Should You Keep Praying For Healing?

prayer

I can think of few things that are more personal than how a person prays about their struggles.  While I would not want to tell anyone how to pray, I do want to share from my own personal experience with prayer, in the midst of chronic illness and pain.

One of the early struggles I faced after my diagnosis is how fervently to pray for healing, and then as the months and years rolled by, how long to keep praying for healing.  If I gave up that prayer, then what?  What do I pray now for concerning my illness?  I’m interested in your own approach to these questions because, truthfully, I’ve never really talked about this in detail with anyone.

When the pain starts and the medical journey for answers begins, you usually pray and ask for prayers that the solution will be identified and the problem only temporary.  The first time I heard a doctor mention ankylosing spondylitis I prayed that he was wrong.  When the diagnosis was confirmed by a rheumatologist, I was shocked.  How could I get my mind around dealing with a lifetime illness?

My prayers focused on how to deal with that new reality but soon turned to asking God to heal me completely.  Already my problems had resulted in my first hip surgery and having to give up Taekwondo and running.  I didn’t want to give up even more.  The uncertainty of my future was bewildering and a reality check in human frailty.

I also understood there was no cure for ankylosing spondylitis and that asking God to take it away was literally asking for a miracle.  True miracles, I believe, are rare by definition.  I admit I struggled with asking God for something that I knew that others needed more.  I asked him but I’m not sure my heart was always in it.

As time went by, I settled on praying for less pain and being able to deal with my illness.  I entertained the idea of remission instead of full healing, but instead, my pain increased and completely new symptoms emerged.  I began to ask God to help get me through whatever task I had that day and to just help me cope.  Not only was the physical pain worsening but I became concerned about my mental health.

I want you to know that I do believe that God hears and responds to our prayers.  I believe he does miracles when it suits him.  However, my prayer life has changed a lot from those early days.  I still ask God to lessen my symptoms and to help me cope but I now also pray for God to use my pain.  I accepted, along the way, that full healing, at this point in my life, was not in God’s plans.  I might one day return to a season of fervent prayer for healing, but for now, I hear God’s answer to Paul echoed in my own life, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  

I don’t want my chronic illness to go to waste just because I didn’t get I what I most instinctively wanted.  I can’t tell you how to pray about this very personal journey with God and your suffering.  Your prayers have and will probably change over the course of your journey.  Perhaps, the most important thing is that you just don’t stop praying.  

 

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Can There Be Purpose In Pain?

Purpose in Pain

If you had never experienced longterm illness before you can’t relate to the concept of getting sick but not getting better or being injured but never healing.  As the weeks, months, and years roll by and you are still in pain, that new reality becomes entrenched.

But early on, before you have even learned to cope with it all, some well-meaning person, who knows nothing of what you are going through has probably quipped, “This is all in God’s plan.”  Or maybe they tried to point out that God has a purpose for you in your suffering.

It would be better if people kept those kinds of glib remarks to themselves.  The first thing that people need to know about God when they are in pain is not that God has a plan or that it is his will for them to suffer.  First, they just need to know that God cares, that God is with them in their suffering.  The best way a hurting person can experience the comfort of God is for a friend who loves them to walk alongside them and resist the urge to fix their new lifelong problem with spiritual platitudes.

Of course, our friends being less like Job’s friends (we will talk about them another day) does not answer an important question.  Is their purpose in my suffering?  And for the believer, “Does God have a purpose in my suffering?”  At some point, you probably become ready to ask that question.  A good friend who has been on this journey with you could even help you consider that question when you are ready.

My problems started in 2011.  I was having surgery and receiving life-altering diagnoses in 2012.  By 2013, the situation was looking pretty serious and I found myself at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  Over that two and half year stretch, I would not have been able to give you an answer for God’s purpose in my pain, even if I had been ready to ask it.  I’m sure I did ask it because it is my nature to ask such questions, but any answers would have been grasping at straws in an emotionally confusing time.

By 2014, things had stabilized and I began to see God use my suffering to better empathize with others in my ministry.  Maybe more importantly, I became more transparent with my congregation and allowed them to come alongside me on this journey.  Many people who loved me had been hurting with me all along the way, but my own self-pity had prevented me from seeing it.

