Pain and humor…

I spent Friday night and half of Saturday with Eric at a gathering of Christian Reformed pastors and leaders hosted by the Village with a mission to discover how we might ‘be together’ in new and better ways. How fun it is to see the beauty of Village hospitality on display. Thanks to those who hosted overnight guests in their homes and who cooked some amazingly delicious food for us as well as those who prayed for our time together. I am so proud of the Village.

Friday night we spent our time in Trinitarian prayer guided by Eric. It was a rich time of seeking God’s face. During the post prayer time as we told what we had heard God saying, a young man named Robbie told me he heard God say to me, “Peace, be still.” It is true, I have not been at peace. I have been very busy doing all sorts of things and leave early Monday morning to go to California for a conference only to hustle back and get ready for more meetings and more work.. Everything seems topsy turvy and I have a hard time focusing. Accepting God’s peace means letting go of my desire to be in charge and fix things and make things happen and reach my desired outcomes. It means letting God do what needs to be done and resting in his goodness. Robbie’s words were so helpful.

Another young man, Josh, told me that I use humor to hide pain. It was a stab in my heart. Years ago I sat in a leadership meeting and heard Julie Brunson tell me that I used humor to mask my pain. It was a hard thing to hear. Years later I went through Potter’s Wheel and Patty Cepin told me the same thing. “Why do you use humor to hide your pain?” was the question and I didn’t like trying to answer it. Now, a young man I had not met before asked told me that God had revealed to him that I use humor to hide pain.

Why do I do it? Part of it is that I was told by men in my youth that real men didn’t cry. Real men don’t complain. Real men tough it out and don’t give up. The only way I could think of to not cry about my disappointments and my pain was to make light of it. I use humor for a lot of things. Humor is an escape. Humor lets me off the hook. I use humor to say hard things and there can be some wisdom in that, but it is also a way to avoid confrontation. Dad told me once that if I was nervous about speaking in public and scared about what people thought of me, I should just make a joke and then I wouldn’t know if people were laughing at me or laughing with me. Lots of bad advice.

Young Josh apologized to me for not talking to me privately about what he had heard from God and I told him it was no problem. He said he felt a tremendous amount of pain as he talked to God about me. He told me that people need to hear the story of pain because if they follow Jesus they will experience much suffering. He told me that the path to glory is a path through suffering and death. I think that is what I had said in my last sermon. I shared with Josh that it is also the path to intimacy with a loving Father. He told me that I should talk about my pain. I told him that I felt like I did that all the time and that people were tired of hearing about it. His response was that it wasn’t talking about it truthfully if it was softened by humor.

Dad suffered from emphysema. It is a slow dying by choking to death on poison in your lungs. As you have less and less living lung tissue, the lungs can no longer expel the poison and you slowly suffocate to death. It was an awful to watch as a scared kid. When people would ask my Dad who he was feeling, he would grin and say, “With my fingers. How do you feel?” I learned from Dad to make light of pain and suffering. He got lots of laughs. He hid his pain.

My neck has been fused form C4 to C7. Before I went through that surgery six years ago I had tremendous pain. The surgery solved my problem for a few years and gave me great relief, but now it has all returned only on the other side. The nerve that travels over my right shoulder is being crushed by the deteriorating C3-C4 vertebrae and the pain is massive and constant. Every moment of every day my neck throbs and my shoulder feels like it is being stuck with a knife. My elbow feels like it just had a ‘crazy bone’ attack and I can feel the weakness and pain spasms all the way down into my hand. A hard hand shake sends spasms of pain up my arm. A friendly clap on the shoulder can bring me to my knees. It is nerve damage pain so narcotics don’t touch it. Drugs like Gabapentin and Lyrica do a bit of good, but it makes it hard to function and be alert so there is a balancing that is required. Sometimes I’ll reach for things with my right hand and the pain will overwhelm me. Sometimes the drugs wear off and I literally want to take the kitchen knives and cut out the area that is throbbing with pain. Every minute of every day, day after day, week after week, month after month it just hurts. I plead with God to take it away. So far, his answer is unclear and the pain continues to get worse.

