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Welcoming Pain as Our Teacher

14 Apr Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Welcoming Pain as Our Teacher
Welcoming Pain as Our Teacher

About 15 years ago, I found myself struggling with fatigue and with pain in my muscles. After several months of trying to figure out what it was, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It took me some time to accept this diagnosis. I searched for another reason for why I felt so bad, something I could fix. But, the diagnosis has remained. I’ve known people who have been completely sidelined by this disorder. That is not my story. I have good days and bad days but I never miss work or important occasions. I avoid the cold as it makes my symptoms worse. I notice that stress and diet can impact how I feel.


But, although it doesn’t rule my life, I have resented the limitations it puts on me.

As recently as last year, I was lamenting to someone that I was frustrated by what fibromyalgia keeps me from… working longer hours, staying up late, eating whatever I want, etc., and what it does to me – fatigue and pain.

She asked me what gift there might be in having fibromyalgia.

I looked at her like she had two heads! What gift? Either she doesn’t know what it is or she never had to deal with pain. Even while thinking those things, however, I knew, on some level, that neither one was true. I knew that her question was coming from a deeper place, a place that would want to look at this issue in my life through the lens of what it was here to teach me – how was God inviting me to look at this.


What I began to process was that fibromyalgia makes me slow down. It helps me create mini-sabbath times because I know that it I continue to push through, I’ll pay for days to come. It reminds me that I am a human being – not God. It calls me to care for myself – plenty of sleep, good eating and learning to listen to my body.

It is not easy to shift one’s perspective of pain, of any kind, in life. We often fight against it, spend hours wishing it was different, running from it or asking “Why me?” I think it can be helpful to look at whatever comes into our life as a teacher from God. A spiritual practice that has helped me shift my perspective is called the Welcome Prayer. It goes like this…


The Welcoming Prayer

by Thomas Keating

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God’s action within.


This prayer can be a lovely reminder of who really is in control – and it’s not you. It reminds you what surrender and relinquishment looks like. It is a practice that can lead to greater freedom. I encourage you to sit with this prayer every day for a month and take notice if there is any shift within. Your struggle is most likely not fibromyalgia, but whatever it is, I pray that you will be able to embrace it and perhaps even begin to see it as gift.

Deb Turnow
Executive Director at Kavanna House
Deb Turnow is the Executive Director of Kavanna House, a spiritual formation center in York, Pa. Prior to that role, she was the Director of Spiritual Direction at Living Word Community Church in York. She has a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from York College in Pennsylvania and a M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University. She is also a graduate of the Spiritual Guidance Program at Shalem Institute. She is currently studying at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a certified spiritual director and also provides supervision for spiritual directors. She and her husband Jeff, live in York, PA.