NOTE: This is an article written by my wife Sandie. I wanted to let her share my space here on Prodigal because she has an amazing story, and I wanted you to hear it.
If life is the classroom, God is the teacher.
Over the last six years He’s given me advanced instruction in coping with chronic pain. Any pain is difficult, but chronic pain makes everything a chore. Activities I would otherwise take for granted I found myself unable to do. Going for a walk, washing my hair, riding in a car, tossing a frisbee, even opening a door became unbearable at times.
Touch me in the wrong way and I might collapse on the floor in tears.
All of us are faced with pain of some type during our lifespan.
It can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or often all three. But when it’s chronic, the disruption of life, devastation of joy, and destructive power of the pain is magnified. If you were to place a tiny stone in your shoe and leave it there, you will feel crazy in no time.
Imagine dealing with severe pain for weeks, months or years. You never know when, or even if, it will end.
My own journey with chronic pain started about six years ago during softball season when I began to notice sharp pain in my feet. I had developed a condition called plantar fasciitis. In some people this is resolved relatively easily, but mine continued for almost two years. Whenever I’d get out of bed in the morning I felt like I was walking on glass, so I would actually crawl to the bathroom because it hurt too much to walk.
About the same time my feet were healing, I developed another condition called adhesive capsulitus or “frozen shoulder.” For about two years both my shoulders throbbed and any arm movement caused sharp, stabbing pain. This tested my endurance and challenged my sanity —
but there was more to come.
During a daylong car ride I first experienced a pain which, in the words of my doctor, is the “cursed visitor.” He aptly described my sciatic nerve pain as the feeling of “a hot poker on your butt.” Just sitting, while in the car, or at church, movies, mealtimes or work, this pain threatened to drive me crazy.
It affected my whole life.
My body seemed intent on attacking me with one disorder after another. They overlapped just enough that I had very few pain free days during that six year stretch of my life.
I consulted with various doctors and health care practitioners. I was especially determined to find a non surgical, non steroidal solution. One orthopedist with whom I shared my concerns said rather haughtily, “I don’t even think you are going to get better. You are heading down the road to surgery.”
He came to be known around our house as “Dr. Hope Destroyer.”
Chronic pain is a difficult curriculum. There is no doubt I would have despaired had it not been for my strong conviction that life is indeed God’s classroom. He will instruct me if I am willing to listen and learn. Here are just a few things I believe God has taught me through my pain.
My life is God’s story, not my own.
God, the author of my life “story,” knows great stories involve crises needing resolutions. While this is not the story I would write for myself, I believe that only by trusting Him to author my part in His story will I ever receive “healing” of any type. It is both the road to His glory and to my ultimate satisfaction. This is a profound truth and a challenge I’m willing to accept.
Difficulty will lead me either to dependence or despair.
I have come to see that God cares too much for me to let me depend on myself. I’ve lived long enough to know that any story ending with me depending on myself will inevitably end in despair. On the other hand, pain is my reminder to put my trust in Him alone. The more I do, the more I experience real joy and thankfulness.
Navigating life’s pain requires a delicate balance of hope and acceptance.
Hope involves always reaching forward, putting my trust in God, no matter what direction my temporary circumstances point. Acceptance is about finding contentment in the moment. I want the experience of Paul, who, writing from prison, was able to say confidently to the Philippians “I have learned to be content in any circumstance.”
In my situation I cultivated hope by believing God would provide a way forward for me. I was open to many possible solutions. I also worked at surrounding myself with a community of hopeful people. I never went back to see Dr. Hope Destroyer. Instead, I found a group of positive practitioners who encouraged me and worked hard to find creative solutions for my pain.
To gain contentment, I practice yielding all of who I am (including my thoughts, feelings, and responses) to the One who has demonstrated so clearly His love and care for me. I’ve kept journals throughout this ordeal.
As I recall what God has done it regularly brings me to tears of thankfulness.
Hope and acceptance is such a delicate balance. If I put too much stock in hope, it may come at the expense of acceptance when faced with setbacks. If I let myself become too accepting, I may lose hope altogether.
Insufficient hope can lead to discouragement and cynicism. When day after day I am faced with an unchanging pain I must remember that God is my ultimate hope and He has not forgotten me. He is present, even in my pain.
When my circumstances improve, I must remain vigilant to accept that it may not always remain that way.
A failure of acceptance can lead to lack of joy when life is difficult, and a lack of genuine thankfulness when life is good. Balancing hope and acceptance is a tool that helps me cope with chronic pain.
What is the pain in your story, and what have you learned from dealing with it?
[photo: drweisgerber, Creative Commons]