When It Hurts So Bad That It’s Hard To Breathe . . .

“On a scale from one to ten (with ten being the worst)- how painful is this?”  It is a generic but surprisingly helpful question asked in medical situations.   Asking such a question helps to bridge the gap between the individual in distress and the helper.  For the patient, it helps take a small step away to make a more objective evaluation of their physical pain.  It also is a practical means of communicating the pain level to the caregiver; information that can be very valuable in prioritizing treatment.

But what about measuring emotional pain?  Can we use the same scale?  I thought about this after talking on the phone to a woman calling to make a counseling appointment.  When I asked her the nature of her problem she said, “I just found out my husband has been having an affair and is leaving me.”  My heart went out to her; I could hear the pain in her voice.  It was what she said next though that really touched me, “I don’t think anything in my life has ever hurt me so deeply.”  Somehow the clinical question, “On a scale of one to ten . . .” misses the mark completely when it comes to measuring pain experienced in the human heart and mind.  

For me, the ultimate “ten” on the emotionally wounded scale is when it hurts so bad that it’s hard to breathe.  That depth of wounding almost always is tied to a broken relationship or loss.

Such pain often tempts the wounded one to build barriers of protection (hardening the heart)to avoid being hurt again.   Sadly, the fruit of such action complicates matters, as those emotional barriers isolate us from other people and from God.  The better way to deal with the emotional “tens” of life is to run to God through prayer and the comfort and perspective of the Scriptures.

Joseph is an example of someone who was hurt so bad it was hard to breathe numerous times in his life.  (To read about Joseph’s life see Genesis 37,39-50, it will be well worth your time)  Joseph was number eleven of twelve sons and the doted-on favorite of their father.  His jealous older brothers sold 17-year-old Joseph into slavery and let their father believe he had been eaten by wild animals for over twenty years.  The interesting thing about the Genesis account of Joseph’s life is that it says little about his emotional ups and downs of being sold into slavery, of being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and then winding up in an Egyptian prison for the next thirteen years of his life.  What the Bible does speak of is God’s faithfulness to Joseph during his years of suffering and how Joseph was eventually released from prison and made second in command over all of Egypt. Eventually God sees fit to reunite Joseph with his family.  Joseph forgave his brothers and blessed them and their families by bringing them out of the famine to the shelter of Egypt to settle.  In the final chapter of Genesis we are given one last look at the relationship between Joseph and his brothers:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.  (50:15-17)

Where did this emotional “ten” come from?  Why do you think Joseph wept?  The Bible does not tell us, but my thought is that after choosing to be a blessing to his brothers and their families for so many years, it hurt him to realize that his brothers believed the worst of him.  God had blessed Joseph with a heart willing to forgive and love his brothers, but his brothers never changed.  It was a painful revelation for Joseph.  Here is the final account of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers:

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.  But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.  (16-21)

In a letter written after 9/11, Queen Elizabeth of England wrote, “Grief is the price we pay for love . . . “.  Joseph grieved for his brothers but chose to trust God by continuing to forgive and love them all of his days.  Are you hurting so bad that it’s hard to breathe because of what someone has said or done to you?  Perhaps there are barriers you put up long ago that need to come down?  Or, are you still suffering the loss of someone you held dear and you do not have the strength to move forward?  Believe me when I say that I understand on all counts!  Yet, I write to encourage you to learn from Joseph’s example to trust and honor God even in your grief.  Life IS hard, but God is always good when we choose to trust and honor Him.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”  
I John 4:9

All to His Glory!


  1. You’ve encouraged me, today, to not shut down. Getting an email from someone I love but who has rejected so much of who I am and the One I love, made me want to shut down, once again. It does hurt so bad and I’m tired of the hurt. So thankful God never tires of the hurt we cause Him and so I must continue on–loving when it’s really hard too, keeping in touch when silence usually follows my efforts, praying, praying, praying. Thanks, Kathie!


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