Chronic Pain — Hot Links 12/11/18

I’ve been away from my blog for a while.  It wasn’t a planned break, just the result of an unusually busy time colliding with holiday trips and such.  Anyway, I hope that you had a good Thanksgiving and are ready for Christmas…oh, and 2019 is around the corner!

But I’ve been doing some reading and I want to share with you.  Here are some of the latest links relevant to chronic pain and faith:  

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The God Who Reverses Our Pain

Jesus gives a memorable parable in Luke 16 and it is striking that it is the only parable where a character is given a name.  Normally, Jesus’ parables included a simple description of a character, a Samaritan, a son, a father, a farmer, etc.  So, it is striking to read about “Lazarus” in Luke 16 and he appears opposite another unnamed character simply described as a “rich man.”

Later in the parable, both Lazarus and the rich man have reached their afterlife and they find themselves in opposite circumstances to each other and to what they were accustomed to in life.

The rich man is in torment and experiences an unquenchable thirst.  He looks across a gulf and sees Lazarus by Abraham’s side and begs for Lazarus to dip his finger in the water and be allowed to place it upon the rich man’s tongue.  Lazarus is not permitted to relieve the rich man because of the chasm between them, but also because their opposite circumstances reflect divine judgment.  Abraham tells the rich man, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”  rich man and lazarus

Lazarus had suffered greatly in life.  He was infested by sores on his body and had suffered such humiliation that even dogs licked his sores.  All of this is happening in full view of the rich man who enjoys his life of luxury without a second thought for Lazarus.  The message of Jesus’ parable is not hard to discern.  To ignore the suffering of others while indulging in luxury is a damnable offense.  If we will not take pity on others, then we will not experience pity in the life to come.

There’s another aspect of this parable, though, I believe is important.  It is concerning what God does for Lazarus.  Though it is a parable, there have always been a lot of Lazarus’ in the world.  Lazarus is someone who likely suffered from some kind of chronic condition, and in his world compromised health meant poverty, and poverty meant a life of begging.  And there may have been many times that Lazarus wondered if God cared about him and why God had allowed these things to happen to him.  God might have seemed disturbingly silent when he cried out to God for help.

And yet here is Lazarus at Abraham’s side being comforted for eternity.  Lazarus is enjoying a glorious new reality that far outweighs his suffering for the few years he was on earth.  Suffering is never easy.  Pain is still pain.  In the midst of it, it seems never-ending.  The story of Lazarus is a good reminder that pain is not eternal, at least, it doesn’t have to be.  God will remedy all that was wrong in our lives in the life to come.  God didn’t forget Lazarus even when everyone else did.  He knew his name and knows yours too.  welcome home

I am not saying that suffering is an automatic ticket to heaven.  By the way, being a rich man (or woman) is not an automatic ticket to hell (thank God!).  Eternal life is a gift given through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial offering of himself on our behalf.

I don’t know what you believe about Jesus, but what I hope is that if you are a person that is suffering in this life due to chronic pain, illness, and other agonies, that you realize that there is a God who comforts.  We have a God who restores.  Even in this life, the one who suffered more than all (Jesus) will walk with you.  But let’s not forget that none of us have to suffer forever.  Our God reverses our plight and gives us a glory that will one day make us forget our pain.  As the apostle Paul once wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

 

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Chronic Pain Hot-Links 11/7

For this week’s hot-links, I wanted to share a blog that is specifically for those who are loving/supporting someone with chronic illness.  Let’s look a great blog with many compassionate and helpful posts.  https://calledtowatch.com/.

This next one is a typical list of new things you have to come to grips with when you have a chronic illness.  It seems a little bleak, but the ending makes it worth it, reminding us that we are not our illness.  https://thoughtcatalog.com/brittney-lindstrom/2017/12/7-things-no-one-tells-you-about-life-after-youre-diagnosed-with-a-chronic-illness/?utm_term=brittney-lindstrom&utm_content=buffer3eff4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

This will be a light week for hot-links.  I read several other articles/posts but just didn’t find a lot worth passing on.  This last one I share because it illustrates the dangers of making people feel like their faith is defective if they are not healed through a season of prayer.  Obviously, that is not what this ministry emphasizes (healing in this life very well may not come, please see Should You Keep Praying For Healing? for my perspective).  This post is a cautionary tale of how faith can become a casualty of the combination of chronic illness and bad theology.  https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/122617868/posts/1228

Since we are light on links this week, I will leave my “devotional” thoughts from last night’s Broken and Mended support group meeting.  In these thoughts, I try to articulate a way for faith not only to survive but to deepen and grow in the midst of chronic pain.

