.
I need to keep learning these lessons. I know I have many intensive courses in my future. It may not be Room 16 but it’ll be somewhere. And right here, right now that scares me. But the lessons I began to learn in Room 16 are true. They are hard. They are big. But they are the lessons that my God has for me. And I’m here, with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, learning them.

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