Lamenting Travel Loss

I became heavily involved in a mission’s organization when I was 23. Before that I had hardly traveled anywhere, especially out of country. Then for six straight years I went overseas for extended periods of time, mostly in Asia. One summer I was gone for two and a half months to Singapore, Malaysia, Micronesia, and Japan. I loved it!

I discovered that I was pretty culturally adaptable and more fascinated by different cultures than intimidated. After I left my work for that organization, I went on additional trips to Brazil, Japan, and Thailand over the years. But chronic pain came for my love of travel in 2015.

I was fulfilling a long time desire by going to Shanghai, my first trip to China. The problem was that my ankylosing spondylitis was at an all-time worst. I could gut it out everyday at work, and I honestly hoped that the excitement of the trip and joy of traveling with my best friend, Chris Blair (along with another good friend and elder, Jim Chandler) would override concerns about pain. I was painfully wrong.

The fifteen hour flight to Shanghai were 15 of the most miserable hours of my life. When we finally arrived, I was so stiff that my hips were screaming out in pain with every step (and we walked a lot). The hips got better in a few days, but then every moment I sat in the coffee shop reading the story of Jesus with Chinese nationals was agonizing.

Honestly, when I think of that Shanghai trip, I normally remember the good things. Chris was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2019. So, I can never regret that trip, but I wondered if I could ever muster up the desire to go again.

“Birthday Party” in Shanghai. Chris and I are on the far right.

Not all is lost. I got better. I went to Recife, Brazil in 2019 and did much better than Shanghai. But I was recently reading a book that encouraged intentional travel (something more thoughtful than mere tourism), and it brought me to tears. I realized for the first time how much something that I loved was taken from me. I honestly would rather just stay home than even take short trips most of the time. Not only is pain a factor, but so is fatigue.

If you are reading this and you don’t have chronic pain, please learn to be understanding of your friends and loved ones in chronic pain. When they tell you they can’t go, they mean it, even if it is just an outing on the town. Sure, sometimes we can push through fatigue and pain to do something, but it is always costly.

My wife and I with kids at an orphanage in Recife, Brazil (2019)

I asked our Facebook group about their travel loss due to chronic pain. I gave several options but 72% chose this statement, “I loved to travel before chronic pain and my desire and ability to do so has been curtailed significantly.” Granted, it is a small sample size (even for our group), but I believe that a similar percentage would be found among chronic pain patients in general.

One respondent added, “It is a major loss” in the comments. I have to agree. Anytime that an illness and/or pain takes some joy from you so much that it even alters your desire to engage in that formerly joyful activity, it is worthy of lament. It is necessary to grieve a loss like this. Lament helps us to come to terms with what chronic illness and pain have cost us.

You might feel better some day, but you will probably still be skeptical that you can enjoy the trip without difficulty. The fact is that our losses are real losses. And the only thing short of complete healing in this life that can restore them is a “new heaven and a new earth.” Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

About David Heflin

I blog about topics related to the Christian faith and the struggle of chronic pain. I have ankylosing spondylitis and have dealt with chronic pain since 2011. I hope to provide support and community for those going along that same journey with me.
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