Religious faith is most powerful non-medicine against pain

Many of us are afflicted with chronic pain. Last year, a poll by the American Osteopathic Association found that nearly 70% of Americans say they or someone they care for experienced pain in the previous month. 48% of respondents do not believe that proper treatment can ease chronic pain; 41% believe pain is simply a part of aging; while 34% believe that the side effects of pain medications are worse than the pain itself.

But researchers have found pain reducers that are not opiates or pharmaceuticals. The website “Cracked” has an article on 6 things other than drugs which can reduce pain. Beginning with the least, the six are:

#6. Money: An experiment in China found that just touching money makes us feel better. Those subjects in the experiment who had just handled a stack of bills before plunging their hands into very hot water for a short period of time, showed a higher pain threshold than those who had just handled blank paper. Even though the first group didn’t think they would get to keep the money, simply being in physical contact with it made them feel less pain.

#5. Eating: We all have comfort foods that we turn to when we are stressed, but eating also helps in alleviating pain — at least for a while. Come to think of it, that may explain the explosion of obesity in our society of plenty where even those our government defines as “poor” are over weight.

#4. Music: Listening to your favorite music enables you to tolerate up to twice your normal threshold of pain. A study of people with chronic pain and those in long-term hospital stays found that listening to their favorite music dramatically decreased the pain they were feeling.

#3. Imagination: According to a study on stomach pains, getting a child to imagine that s/he is floating on a cloud is a more effective pain reliever than prescription drugs.

#2. Touch: One study found that touching our own wounds helps our bodies deal with pain as it allows our brains to better “map out” the part of our body that’s hurting. The more information the brain gets about the pain’s location, the better it can process and effectively deal with the pain.

And now the most powerful, Number One non-drug pain-reducer….

#1. Religious Faith

Researchers found that those who are religious handle pain better. In the study, devout Catholics are better able to withstand electrical shocks than atheists or agnostics. Participants of all beliefs were told to look at two different paintings while their hands were being shot up with electricity. Those who were Catholic reported less pain when looking at a painting of the Virgin Mary as opposed to a painting of some woman by Leonardo da Vinci. Atheists and agnostics did not feel any pain relief no matter what painting they looked at. Test subjects who were religious showed increased brain activity, while non-religious subjects had no increased brain activity.

My best friend and this blog’s co-founder, Joan, certainly can attest to the power of faith.

She has chronic excruciating pain from degenerative disk disease, fibromyalgia, and severe osteoarthritis. She describes her pain as “like someone jabbing a knife into my spine.” Despite that, she is cheerful and lives an active full life as a homemaker, having retired from being an administrative law judge. She cooks and cares for her husband, 7 cats, 1 parrot, and a turtle. She is active in her parish, St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and regularly cooks meals for tens of people. She tells me she is able to do all that because of her great love for the Triune God, and offers her pains as redemptive suffering to Christ.

At times when her pain is particularly bad, Joan finds comfort by gazing at the picture of the Divine Mercy which I had given her when she was hospitalized for total-knee replacement surgery 5 years ago.

Divine Mercy of Christ

As serendipity has it, today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. St. Faustina was assured by Jesus that all who receive of the Holy Sacraments today will have full remission of their sins and punishments.

“[T]hough your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” -Isaiah 1:18

~Eowyn

4 responses to “Religious faith is most powerful non-medicine against pain

  1. My husband can tell many stories confirming this. Good doctors often discuss faith with their patients, and many even pray with them. I do fear this will all end with our new way of healthcare because our devoted healers will be under the thumb of bureaucrats.

  2. lowtechgrannie

    He is the Great Physician! I believe really good doctors understand this as a spiritual truth and a literal one. When my friend, Kelleigh, came to Seattle for surgery she was delighted her surgeon was a believer and was happy to pray with her and her husband before surgery. Everything went extremely well.

