Category Archives: Pain and suffering

Lessons from Job

My signature has changed.

That may not sound like much, but if you think about it, it’s pretty significant. I have lived with such tremendous pain for several months, that several physical changes have resulted.

Some are (I hope) temporary. Like the long-term dizziness and brain fog I’m experiencing. The fog kept me from reading too much at one time, or even finishing my thoughts completely. My family and friends have begun to finish my sentences for me in conversations.  (I actually typed a partial sentence here and couldn’t remember what I meant to say…)

The dizziness keeps me from walking too much, too quickly. Does pain make you dizzy? I guess it does, because drugs or no drugs, my head spins at unexpected times. That is ebbing away this past week, so I hope that the worst of my dizzy days are behind me.

Now for my signature. Chronic pain changes so many things. My strength is gone; stamina too. Holding a pen or pencil is an exercise in pain. When I need to sign a form at a doctor’s office or a charge at a store, I notice how jumpy my signature is. I no longer have the ability to control that pen the way I used to, and I do not recognize my own handwriting. Take notes in church? Forget it. This from the woman who is a writer, who has lived with a callous on the middle finger of her writing hand since high school. Pain has changed nearly everything. Nearly.

On those forms I need to fill out for each new doctor I visit, I must answer myriad questions about what my pain is like. Has your appetite changed? Your sleeping habits? Your temperament? Are you depressed? Talk about writer’s cramp. I could say a lot, but since I can’t hold a pen long, I must be brief.

Nearly everything has changed, as I said. I’ve lost a lot of weight, about which I do not complain. I had been only sleeping 1-2 hours at a time, until the doctor relented and gave me some drugs to help me sleep. Now I can make it until pain wakes me up at 5 or 5:30.

Depressed? Indeed. Wouldn’t you be depressed if you lived with unrelenting pain, 24/7? Depression is something I never thought I’d succumb to, but here I am. I can identify with Job, who lamented the day he was born. He sat in the ashes and scraped his sores, feeling sorry for himself. And who could blame him?

As for the temperament question, I asked friends and family if I had become irritable or if they had noticed my mood changed. No, they all agreed, but you are low in spirit. Again, who could blame me? But I am glad I haven’t given in to beating up on the people I love the most. Nor have I cursed God. Job’s wife told him to “curse God and die,” something he never gave in to.

Job lost everything. First his property, then his family, and finally his health. In all of it, Job never lost his faith. He lamented loudly, cursed the day he was born, wished that God would just end his misery (but never contemplated ending his own life), and debated with his friends over the cause of suffering. Yet he knew, in the depth of his soul, that God is good and that God is his redeemer.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

I began learning from Job when I was 15. Then my dad was in an irreversible coma, and we existed in a black wasteland, awaiting word that his body had finally given up. I lamented, naturally, and a family friend told me to read Job. Not many people can tell you that Job saved them, but I believe that God put me right in the middle of Job again and again over the next few years. He strengthened my faith while I watched Job’s tormented cries. He reassured me when I read God’s answer to Job and his friends. I loved seeing Job hang tenaciously on to his faith, despite what his friends said or did, and despite what state his tormented mind and body was in.

I’m reading Job again, which should not surprise those closest to me. This time I’m digging into the footnotes and commentary in the Lutheran Study Bible. Luther said something amazing:

When faith begins, God does not forsake it; He lays the holy cross on our backs to strengthen us and to make faith powerful in us… Where suffering and the cross are found, there the Gospel can show and exercise its power. It is a Word of life. Therefore it must exercise all its power in death. In the absence of dying and death it can do nothing, and no one can become aware that it has such power and is stronger than sin and death.

Again, another footnote from the Lutheran Study Bible, regarding Job 3, provides some encouragement:

Even the most optimistic people will reach despair when overwhelmed by pain and suffering, as the examples of prisoners of war demonstrate. The mind snaps just as bones do. Scripture does not teach that death is a friend to those who suffer–death is always an enemy (1 Cor 15:26), but one overcome by the Lord. Commend those who despair to Jesus, who likewise cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) and rose from the dead to say, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21).

So just as in my teens I found solace in Job, and agreed with him that “my Redeemer lives,” and in my 20s when I lost a baby and despaired, now in this stage of my life when I am living through the most difficult pain I have ever experienced, I can still say with Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). Why can I say that? Because I lean on a verse from my other “favorite” book of the Bible, John. “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). I am His, firmly in His grip.

So my signature has changed. Many things have changed for me. Maybe I won’t be able to live the same way I had before this chronic pain has taken over. But one thing I know for sure: my God is good. “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:22-26). I have learned that my suffering is not all about me; this is not my story. It is God’s.

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Learning from pain

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.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Health, Pain and suffering