From Broken and Mended Meeting on 11/6/18

It is not a new occurrence that sometimes people give up their faith in the midst of pain or grief.  Maybe they expected that believing in God would lead to an easier life.  Maybe they were exposed to some version of faith that promised health and wealth as long as you believed enough.  People who are exposed to such toxic theology, often feel abandoned by other believers and even God when suffering comes their way.  Or maybe they blame themselves, with the help of others, for their suffering.  If only I believed more…Maybe I’m being punished for not being good enough.

Of course, many people didn’t believe in God in the first place and suffering (personally and generally) is confirmation that there cannot be an all-powerful God and an all-loving God in this universe.  Suffering is definitely a challenge to your faith.  Or maybe we could say, “Suffering will show your faith for what it is.”

All people are welcome here, even people without faith.  People of other faiths are welcome as well.  The faith that this ministry embraces is faith in Jesus Christ, the one who suffered and died for us at the cross.  It is strange that some many “Christian” expressions of faith are so disconnected with the Jesus who suffered and who called upon his people to “pick up your cross and follow me.”  Jesus never promised a suffer-less experience.  He only promised to be with us and was convinced that ultimately that would be enough.

Authentic faith doesn’t need to deny suffering or even misery.  Authentic faith accepts reality.  If we are hurting, then that is reality.  But authentic faith doesn’t try to make the very existence of God dependent on living a life of ease!  God is much bigger than all of us, even the whole human race collectively.  He is intimately concerned about us, but he is also infinitely bigger than us.  God doesn’t cease to be just because you ceased to believe in him.  He wants you to believe in him because he really is there and can help you through your pain.  He can even use the fires of your pain to forge you into a deeper and impactful person.

Allow me to share a passage that helped me to see my painful experiences as meaningful, as something formative.  Rom. 5:1-5:

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

 I don’t mean to say that there are many days that I wished I just didn’t hurt.  Longing for a pain-free existence is natural and helps us to anticipate a better world to come in God’s kingdom.  But right now, I hurt.  And so, the question is “does my pain mean anything or not?”  If there is no god, then it is meaningless.  It has no redemptive power.  But if there is a God who loves me, who sent his Son to die for me, who is redeeming me, and who has given me a future, then my pain can even be useful in creating a heart for God and a heart for others.  It gives me the power to say that what I am experiencing will not be wasted.  We don’t often feel like glorying in our suffering, but we can in Christ.  Not for suffering’s sake, but for what suffering produces, perseverance, character, and hope.  Hope in God’s love that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Not only does my suffering not cancel out my faith, but it informs, deepens, and shapes my faith.  It makes me a better person, a person who sees the pain in each of you and feel the empathy we share as fellow pain warriors.  Let God make your pain count.  You are going to hurt either way; it is much better to hurt with God than without.

 

 

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Finding the Time For Rest When You Hurt

You have probably noticed that just because you struggle with chronic pain, doesn’t mean the world is going to stop for you.  Your parental responsibilities did not stop.  You probably still have a job.  Not only did the bills not cease, but they multiplied with more expensive medical needs.  Your lawn didn’t stop growing.  Your house didn’t clean itself.  You get the picture.  Responsibilities do not diminish with chronic pain and illness.  If anything, they increase.

Screenshot (6)

I think we can all relate to this, but is there another way?

Some of you have been disabled because of your illness or injury.  One day I will get a guest blogger to share their perspective.  That hasn’t been my experience.  Of course, I did have to take time off work for surgeries and other medical procedures.  I am a minister and my church was very understanding and supportive of my medical needs.  I preached, taught and kept every commitment I could, so that they would understand that if I told them that I couldn’t go, then I really meant it.  One Saturday night my back was hurting so bad that I was sure I was going to have call on someone to preach for me early Sunday morning.  I got just better enough to deliver the sermon that morning and I was thankful I could make my obligation.

