Did you know that President Kennedy was wearing a back brace at the time of his assassination? My guess is, probably not. Of course I was quite little at the time, but I never realized that JFK was in such bad shape the entire time he served as commander in chief. I must have missed that day

Let God Use Your Pain

Let God Use Your Pain

when they talked about it in history class. Word has it he had all kinds of health problems, chronic pain being one of them. His was brutal! According to an article posted in The New York Times* on November 17, 2002, he suffered from a bad back, persistent digestive problems and Addison’s disease among a host of other issues (pelvic pain not withstanding). Below are but a few excerpts from that report:

X-rays and prescription records, show that he took painkillers, anti-anxiety agents, stimulants and sleeping pills, as well as hormones to keep him alive, with extra doses in times of stress.”

“By the time of the missile crisis, Kennedy was taking antispasmodics to control colitis; antibiotics for a urinary tract infection; and increased amounts of hydrocortisone and testosterone, along with salt tablets, to control his adrenal insufficiency and boost his energy.”

“The records show that Kennedy was hospitalized for back and intestinal ailments in New York and Boston on nine previously undisclosed occasions from 1955 to 1957, when he was a senator from Massachusetts, campaigning unsuccessfully for the 1956 Democratic vice-presidential nomination — and quietly planning his 1960 presidential bid.”

“The president had so much pain from three fractured vertebrae from osteoporosis that he could not put a sock or shoe on his left foot unaided, the records reveal. He sometimes reported waking before dawn with severe abdominal cramps.”

I suppose what impresses me most about all this is that we didn’t hear these things from JFK. These aren’t his reports. These are reports of doctor reports from those who report the news. Despite his conglomerate of illnesses, President Kennedy somehow managed to rise above his pain. He didn’t get caught up in that pitiful victim mentality. The earlier quoted New York Times article also notes:

“Yet for all of Kennedy’s suffering, the ailments did not incapacitate him… In fact, while Kennedy sometimes complained of grogginess, detailed transcripts of tape-recorded conversations during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and other times show the president as lucid and in firm command.”

His philandering aside, JFK is best remembered for greatness. His policies may be argued for years to come, but his strength as an individual cannot be denied. As far as I can tell, there are no accounts of him as being wimpy, whiney or weak. Nor was he ever perceived as such while in office. He sucked it up and pushed forward. He did not lay his personal burdens on the nation. Rather, he stepped up to carry the nation’s burdens. Perhaps that’s to be expected from one who preached, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

I once had a friend who served as pastor of a small, struggling church. Bless his heart; he was a very sickly individual. It took everything he had just to show up on Sunday mornings and I give him props for that. When behind the pulpit he proclaimed glad news, but off the pulpit it was always sad news. This dear brother spent endless hours lamenting of all his many ailments. He also had high expectations of the church to take care of him. His needs took first priority and became a huge drain on the tiny congregation. I did feel extremely bad for my friend’s condition, but his illness paved way for an unusually lopsided ministry. A pastor is to take the burden of the church and not the other way around. Sadly, my friend missed the opportunity to inspire others.

You may not have the responsibility of minding a flock, but we all have an important job to do. Each of us has a unique calling upon our lives and we must rise up. We were created to be productive and to make some positive contribution to the world around us. No doubt, there are limitations imposed by chronic illness and pain. Some of us may even require special care. But who doesn’t have limitations? Each of us must know what they are and gracefully accept them. However, our limitations do not detract from the unlimited possibilities that exist when our lives are placed in the hand of an Almighty God. Consider Jacob. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

“By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.” (Hebrews 11:21)

I suppose it’s true, it’s hard to keep a good man down. Old decrepit Jacob had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, yet he mustered enough strength to rise up. He rose up to bless his sons. He also rose to worship his God. I can’t imagine it was easy for him, yet he did it, all because he was willing to rise up. That’s all it really takes to succeed in life or to make a difference in the world. All one must do is rise to the occasion. We must rise above adverse circumstances. We must rise above opposition. We must rise above pain and suffering. We must rise even when our bodies say differently.

* “In J.F.K. File, Hidden Illness, Pain and Pills” Lawrence K. Altman and Todd S. Purdum

From the book ‘Pain in the Offering’ by Terry Michaels


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