I burned my finger tip the other morning. Entering the kitchen with bleary eyes, I was surprised to see that the coffeepot had come on automatically even though I’d forgotten to set it the evening before. The only reason I can give for stupidly touching the base of the coffeemaker is that caffeine hadn’t yet entered my body. And brain. Apparently there is a memory switch inside the appliance that—even if I haven’t set it the night before— “remembers” previous settings. So, yes, it was on and it was hot (very hot), and no, there was no coffee or water in it.
Ice cubes tempered the immediate pain and, even without caffeine, I knew where to find burn ointment and Band-Aids™. I hurriedly made coffee (so as to be immune from further foolish actions), showered and made ready for the day. But as I went about my regular activities, my attention was on that finger. It hurt. I went to the gym and did my two miles on the bike. And thought about my finger. I did leg presses. And thought about my finger. I came home to study for an upcoming discussion. And thought about my finger. I even prepared supper that evening. And thought about my finger.
But something else happened that day. I became exasperated with my ‘finger focus’ and breathed to God, “What good can come out of this?” (Other than remembering to never touch hot appliances.) And into my mind came this reminder: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Could this relatively minor bit of stinging pain be a reminder to think about the picture I saw in the morning paper? A Syrian mother holding an unwieldy bundle of her possessions in one arm and with her other hand clutching a little girl as they hurriedly fled fighting in their country, on their way to a refugee camp in Turkey? My stinging finger made me stop right then and pray for her and thousands of others.
But then I thought of a man who seemed to find pain and suffering wherever he went as he pursued his God calling, drawing people into God’s Kingdom. The Apostle Paul quite graphically describes his everyday lifestyle as one of endurance, troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. But he had learned a lesson that helped see him through all that. In writing to his friends, he bursts forth in praise: All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (2 Corinthians 1:14 The Message)
A stinging fingertip is an absolute zero compared to Paul’s suffering and to the suffering of those around me and those an ocean away. But I asked God to let me think of and pray for real sufferers throughout that day. While I don’t want more burned fingertips, I need to remember the pain.