We experience pain and suffering of all kinds in this life, whether we see a purpose in it or not.  We can choose to see our pain as pointless or we can choose to see our pain as accomplishing something for us.  A passage that became very meaningful to me is Romans 5:1-5.  Paul, who knew a lot about suffering, wrote that we glory in our sufferings, but not just for the sake of suffering.  We glory in our sufferings because of what our sufferings produce.  Sufferings produce perseverance; perseverance produces character and character produces hope! 

I can say that without a doubt that Paul’s admonition has been proven true in my life.  Suffering is not primarily about accomplishing some greater plan that you wouldn’t have accomplished without it.  We can’t even really give a satisfactory answer for the reason for our sufferings, but we can point to what it produces in us.  

Experiencing pain for the last seven years has made me a better person.  It has caused me to develop more patience, humility, and as Paul says, perseverance.  Pain has made me a deeper and more empathetic person.  And yes, it has motivated me to start this ministry, but this ministry is the byproduct of the character that is being formed in me.

You don’t have to come up with some greater plan to justify the reason behind your pain.  But there is an opportunity to appreciate the better person you are becoming because of your pain.  That process is not automatic.  It happens in partnership with the Holy Spirit and a loving community around you.  Today, you may not be ready to hear this, but maybe one day you will.  Eventually, I was ready.

 

 

 

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Broken And Mended

I want to take a moment to introduce a new ministry that I’m calling “broken and mended” (hence the new domain name for this blog).  You can read about the decision to change the focus of this blog and a little about my personal story here or a condensed version on my “about” page here.

One of the challenges I have had with getting started should be one of the simplest tasks of all…choosing a name for my ministry supporting those in chronic pain.  I couldn’t come up with anything besides the uninteresting, if informative, “chronic pain support ministry.”

A little flash of inspiration finally came my way from the book Kiss the Wave by David Furman.  Kiss the wave Furman, who struggles with severe chronic pain and disability, described the Japanese art of Kintsugi as a metaphor for finding meaning in chronic pain.  Kintsugi is the art of mending broken pottery by filling the seams of brokenness with gold, silver, or platinum.  The result is that the brokenness becomes the most unique and beautiful part of the piece.

That really resonated with me.  Maybe it is because I have been to Japan six different times, but I never really noticed Kintsugi before, not particularly anyway.  Maybe it was something deeper.  I know that I am a better person and better ministerkintsugigrigia1

because of my struggle with chronic pain.  It is in that brokenness that I have experienced God’s mending.  In that mending, God’s beauty shines through.

I wouldn’t choose this disease.  You probably wouldn’t choose yours either.  But I also couldn’t imagine trading what I’ve gained in my relationship with God or the ability he has given me to empathize with the suffering of others.  My pain humbles me and forces me to depend on God much more.  And when anyone talks about hurting every day, I experience deep emotions for the sake of that person that I could have never experienced before.

No one chooses to be broken when it comes to chronic pain, but God mends that brokenness into something even more beautiful. How has God’s mending shown up in your brokenness?

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Chronic Pain and a New Purpose

I’ve decided to re-purpose this blog–a new name will eventually come with the new purpose.  My last post has been over three years ago.  Originally, I wanted to write a blog advocating for consistent theology in a changing world.  I was bothered declining biblical literacy and the lack of theological fluency. I don’t mean for that to sound arrogant.  My own biblical literacy and theology always need to grow, but it disturbed me how many professing Christians did not even try to articulate their various views from a Christian perspective.  I thought that maybe this blog space could make a little contribution to theological soundness and maybe it did at times.

But I got burnt out on that mission, because there was always another issue, another news story that needed to be addressed.  In busy times, I couldn’t muster the motivation to keep things going on my end.

About two years ago, a plan began to develop not only for this blog but an entirely new ministry.  I will elaborate on that new ministry later on.

I have struggled in knowing how much to share about a deeply personal matter.  I’ve talked about it from the pulpit when I thought it was appropriate, but have never wanted to linger on it for too long lest it appears I’m pining for attention or pity.  Someone always has it worse; I would tell myself, and that’s true enough.  But I’ve decided that trying to keep my struggle to myself is actually more selfish that talking about it.  I cannot help anyone if I remain silent.  I cannot receive mutual encouragement from others if I’m closed off.

