(This is part 2 of a 2 part posting about living with chronic pain. A brief description of my own struggle is at the end of this article.)
Recently a dear friend asked again, “you doing ok? Are you in pain?” I thought for a moment and responded softly, “I’m always in pain. Today is just a normal day though, thanks for checking on me.” I am grateful for my brothers and sisters who walk life with me and ask in general concern after my well-being. They are concerned and express that concern with love and compassion. I hope you have friends like mine. I hope you are aware of their struggles. I hope you know believers who will walk with you in an understanding way. My community of faith has loved me in ways unimaginable. IN order to encourage you to love others well, I’d like to share some of those ways below.
- They forgive my stubbornness and, at times, let me sit in my stubbornness. People who live with pain are often stubborn. We will not admit we need help and will frequently make things worse when we are struggling. That is why we need people around us who will overlook our stubbornness and on occasion, just let us be stubborn. I can remember a dear friend watching me struggle to work on a minor construction site. This brother simply told me, “Hey, you can sit down. We got this.” I responded by rolling my eyes and pushing through the pain. My friend chuckled to himself and just kept working alongside me until we finished. No judgment, no confrontation, just patiently waiting for me to recognize the absurdity of the entire scenario. Finally, I recognized my own foolishness and said, “thanks for working alongside me, bro. And thanks for looking out for me.” He didn’t hold my stubbornness against me, though it probably slowed him down. He forgave it and simply let me sit in my stubbornness until I was willing to admit my weakness.
- They are silent when it’s obvious that I’m hurting. As I said in part one, no one asks if you’re in pain when you’re curled up in a fetal position. They simply acknowledge the pain they see. However, my community does more than this. They remain silent when I am hurting and sit with me in the pain. As Job’s friends sat with him before speaking, so my community sits with me. They commiserate with me by simply being. A healthy community mourns together in times of despair, rejoices together in times of triumph, and engages in the trial of life together.
- They help without asking. As mentioned above, people who live with some sort of chronic pain tend to not ask for help. Pain is normative, so, in some weird way, it seems inappropriate to ask for help. My community simply sees the need and answers it. When members of the church have had difficult weeks our community rallies around them without asking permission. We take meals to one another, offer rides, and sometimes just bring a treat to the afflicted brother or sister. It’s beautiful. I remember one specifically difficult week when a church member, aware of my difficulties, just called and said, “Hey, can I come to get your older two kids and take them out for ice-cream?” The member saw my need, saw I was stressed and hurting, and then answered that need. I hope you have such a family of faith.
- They check on me regularly. I meet with several brothers one on one and in group settings each week. We ask one another how we are doing and how we can encourage each other. This is a basic reality of the Christian community. Often these brothers will intentionally ask how my foot, head, or hands have been lately. They want to know so that they can be in prayer for me, but they also want to know because they want to help where they can. They are prepared for me to mention a need or a struggle. They check in regularly because they know I will probably not mention anything. In doing this, they encourage me to be open and honest with my struggles and delight in the community.
- They treat me as though I am strong and allow me to be weak. My church family deals with me as though I am strong enough to overcome almost anything… but they understand that I cannot. They respect me as a leader and friend, so they let me lead and they do not challenge my every decision. Yet, when I am struggling they come alongside and offer aid without insisting on it. In this way they show me they believe in me. They inadvertently cheer me on. Their actions proclaim, “We know you can do it!” While simultaneously offering, “We are here if you need us!”
- They worship with me and point me to Christ. This is the most important gift my church gives me. They worship with me. They stand alongside me and sing, pray, preach, and disciple each other. They offer grace to one another. They care for one another. My community does not expect me to do all the work of ministry. They work right alongside me to serve others and spread the gospel.
If you struggle with chronic pain, what are some things your community does to help you? Put it in the comments.
A brief description of what I deal with:
I have a disease called “scleroderma.” Before you go googling, my type is called “Crest” and it is not systemic. At least not yet. Right now it is manifested primarily in my left foot and left sinus cavity/nostril.
The normal state of my ailment: On my foot, the skin is cracked, hardened, and dry. The nerve endings are especially sensitive, and I have a constant sense of strain in my foot. It feels a bit like a constant foot cramp in the toes and arch. In my nose/sinus, there is a constant hardened blister that occasionally pops and bleeds. I have a pretty consistent and normative mild head-ache. It feels like I was hit in the face thirty minutes ago. You know… not as bad as when you’re hit right away, but a residual ache. My left-hand doesn’t close like it should, I have difficulty gripping things or opening bottles, and it occassionally (rarely) hurts.
When I have a “flare-up” – in my foot, I limp and have what feels like shooting nerve pain. In my nose/sinus, I will get a severe migraine and won’t be able to focus (I’m told I preach really well when I have one of these! I’m pretty good at hiding when I don’t feel good.)
So that’s me… I wanted to be clear, this is not the same kind of debilitating pain that some struggle with. It is not cancer, I am not near death. It is not as difficult as my friends who struggle with spinal issues, MS, cancers, and the like. They deal with much more pain than I do. So please, encourage them. For me, though this thing hurts, I am not crushed by it as some people are by greater afflictions. Thanks for listening. Now, go and encourage the people in your life who struggle with chronic pain.