Saturday, December 10, 2016
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ― C.S. Lewis
In Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:3-5) he writes, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” These words are a comfort to both Karen and me as we both suffer from chronic pain almost twenty-four hours a day. On a scale of one to ten, mine’s about a five or six while Karen’s is about an eight or nine depending on the time of day. We ask for no sympathy even though for us, as for most chronic pain sufferers, the pain is invisible. We use no crutches, have no bandages, and look okay on the outside, but are just like over 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain—that’s about a third of the entire population. You work with, eat with, go to church with, and are friends with silent sufferers if you are not one yourself. We need more sleep than most as chronic pain sufferers must accept the need to adjust our lifestyle to accommodate more rest. We must fight to get the best restorative sleep possible. We are not lazy, far from it, but frequent sleep allows us to continue working to serve God. One of the biggest challenges for us pain sufferers is the matter of hope and faith. When we suffer problems, we often hope they will go away. And when they do not, or only get marginally better, it can be easy to slide into despair. Despair usually is the result of things not going the way we hoped or expected they would. Part of dealing with chronic pain is grieving what is lost in order to accept–even enjoy–what strength and health we do have. Without hope, we lose what self-efficacy we once had, thus not doing the basic care-taking activities within our grasp. Paul tells us that hope is just part of the process from suffering to character to hope. Our faith is not that things will go our way right now but that God is in control, cares/protects us, and is working for our ultimate redemption–even when the opposite seems to be true. Faith is our acting in a manner consistent with hope even while grieving over real losses of the inability to stand, walk, or work for more than ten or twenty minutes at a time. Such faith enables us to be mindful of our thoughts so that we do not practice beliefs counter to what we have come to know as true. God is good, all the time, and maybe only the true sufferers really understand that. We ask God for relief, we stay in community with others, we seek relief through human means yet we have an attitude of waiting on the Lord. We, through our pain, see that in the midst of our pain, God is there and providing help. We need not act as if the pain were nothing but will look for and rejoice in 5% improvement, 10% more comfort, etc, rather than demanding complete healing as the determinant as to whether God is present with us in our distress. We know, as so many chronic pain sufferers have discovered, that God will give us the strength to work through our pain to attain His goals. We would be poor disciples indeed, if the pain in our joints, feet, knees, and so many other places were to stop us from feeding orphans, starting preschools, expanding the Kingdom by training pastors, beginning new churches, and providing clean, safe water to drink. We may not be able to do as much of the work ourselves as we used to do, but we can see that it continues—and we do. Do not pity us, reread Romans 5: 3-5 and know that God’s love has been poured into our hearts. I’ve only been talking here about physical pain, but everything I’ve said is also true of emotional pain from the death of a child, a horrendous divorce, a betrayal by a friend, or any of so many other ways we get hurt in non-physical ways. Pain, as Paul explains, is a matter of perspective. You can let it reduce you to becoming almost worthless, or you can triumph over it and serve God and others in the process. Look for all you can do and do not dwell only on what you can’t. Do remember to be kind to all because you may not know the invisible pain the person next to you is suffering. We, Karen and I, are in this fight to the end, so pray for us and all those who struggle through chronic pain to lighten the loads of others. It’s what Christ has called all who truly follow Him to do.