In some ways when a struggle is new you don’t know what to say anyway.  When you are first diagnosed and suffering from a chronic disease confusion rules the day.  How are you supposed to feel when you experience pain, fatigue, and physical limitations on a daily basis?  Before all of this started for me, I had never had an injury that didn’t get better quickly.  So, how honest should you be when you are asked, “How are you feeling?” and you get tired of giving the same answer every day?

My story progressed from what I thought was a simple hip injury in Taekwondo (2011) to the point of having nerves burned in my back because the pain was so unrelenting (2016).  Those hip injuries (both hips) led to two surgeries and further discoveries about a more sinister underlying cause.  I remember the first x-ray on my hips and the report mentioning an arthritic bone spur.  I remember well the puzzled look on my first orthopedic surgeon when he saw the x-rays of my hips and said that “something is not right” and again I heard the word “arthritis.”  And then my actual surgeon who first mentioned the word “ankylosing spondylitis,” (AS) when viewing the x-rays.

AS Image

Spine with Ankylosing Spondylitis

An early test came back negative and put it out of my mind, but I still had to follow-up with a rheumatologist after my first hip surgery.  She wasn’t in the room with me for five minutes before she told me and my wife that I had AS.  I knew a guy from our church who had that disease, though I didn’t know fully what it meant.  I had never seen anyone in more pain than him.  When I confirmed with his wife that what the doctor told me was the same as what he had, she lamented, “Oh, David, please tell me you don’t have that.”

But I did have that.  Fortunately, my situation was not as bad as his and the treatments are much better today, but I wasn’t all the way down the rabbit hole yet.  It was August of 2012 when I was diagnosed.  By the Summer of 2013, I began to have significant gastrointestinal issues.  I already had two close family members with Crohn’s, but tests said I had something even rarer.  I had eosinophils (white blood cells that react to allergens) in places they were not supposed to be, a potentially life-threatening matter.  I was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, near the end of 2013.

Thankfully, the worst concerns turned out to be unwarranted.  My G.I. symptoms were responsive to medicines, but the arthritic symptoms would always come back after a while on a new medicine.  The pain was usually present in my hips, even after surgery, and my lower back.  Soon sitting became the most difficult thing to do.  I would sit in my office and the pain would build all day.  All I could think about was going home and lying on my side. Besides my hips and back, my shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, knees, and feet hurt at different times.  Some part of my body was always in pain and the back pain worsened in 2015.

That year, I had hernia surgery (unrelated to all of this, though still not fun!) and then made a 15 hour trip to Shanghai on a mission trip.  It was almost too much.  When I returned to the States, I started the process of having the nerves in my SI joints burned to reduce the pain, but the insurance would only pay for four nerves and I needed six!  The other nerves grew back too quickly.  In October of 2016, facing another hip surgery and in constant pain, I began to struggle with depression.

By God’s grace, I didn’t continue down that road, but I did start to seek out online communities of people with chronic pain for support.  I found a few helpful places to go, but nothing that approached a full-fledged Christian support group.  We have grief groups, divorce recovery, addiction recovery, etc., but why was there so little for those struggling with chronic pain?  It was then that an idea to start such a group was planted in my heart.  About this time, I preached a sermon about dealing with chronic pain and our relationship with God.  Five people came forward that morning to ask for prayers.  I was one of them.  mht_infographic_symptoms_mychronicpainteam

Since moving to Oklahoma, and starting another drug, I’ve been doing better, though I still have some rotten days and sitting is still difficult.  I took a class called “Strategic Futuring” at the beginning of this year and began to work on a plan to start a support group.  The plan is actually much bigger than that, but that is where I plan to start.  I’m targeting September to get it off the ground.

I plan to use this blog as an arm of that ministry.  I want to connect hurting people to Jesus through the local church.  There will be more in the days to come, but for now, I just wanted to share my story.  There are probably dozens of similar stories in your own sphere of influence.  Try to listen.  Withhold judgment and advice.  Someone that is hurting sometimes just needs to tell their story.

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