As I write this post, it’s exactly six weeks from the day I underwent cervical spine surgery.

A few days from now, I’ll return to Mayo Clinic for my post-op follow-up appointment to see how things are going and decide what comes next. In the meantime, I want to share with you three things I’ve learned myself, others, and my faith because I believe you can benefit as well even if you never have any kind of major surgery.

1. Pain can be a good thing. Of course, it’s no fun, but there are some redeeming qualities, quite literally. The pain I’ve experienced brought me closer to our Lord because it gave me a small taste of what he suffered during his Passion and Crucifixion. Being required to keep my head still and upright at all times (even during sleep), not moving up or down or side to side and being forbidden to do any twisting, turning, lifting or bending helped me to meditate on Jesus’ excruciating hours hanging on the Cross. He couldn’t move much then, either.  

It also brought me closer to others, as it gave me the opportunity to consider their suffering and how it might be affecting them. We all live with one kind of pain or another whether it be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Pain hurts. Period. And I think it’s good for us to be aware that there are folks who hurt as much, or more, than we do.

The best part about pain is that I could do something with it even if I couldn’t do anything about it.

I could offer it up for others.

That’s not a pat answer old-school nuns used to placate whiney kids. Redemptive suffering—the practice of offering our own suffering for the sake of others—is a central part of our Catholic faith. When we “offer up” our pain, we are configured to Christ and united with him in his Passion. From Old Testament times, it’s been believed that suffering can have a redemptive meaning for others. (CCC, 1502)

I’ve had plenty of people to “offer it up” for these past weeks, and it not only helped me bear the pain, but motivated me to continue on even when the going got really rough.

2. Patience, patience, patience and trust. There are no shortcuts to healing from major surgery, There are things I could do to promote it—like resting and good nutrition—but nothing I could do to accelerate it.

The same goes for any kind of healing. Each person must heal in his or her own time and way, i.e., according to God’s grace and will.

Healing can’t be imposed or faked, and it certainly can’t be skipped.

Healing is a process that’s been as necessary for my soul as it’s been for my body. Therein comes the patience and trust. God showed me clearly that surgery was imminent, and so I had to leave it in his hands that all would go well. During recovery, the only thing I could’ve and should’ve done was to follow God’s lead in what he was doing with me. In many ways, I was prisoner to his grace in the sense that it was the only thing I had to hang on to throughout the ordeal.

If I wanted to write but my body wanted to sleep, I had to sleep. I had to get used to sleeping in the living room recliner and not my own bed. Instead of cleaning my house, I had to leave it dirty. In order to allow my body to heal, I had to be dependent on others to do things for me and run errands. Rather than being out and about, I had to be content being cooped up at home. I had to have patience with myself and others, realizing that things just weren’t going to get done when and how I wanted them to.

All of that was most difficult for me to deal with, and yet is also was extremely good for me.

It forced me to live in the here-and-now and to relish the little gifts and victories that God gave to me each day. What’s more, it made me face front-and-center the reality that absolutely everything depends on God and the only recourse is to completely trust in him.

3. Humor. This is a completely different kind of humor than the laugh-at-a-good-joke or smirk at a witty quip kind. It’s a humor born of humility and stark acceptance of self, right where I’m at—or not at—in recovery. It’s that roll-with-the-punches kind of humor that makes you break out laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

Allowing myself to chuckle over the crazy ways I had to adapt daily tasks helped me take myself less seriously. Eventually, I actually began to like the challenge of figuring out how to do something without breaking the doctor’s “rules” for my recovery. It became a little game I’d play with myself in the search for creative, fun ways to get things done. I’m still playing—and enjoying—that game as I continue down recovery road.

Looking to the lighter side of my own situation also has helped me to look to the lighter side of other people’s situations. Not to ignore or downplay their pain or frustration, but rather to note the good (and even humorous) things that are taking place amidst the bad.

Frequently in the past weeks I’ve repeated St. Paul’s words of wisdom: “We are fools on Christ’s account” (see 1 Cor 4:10). Whatever I was going through, no matter how painful, distressing or absurd, was according to God’s will and offered to him in the spirit of redemptive suffering.

I became Christ’s fool, and in the process, he taught me some valuable lessons.