For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about Jane, whose life was radically changed when a car accident caused nerve damage that affected her arms and hands. You can read about our first couple of sessions here and here. Today, we’ll talk about our third session, and the plan going forward.
Jane’s True Identity
Jane has done a great job on her homework. She arrives very excited about what she’s learned regarding her true identity. She expresses that she has a new appreciation for the work of Christ in her heart, and that she has been greatly encouraged by the study. She also mentions, with surprise and excitement in her voice, that her pain has decreased this week! I respond that it doesn’t surprise me, and we review together some facts about the relationship between pain perception and one’s thinking. Jane is very encouraged with both her spiritual and physical progress, but still feels sad about the losses she’s experienced, and is uncertain whether she can handle this “new normal” in the long term.
How can we help Jane with this sadness and uncertainty about the future? What does Jane need to sustain her through all the ups and downs? She needs the same thing that all of our counselees need: Hope. The best source of hope that I know of is the Word of God, so that is where we will go today. I want to take Jane through a passage of Scripture that has been especially helpful for me, and for others I have worked with. It is 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, and we will walk through it together, line by line. I will make some observations and ask her some questions as we go:
Verse 16a: Therefore we do not lose heart. In this passage, Paul has just finished describing the difficulties of his ministry. (Jane and I will go back and read 7-15, so we can find out what the “therefore” is there for.) He is suffering from a great deal of persecution, but he wants the Corinthians to know that he is willing to make these sacrifices for their sakes. His singular desire and goal is that they might be encouraged through his suffering and perseverance. Here are my questions for Jane:
- Who in your life might be encouraged to trust in the Lord by your example of joyfully trusting God as you are suffering?
- How could you demonstrate the grace of God that you’ve received as you suffer, to those who are watching you?
- What responses would demonstrate this grace? Patience when pain makes you short-tempered? Gratitude when you want to feel sorry for yourself? Reaching out to others who are suffering instead of isolating yourself in your sadness? We’ll make a list together of possible opportunities and responses.
Verse 16b: Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. Everyone, from the fittest Olympian to the end-stage cancer patient, is perishing. Every person has an outward man that is dying. Though people with chronic pain and disability have more outward suffering, death and degeneration are common to man. I want to help Jane understand that, while her plight is difficult, she is not especially bad off, nor is she exempt from her responsibility for how she responds to her problem. Comparing herself to others, envying those who can still have what she longs for, and allowing self-pity to overtake her are not acceptable options in God’s eyes.
As hard as this will be for her to hear, it is important that we make it clear: God’s expectation of her on the heart level is the same regardless of her circumstances. He wants her to trust, worship, and obey Him, even in difficulty, and He Himself will provide everything necessary for her to fulfill this expectation. He will do this by the daily renewal of her inward man, or heart. This is a work that He will accomplish by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jane has only to cooperate with the Spirit of God to be renewed in her heart.
Questions for Jane:
- What has happened in your inward man as you have suffered from these injuries?
- How has your view of God and His expectations of you changed over these last months, and in what ways does it need to change now?
- Have you been envious of others who don’t suffer as you do? (Envy is another significant pitfall for persons who suffer from physical pain and mobility issues. Jane and I will stop and look at John 21:21-22 here, and make sure that we understand that whatever the Lord has planned for anyone else is none of our business. Our responsibility is simply to follow Him as He leads )
- Have you indulged in self-pity about your pain and the losses you’ve suffered? (If Jane says yes, we may take a moment to pray here, so Jane can confess her self-pity to the Lord and receive forgiveness. I’ll pray also, thanking the Lord for His forgiveness, and asking Him to help Jane persevere in this area.)
Verse 17: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory… Again, I will exhort Jane to look at her problem in the light of the Gospel. We’ll talk about the brevity of life and the glory of eternity and think together about the joy we will have when we receive our glorified bodies. It is very important that Jane begins to compare her pain and problems to the glory of eternity, rather than to what she had in this life before the accident, or to the seemingly happy lives of those who do not suffer as she does.
Questions for Jane:
- Can you think of your pain and loss as a “light affliction?” What would have to change in your heart and mind in order for you to see it this way?
- Have you experienced envy as you look at others who do not suffer as you do? How could this truth help you overcome that?
Verse 18: While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. As we think on this line, we will also look at Hebrews 11:1, and talk about faith. Jane and I are hoping for something we cannot see. But it is not a worldly, “hope so” hope. It is hope that is rooted and grounded in the Truth of the Scriptures. One of today’s homework assignments will be to read the rest of Hebrews 11, and write down, with practical application, how each example of faith brings encouragement for Jane to persevere in maintaining a God-glorifying response to her pain.
Questions for Jane:
- What “seen,” temporary things have you been focusing on?
- How has that focus affected your pain?
- What eternal things could you begin to focus on, and how might that affect your pain?
A second homework assignment for this week will be for Jane to journal any thoughts of temporary things that turn her toward sadness and self-pity, and come up with eternal thoughts to replace them. For example, Jane often wakes up in the night with pain from her injuries. She has grown accustomed to thinking thoughts of dread about the day—how she will cope or accomplish the tasks she must do, if she can’t get sleep. Instead, Jane could recite Lamentations 3:23, and be reminded that God’s mercies are fresh with each new day, even if she doesn’t wake up physically refreshed. Reciting this verse will help to remind her that He will faithfully help her to do all that He calls her to do.
Jane and I will review many other passages of Scripture in this way as we work together. My plan is to teach her the skill of application, so that she will be able to rightly apply Scripture on her own. My counseling goal with Jane is three-fold:
- She will biblically grieve the loss of her self-made identity, and embrace the identity that God has given her. She will put off self and put on Christ in all of her thinking.
- She will learn to rightly apply Scripture to this and any other circumstance that threatens to undermine God’s place in her heart, or change her view of Him.
- She will learn how to use her pain and suffering to minister to others who have experienced a loss or trial in their lives.
As Jane and I get close to the end of our work together, we will need to find a discipling partner for her. Ideally, this will be a godly woman from her church, who will take over the privilege of holding Jane accountable in her thinking, and continue to study and apply Scripture with her, on a less formal basis. This relationship will be absolutely vital to Jane’s continued growth in Christ.
This concludes our case study about Jane. If you’re not working with someone who struggles with chronic pain now, chances are good that you soon will be, and I hope that you will find this case study helpful. For more posts about dealing with pain biblically, stop over at Near to the Healer. There are many articles there that offer application of key scripture passages, as well as biblical principles for helping those who struggle with this issue. My prayer is that all of us would be prepared to offer help, encouragement and hope to those who are suffering from chronic pain, impairment, and disability.
 Pain: The Plight of Fallen Man, by Dr. Jim Halla, is an excellent resource for counseling people with chronic pain, disability, or mobility issues. It cites many studies, and gives medical information that is invaluable in these cases.