About 10 years ago, I began my journey with chronic pain. It started innocently enough, with knee pain from arthritis. Fast forward to now, I’ve had two failed knee replacements on the same leg, and I am still battling knee pain, along with a number of other sources of chronic pain that have arisen as a result.
I’m not here today to tell you about my pain though. As I reflect on the last ten years, I see some mistakes I made in dealing with the pain, and some spiritual pitfalls that I slipped into as it progressed. I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned, in the hopes that you might avoid those traps, or that you may be able to encourage someone else who is struggling with pain.
Pain shouldn’t necessarily be avoided.
I have always had the mindset that pain is bad. That may seem like a no-brainer to you, but bear with me as I explain. When I first began to have knee pain in my early thirties, sirens went off in my head, telling me that I must do whatever it took to get rid of it. The idea of being limited in my ability to do whatever I wanted to do was absolutely intolerable to me, and I was on a mission to end the pain. I had steroid shots, lubricant injections, and two knee surgeries before my 40th birthday, chasing pain relief at any cost. Each of these gave temporary relief, but left a lasting impact on my body. The scar tissue that developed from these procedures led to more problems in the long run.
If I knew then what I know now, I would see that pain as God’s signal to slow down. When it first started, I was caring for my aging parents, home schooling my two young children, power walking every day, leading the women’s ministry at my church, and over-achieving in just about every area of life. I was a stressed-out, sandwich-generation, perfectionistic super-mom, and I could not be bothered with pain. So I took measures to stop it, and today as I write this, I can see very clearly the error of my ways.
We are made up of two parts—body and soul—and these are inseparable. Spiritual distress often manifests itself in physical pain, and we must remember this. If you are suffering from any kind of physical pain, before you begin to look for medical solutions, consider spiritual ones. Perhaps you are too busy, have too many responsibilities, or are just mentally or emotionally over-stressed. Pray, and ask the Lord to show you if there are issues in your immaterial man that are affecting the material. If you find that there are such issues, take heed and make whatever adjustments you are able. God is good and faithful, and He will reveal to you what steps, if any, you need to take.
Pain can be a blessing.
As time went on, and it became clear that this pain would be ongoing, I was angry. Angry at the doctor and angry at myself. But mostly, if I’m honest, I was angry at God. I was well schooled in His sovereignty, and I knew that He could have prevented this from happening. He’d been present in that surgery room, and He could easily have guided the surgeon’s hands to get my knee implant straight. Instead, He allowed him to make an error that would change my life forever. With every step I took, from that day forward until today, I would be reminded of that fact.
If I knew then what I know now, I would still see that error as life-changing, but in a different sense. Instead of becoming more and more depressed and bitter over the loss of my physical mobility, I would begin to seek the Lord’s intention in allowing it. Though I did eventually get around to this, I wasted a lot of time in self-pity instead of self-examination; complaining to people instead of lamenting to the Lord; and basically squandering my limited energy on regret when I could have spent it expressing gratitude for the many blessings He gave me in the midst of that adversity.
The Lord sends problems and trials into our lives for his own reasons. If we are fully submitted to His sovereignty and thus to His will, then we will respond with patience and trust in Him. Sadly, I was far from submitted, so my response was rebellious. Are you suffering today with physical pain? Then it is the Lord’s will for you. Regardless of the temporal cause, He has an eternal reason for it. If there is a problem with your immaterial man that is coming out as physical pain, He can show you that. If the pain remains, and there is no relief for it right now, then He will heal it in His timing, either in this life or the next. Focus your heart on Him, on His attributes, and revel in His glorious love, remembering that God is who He says He is regardless of your circumstances.
Pain is not an enemy to be feared, but a friend.
Ten years ago, I definitely saw pain as the enemy. It wanted to stop me from achieving all my grand plans, and it wanted to put an end to my strength and stamina. It wanted to change my identity, and I was determined not to allow that.
Thankfully, my determination did not prevail. Today, pain has indeed changed my identity in a profound way. I am no longer a super-anything. Instead, I am a weak, helpless, dependent child who must stay very near to her Father in order not to lose sight of Him. Every step I take reminds me of my need of Him, and of His sweet faithfulness to me. He never outruns me, but is patient with me when I stumble and when my steps are slow. Physically, I am able to do all the things that the Lord has ordained for me, but the things I wanted for myself—the stamina, strength, and super-powers—are on hold until another time. I know that I will have a perfect body in heaven, and that is good enough for me.
Here on earth, pain is my friend. It reminds me of my need of Christ, and of my weakness, in which His strength is made perfect. It keeps me accountable when I want to overachieve, and it keeps me humble when my pride says, “do more!” Most of all, my pain is achieving for me a new level of compassion for others who suffer. Not just for those with physical pain, but for those who are enduring any kind of suffering. I have learned that all suffering is spiritual, and in that sense, we are all in it together. My heart breaks for people I might have judged harshly ten years ago. I have more compassion for unbelieving sinners now too, because of how precious my Jesus is to me, and how terrifying the pain of this world would be without Him.
Yes, I definitely have a new identity, and it is a better one than before. How about you? Are you suffering today? Are you learning and growing in it, or are you stuck, as I was, in self-pity and sorrow? Take courage, my friend. God is with you, and He knows your need. Go to Him now in your weakness and receive His strength. He is faithful. He will care for you, body and soul.