  3. Eowyn, thank you so much for your beautiful thoughts! I must add that in my kitchen I also have a picture of Jesus, the Divine Mercy, and when I cook while sitting on my stool, I look at Him when I am in pain and He helps me enjoy the skill He gave me to cook and create, in spite of pain. There is some pain that even pain killers cannot kill; they can only make the pain less intense. But when I look at Jesus, He gives me joy and cheer and I remember the Little Way, to do all things, even small things, with great love, in spite of your limitations. My good husband does the physical chores that I cannot do because of my health disabilities and limitations; nevertheless, I remain persistent as I am still writing my cookbook, I can cook while sitting, but my arthritic, swollen hands make it difficult. I call “Pain,” in kind of an anthropormorphic sense, “Brother Pain,” after the verbiage used by St. Francis. Every morning I say, “Hello, Brother Pain!” Pain can either make you closer to the Triune God, or it will make you farther from the Triune God, because of how you choose to handle pain-the wrong choice motivated by selfishness gives rise to bitterness and pride which is caused by the limitations imposed by pain. I think that is why St. Francis referred to it as he did, as pain can be a great help to you in the larger scheme of your life, because it can affect where you go in eternity via the choices you make on how to handle it. I have learned a lot about pain because I have had to. I do not say the things I am saying so that you think I am holy. I am not. I have a very, very long way to go……I grumble to myself, I still miss my former profession and at times, I recognize that pain can affect my attitude of being thankful and grateful to God. But, this is the first step: to recognize the choices you have when you are in pain. Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Really, IT IS THAT SIMPLE! I look at the crucifix dozens of times a day. I do hope someone reads what I am saying today, because I am really speaking from all aspects of who I am, from my mind, my heart and my soul.

    I want to also reiterate that there are many types of pain. In the research performed that Eowyn set out above with regard to individuals studied in the pain analysis, we are told that those who are atheists or agnostics have little to no reaction when they look at a holy picture. I believe it is because their hearts and minds have become so hardened, that any glimmer of truth cannot pierce them. They trust themselves and they do not trust God. They are so alone and so afraid and I feel so sorry for them. I am sad for them. Their pain is hellish. Those individuals who were raised as Catholics or Christians who have given up their Faith, wound themselves and believe that there is no way coming back — too much has happened in their lives, or their pride and the secularism and relativism of the world precludes them from coming back, as does their desire to be people of the world. This is what Divine Mercy is about. You are always welcome to come back to Jesus!!! Even though you have many sins, we are all sinners anyway, Jesus wants to shower us with His mercy and compassion, which are His chief working virtues!!! He has “oceans of mercy” for all – He is at a loss as to why humankind rejects His mercy. He wants you to come to Him and He provides open arms to you and He gives you His salvation. He forces nothing upon you because He has given you free will to choose. I offer my suffering today to Jesus for all of the people who are lost, who have given up Jesus, who have chosen the world and its lies over Him, have chosen to “save face” and embrace their own self-proclaimed omnipotence, have given their allegiance to sin, relativism and Satan, praying earnestly all day that they come back to Jesus!

    Also, the way you handle pain can bring other people down, can make them suffer, because of selfishness and self-centeredness. Once again, let pain be used as an instrument of catharsis, as an instrument of self-improvement and conversion, always keeping in mind while handling it the face of Jesus, “Take up your cross and follow me.” In the process of accepting pain with Jesus’ help, you can help others by your example of love, submission to God and always being HOPEFUL! Satan wants you to despair! Satan wants you to be away from Jesus! Satan wants to destroy you! Don’t let him! Satan is nothing especially compared to the love, compassion and mercy of God! Jesus appeared to St. Faustina to reiterate the depths of His mercy and His invitation to everyone to accept His mercy. He asked her to have His image painted with the words underneath the image, “JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU.” Just remember that any time you suffer, whether it is physical or spiritual or emotional or all intertwined, say to yourself, “JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU.” Make this the MOTTO FOR YOUR LIFE, today and every day for the rest of your life. God will direct your path.

    Today we celebrate the beatification of now Blessed Pope John Paul II, who declared that the first Sunday after Easter always be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday, which was the request of Our Blessed Lord to St. Faustina. I love Blessed John Paul. Look at how he handled “Brother Pain.” He suffered so much and wouldn’t give up until the end. As a matter of fact, his best example to us of his love of Our Lord and the Catholic Faith estabished by Jesus, was the last years of his life while he suffered! I will never forget the scene from the papal balcony, where he tried to speak and could not, and he actually was so frustrated that he pounded his hand down, and just gave a blessing. He always trusted in Jesus! Remember, Jesus, I Trust In You! He lived the Gospel constantly and I think how he handled his suffering was his greatest lesson to us. It actually meant more to me than any of His wonderful Encyclicals.

    Please, remember, everyone – we are made in the image and likeness of God. Let pain bring us closer to God, not farther away from Him! You cannot handle the sufferings of life by yourself. Do not be little gods and demagogues burying yourselves in pride and narcissism. Become LITTLE – LET PAIN HELP YOU TO BECOME LITTLE – and remember constantly, JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!!!

  4. This is so true…trust in God and you will be comforted.

    Having watched three loved ones pass from cancer, I can attest that their faith helped them stay strong, even toward the end. I remember looking into my grandmother’s eyes as she passed and she was not in pain whatsoever.

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