I will have fusion surgery on January 6 if God so wills. Some moments I am afraid of that. What if something goes wrong? What if I lose even more flexibility? All the millions of ‘what ifs’ flood my mind and I am overwhelmed. Some moments I can hardly wait. I look forward to being rid of this constant throbbing pain. I think that anything is better than what I am dealing with now. Then I flip and wonder if that is really true. I dread going to the hospital and the process of getting ready for surgery and I dread the aftermath of the surgery. The process of recovery is slow and its own kind of pain and suffering. I will have to lay in bed for several weeks and that will be hard. I went through it all before and I can anticipate what it will be like again. I wish I didn’t have to go through it all.

You should know that in all of this, God comes close. Sometimes it feels like he doesn’t care, but I cry out to him and he comes running to help me. In the middle of the night when all is silent and the pain rages, he hears me and holds me and comforts me. He promises to never let go. I doubt his goodness so often. I ask the ‘why’ question all the time. He answers by pointing to his dearly loved Son. In this world you will have trouble, Jesus promised me. You will have trouble. Unlike him, I am never completely abandoned, even abandoned by the God who could keep him from death. My suffering is light and momentary compared to Jesus’ incomprehensible suffering on my behalf. I can rest in the knowledge that irrespective of what the days ahead bring, he will never leave me or forsake me.

Pray for me. Thanks



  1. Rod. Thank you for sharing this. It is good to see you, hear about your experience, and know you more deeply. I will be praying for peace, and for you in your stillness. I will also be asking for God to continue to show up for you in your pain, and that the promise that he will never leave or forsake you to be a real tactile experience that you feel, but for the times that you cannot feel it, that you would know it to be true. Praying and loving you. And I hope you continue to share your experience of pain, because we love you and want to know you. And when you don’t truly share of your experience we are missing out on experiencing Jesus in you.

  2. Andrea

    Thank you Rod. I recognize myself in what you wrote…feeling as if everyone has heard about my suffering (from physical pain or emotional pain) and imagine everyone saying “get over it already”. But those are not the words of my community or of God. I want to hear about your suffering and your journey with God through that. Thanks for sharing that.

  3. Ron Wyman


    This really hits home with me. I learned this art in my childhood, and carried it forward into my past middle age life. I use it as a defense to protect me from the world I live in and keep at a “comfortable” distant, but it is not comfortable, nor am I distant to those people I live with and am around on a daily basis. Often my humor is not even funny, rather it is foolishness and trite, and sometime shows my contempt. I have been trying to not be such a person, but often I do it, mostly because it has, in so many ways, become part of my personality, and my sin.
    Childhood memories last a lifetime. Scars and wounds from childhood often don’t go away, rather often become the root of sinful adult behavior that need to be laid at the cross of Christ Jesus. Humor to deflect pain and fear is sin, it is a lie. I doubt that Jesus was telling “one liners” as he was being brutally beaten and nailed to the cross. But I can see Jesus telling jokes with his close friends during the Passover Seder, as they enjoyed the meal, the ceremony, that in so many dramatic ways, marked the purpose and meaning of the life of Christ. I like to think that the angle told Jokes to make the Apostles smile from ear to ear, or maybe it was just the promise that Jesus stated that He would return. Humor can heal and help when used properly. Bill Kemmeries, used humor in a good way, often corny, but never have I witness him using humor in a sinful manner. I am trying to not sin in this particular manner, with God’s help I will conquer this sin pattern in my life, but I also know that this will either way be a life long struggle, but a success for God’s providence.
    Rod, in the past decade plus, I have heard you and Eric utter the words, God is on your side. He wants the best for you. You have told me numerous times, what is the worst that can happen? Can you live with that? Especially when you are honoring God with just being the cool Rod you are. I admire you because you make the Christian path look so graceful and your life is skillfully precise, much like Michael Jordan, or Willie Mays. True there are brief periods of errors, but even including the errors, God seams to turn those bloopers into something productive and worthy. Thanks for being so influential to me and so many others by joining God do God’s work on you and others around you.

  4. Amanda

    I just love you 🙂 Thank you for sharing this and opening up that part to vulnerability and letting us see it. My prayers are with you and I love you.

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