For a few years now I have lived with chronic pain. As it has gotten worse lately, I have had the opportunity to observe some things about living with pain. I am still learning to embrace what I’m observing, but it seemed like a good time to share them.
Living in pain messes with your mind, blows up your perspective. I don’t share this as a bit of wisdom; this comes from realizing that prolonged periods of pain cause me to think in ways I wouldn’t normally think. For example, I begin to doubt myself and question myself much more. I am much more given to despair.
Thus the need to remind myself–and for friends and family to remind me–of the truth. If I am doubting or despairing, I know I need a few things: a nap, a cup of tea, and some time with God’s word. I read the Psalms and Job and the Gospels for comfort, and often find myself in Ephesians or Corinthians for encouragement. Nothing like a good dose of truth to set my mind right again.
Pain is part of living in a fallen world. Sin affects everyone and every thing in this world. Romans 8:14 reminds us that all of creation groans, a result of the Fall. That means sickness and pain, sin and storms, poverty and wars happen all around the world, and they will keep happening until Christ returns. Knowledge of this doesn’t necessarily make my pain any easier to face, but it is the truth, and when in pain it is good to know it’s common to humans.
Chronic pain–pain that does not end–makes me want to hide. However, one friend asked me, “Where do you run to?” People have a tendency to run to drugs, alcohol, anger. They push away the very people who love them the most. Where do I run? When I am devastated, in pain, and I want to run, I open the Psalms. In the third Psalm, David cries out about his enemies all about him. However, he reminds himself: “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” (Ps 3:3-4). Somehow the picture of God putting a finger under my chin and lifting my head gives me great comfort when I am in terrible pain.
Pain sometimes screams so loudly that it is the most important thing in the room. So I occupy myself with something else. An old (funny) movie, a light-reading book, a puzzle or deck of cards will distract me well enough that soon I am thinking about something other than this dratted pain.
Pain has taught me to accept help. This may sound odd, but I am very good at giving, but not too good at receiving. Are you ill? Need a meal? Need me to sit with you? I’m there. But when I need help and someone offers, I am embarrassed or insistent that I can do it myself. However, a good friend has patiently taught me to sit still and accept the help that is offered. In fact, allowing myself to be served is allowing the body of Christ to do what it should be doing.
Here’s what a pastor just posted to his blog about suffering and pain:
Another purpose that trials can serve is preparing us to comfort those who will suffer in similar ways in future. Paul writes in 2 Cor 1:3-4, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Pain trains us to help others who suffer. Who can serve a parent who has lost a child better than another parent who has lost a child? Who can come alongside one enslaved to a besetting sin more effectively than another who has struggled with the same issue? When we go through that training ground, we are actually getting the same instruction Christ did – He is able to help us because He endured all the trials and temptations of we have. When [we] use our experience to help others, we follow in His footsteps.
Most importantly, I learn how to cling ever closer to my Lord and Savior. I cannot heal myself. I don’t know if I will see an end to my pain in this life–I hope I do. But I know who is my Redeemer, and I know that He will restore me one day. And I can share that knowledge with others who suffer too. Somehow pain doesn’t scream so loudly when I focus on someone other than myself.