Pain Pushes Us to Our Limits
I don’t think anyone would argue the statement that we, as women, juggle a lot. By nature, God created us to be helpers and nurturers. We are amazing multi-taskers and, more often than not, we end up putting the needs of others above our own.
So it’s not surprising to me that one of the questions that women most frequently ask me is, “How do I continue to ____ well while living in chronic pain?” I’ll let you fill in the blank for yourself, but being a 30-something young mom, many women I interact with, fill in that blank with “mother” or “love your husband/kids.” Maybe you’re single and your blank would be filled in with “serve” or “work.” Or possibly, your children are all grown and your spouse has passed away, and your blank is completed with “finish my life.”
Key Behaviors in the Struggle Against Chronic Pain
Pain complicates things. It pushes us to our outermost limits and can reveal the worst of our sinful nature. But I’m guessing, none of us want to be known or remembered by how cranky we can get? I know I don’t. Thankfully, as believers in Jesus Christ, we know that God can use even the worst circumstances in our life for good and our sinfulness doesn’t have to define us!
Pain and Self-Guilt
As I’ve struggled for my entire life with chronic pain, I’ve experienced over and over again how ugly of a person it can make me, but I’ve also found some key behaviors that have helped turn that ugliness around.
1. Ask God to impress on your heart what you do and don’t need to ask forgiveness for. Pain can produce in us a great sense of self-guilt over things that we should not be feeling guilty about. God’s Spirit and Word can help us discern what is self-induced guilt and what is true guilt over sin that we need to ask for forgiveness for. For example, self-guilt may lead me to believe I need to ask my daughter for forgiveness because I was in too much pain to accompany her class on a field trip, which she was disappointed about. Yes, it’s something we should talk about and her feelings are legitimate, but I have not truly sinned against her. However, if I get frustrated and say something to her that hurts her feelings, simply because I’m frustrated with the constant pain I’m in, then that is something I need to apologize both to her and God for.
Communicate About Your Pain
2. Communicate about your pain to those you interact with and those you love. I realize that we all have different comfort levels when it comes to sharing about our health. I (obviously) am open to sharing quite a bit with whoever will listen. Sometimes, however, I find I am not actually communicating as much as I need to for the people around me to understand my needs. Occasionally this is because I assume that they should know (by this point) exactly how I’m feeling and thinking. Other times, it’s because I do not want to sound like I’m always complaining about the pain I’m in. But one truth about chronic pain is that it varies in intensity from day-to-day and the people who love us, need help understanding that. Especially if it is suffering that is unseen. Again, let me give an example. One day I may wake up feeling pretty good physically. Since I’m having a “good” day with my pain, I’ll unload the dishwasher, do a few loads of laundry, run errands, cook dinner, etc. The next day, however, I may wake up with pressure in my head and every nerve and muscle in my body aching to the point where it is a chore to just get out of bed. As the day goes on, I won’t explain how I’m feeling, but instead get frustrated that no one is helping with things around the house. But why should they? Yesterday, I did do everything and so I have to communicate (not complain) why things are different today.
Start with Prayer
3. And last, on the days where you feel like it is going to be near impossible to love or serve anyone, because of the pain you find yourself in, start your day with serious prayer. Ask God to be strong when you are weak. He will give you exactly what you need for that day. I promise you that He will. It’s usually on my most painful days that friends will tell me I look the most beautiful. I can assure you that it’s not because of the makeup (although that certainly helps), but rather Christ’s love shining through me.
No matter where you find yourself on the daily spectrum of trying to live and love well in the midst of chronic pain, give yourself permission to lean into the power and presence of your compassionate Savior. You can surrender you pain, emotions, fragility, and brokenness all to Him—resting in His promises to shine through you—even on your darkest days.
*First published in Just Between Us magazine, Spring, 2017 issue. Used with permission.
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Adriana Hayes is a freelance illustrator, professor, writer, and speaker who finds joy in helping others discover how God can bring “chronic hope” into their lives. She lives in Milwaukee, Wis., with her husband, Chris, and daughter, Promise.
Photo courtesy of Robyn Vining Photography.