But we can’t always do so.  We have to make adjustments.  We have to ask for others to make adjustments for us.  When you have chronic pain, every responsibility you have gets more difficult.  Besides the pain itself, there is the impact of fatigue.  Energy is at a premium.  There is the matter of mental health.  Additional stress and constant pain make you more susceptible to depression, or, at least, depressive-like moods.

You need rest.  You need time away from your obligations.  You need to create time and space for recharging.  Ask your spouse to give you an hour when you get home from work to lie down.  Tell your children you are going to take that bath on Saturday morning.  Allow yourself to say “no” to that party invitation because you know that you need some time.

We cannot successfully navigate the challenges of chronic pain and illness if we do not make some time to take care of ourselves.  It isn’t selfish.  In fact, taking breaks from your obligations can help make you more fully present when you re-engage with your family and friends, or you get back to that project you took an hour off from.

In truth, this is a lesson that all of humanity needs to recall:  The need for rest.  Rest is so important from God’s perspective, that the entire seventh day of creation is a day of rest for us.  Even God himself is said to have rested from his work on that day.  I know that God doesn’t literally tire, but he models for his creation the ethic of rest.  How much more do those who struggle with chronic pain need to make rest a priority?  

What you do with that rest is largely based on your convictions.  Christians can recall the times in Scripture when Jesus withdrew from the crowd to spend time on the mountain in prayer to his Father.  Spending some time with God in prayer is always beneficial.  However, you need time to take care of your body, and there’s nothing wrong with a night on your couch with your favorite book or watching your favorite movie.

The point is to give yourself permission to take care of you.  Surround yourself with family and friends (and even employers) who will support you in this endeavor, who trust you enough to know they get the best of you when you get some time for renewal and refreshment.

I am reminded of those Snicker’s commercials, where someone is acting in a way that is bizarrely and comically out of character for them.  Someone gives them a Snickers bar and they immediately transform back to themselves.  Who doesn’t like a Snickers!  I am pretty sure, though, that candy does not have those kinds of transformative powers!  But intentional and regular rest does.  Your life is hard enough and made harder by chronic pain.  If you don’t make time to take care of yourself, then your life might become overwhelming.

snickers

Some days you need more than a Snickers!

What is your best way of finding rest?  What are some ways of grasping at rest that are ultimately counterproductive?  (For example, I often try to take my “down time” late at night, after everyone has gone to bed.  I end up staying up too late and feel even worse the next morning).

 

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Hot Links — 10/24

I’m trying to keep up by reading what I can on chronic pain and faith each week.  I was out of town last weekend, so these are a little late in coming out, but here a few good links to check out.

This is an article from the spouse of someone in chronic pain as she explains their quest to make sense of it all and how they proactively handle their situation through faith in Christ.  It isn’t very long and definitely worth your time.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2018/october/disability-chronic-illness-i-found-hope-husbands-suffering.html

This next link is from a chronic pain blogging site that has no particular religious views as far as I can tell.  This post is a good sample of what they offer, usually personal stories that help people in chronic pain realize they are not alone.  This post has to do with accepting the limitations of chronic pain.

https://themighty.com/2018/01/accepting-limitations-ankylosing-spondylitis/?utm_content=buffer499b2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

A little poetry about finding strength in weakness.  This is so good.

https://www.paultripp.com/wednesdays-word/posts/weak

The last link is a Q&A with someone who has suffered horrendously for years and how she maintains her faith even when God does not intervene.  It is very good.

http://tanyamarlow.com/jenny-rowbory-suffering/?fbclid=IwAR3160s9mr0sRD6ZvmbKuxLVs2wSh_uIWScXMt_ThvosQb92yaQU3guIrVg

 

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A Place at the Table of Jesus

Great Banquet.jpg

Photo Credit:  http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Parable_of_the_Great_Banquet

Let me start by directing your attention to Jesus’ “Parable of the Great Banquet” and then I want to share a few thoughts about how Jesus’ message impacts those of us dealing with chronic illness.  From Luke 14:15-24 (NIV):

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Like it is always, in Jesus’ days there were the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  There were a lot of things that could leave you in the latter group: scandalous history, questionable religious pedigree, poverty, and most certainly disease.  If you found yourself unable to take care of yourself, you were reduced to a life of begging.  You were ignored and stigmatized.  Some even assumed that your ailment meant that God had punished you (cf. Jn. 9:1-2).  You certainly didn’t receive any invitations to an important man’s banquet.

