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.
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.
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).