Jesus’ parable fit the times well.  An important man is having a banquet and ostentatiously invites other well-to-do people, people with means and enough social mobility to be buying land, oxen, and marrying.  Each of them refuses the master’s invitation due to being consumed by their own self-important lives.  This enrages the master and he commands his servants to go all through the streets and find the “poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” and invite them to the master’s banquet.  The opportunity for those who refused the invitation has now passed.

Jesus gave this parable in response to a man who echoed the sentiment of his time.  They all looked forward to a great feast in God’s kingdom, a never-ending celebration inaugurated by the King, the Messiah.  The man said nothing wrong.  For it is true, “Blessed is the one who will eat the feast in the kingdom of God.”  But too many people made false assumptions about who got to eat at this feast for Jesus just to let that statement go unaddressed.

They assumed that the kingdom of God followed the same rules as kingdoms of the world.  The “haves” of this world were obviously blessed by God and would have the important seats at the banquet, or so they thought.  But this kind of people wouldn’t even recognize the invitation.  They were so overly occupied with their own lives that they missed the Master’s invitation.  They didn’t even recognize him and crucified him as a common criminal!

But “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame,” who have been cast aside by society, find themselves with an opportunity to be at the feast to end all feasts.  Their circumstances have humbled them and they are receptive to the master’s invitation.  This isn’t just any master; this is the King and the Messiah, and they find themselves invited to his table.  

The good news for those of us who struggle with chronic pain and illness should be obvious.  Our pain often sidelines us from doing the things we want.  We may literally have to turn down invitations because we hurt too much.  Others may just stop inviting us all together.  We can’t always “carpe diem” the way we used to or “just do it” as Nike tells us.  The world seems to be leaving us behind, but Jesus never will!  

Just Do It

This Is Not Always An Option

I am not suggesting that just because a person has suffered an unusual amount in this world that their ticket is automatically punched to Jesus’ never-ending feast, which is really about being in God’s kingdom forever.  It doesn’t work like that.  A person in pain can reject the invitation as well.  But it does mean that Jesus will not leave us behind.  It means we are invited!

One of Jesus’ big themes is a reversal of fortunes.  The people in this life who have a lot will lose everything in the life to come (see “The Rich man and Lazarus) if they do not know the King and live as compassionate citizens of the kingdom.  Those who have suffered and been cast outside will be greatly comforted and honored in the life to come, again, provided they have known and loved the King.

Our pain is not permanent.  Our place at Jesus’ table can be.  As the old hymn beckons, “All things are ready; come to the feast!”

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Chronic Pain “Hot Links” 10.13.18

I’m going to be writing one regular blog post a week (though I missed this week) and trying to put together “hot links” for the best articles/posts I read on chronic pain each week.  Normally, I may shoot for five links, but all three links below are long and worth your effort.  I’ll try to include some diversity in perspectives (medical community, personal stories, Christian perspective, etc).  Without further ado, here are this week’s hot links with a brief description.

  • There is a lot of overlap between chronic pain and mental illness.  In the case below, mental illness came first, but it is a heartbreaking and ultimately faith-encouraging personal story about a man’s battle with schizophrenia.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/schizophrenic.html?share=7ZtKUxgDLLU6XJTGugJYs%2b8RHSdE29GN

  • This story is not for the faint of heart.  It is a firsthand account of a sister lamenting the failures of the medical community that led to her brother’s suicide.  It is absolutely heartbreaking and demonstrates the consequences when people in chronic pain or marginalized, ignored, and stigmatized.

https://hudsonvalleydoctorskilledmybrother.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/suicide-over-pain-telling-my-brothers-story-because-he-cant/

The article below is a balanced perspective of the opioid crisis and its connection to chronic pain patients and also does a good job of describing our chronic pain problem throughout the nation.  The quote below underscores the need for support groups like our own “Broken and Mended” here.

  • “In the meantime, support groups like the ones led by Cowan and Steinberg can help, because it seems people with chronic pain mostly have to learn to live with it without help from modern medicine.”

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/america-is-losing-the-war-on-chronic-pain?utm_content=buffer46c06&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer#13

 

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