If you grimaced at the title for this blog post, I’m sure you’re not alone. In the midst of tremendous pain, it can be very easy to push all thought of fun out of our minds. It’s also easy to lose sight of the importance of laughter, humor, or even a small smile – any one of these (or especially all three) can make a tremendous difference on our spiritual and emotional health, even if they don’t bring about immediate physical benefits.
As people with illnesses that cause pain, we often feel isolated. Laughter is absolutely contagious and can be a powerful bonding tool to nurture relationships and bring people closer to us.
Humorous touches throughout our living spaces can be visible reminders of the need to look beyond out pain to something much more pleasant. They also help us understand that God wants us to be “whole” people, that is, he wants us to use all of who we are, including the parts of us that are touched by illness and pain and the parts that have the ability to amuse and be amused.
Smiling is a frequently-overlooked gesture that expresses warmth, compassion and, yes, courage. Each time we smile while still feeling pain, we defy the constraints of our health challenges and bringing up and out a sense of control and a sense of hope.
Fun is a brief, three-letter word that carries with it a profound change of heart and attitude. If we seek a way to have good, healthful fun each day, we spend time doing something positive and, thus, have much less time for the negative. What’s fun about pain? Even staring out the window and watching the play of clouds or animals can take us out of our pain and put us squarely in a world that God created for us to enjoy.
We don’t have to be carefree youngsters, throwing our bodies into vigorously athletic games to have fun. We can be in our most homebound, pained state and still find things to laugh, smile, and play about. Time spent discovering these is not only well-spent, it is grace-filled!
History teaches us many things, but I especially like how it sheds light on how we live and what we feel today. For instance, if you look back at some of the times of great societal upheaval – the American War of Independence, the French Revolution to name two – many began or reached a boiling point (no pun intended) during the very hot days of summer. In fact, the term “Thermidor” was the name given to the month of July, when French revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy in France and re-engineered just about every aspect of society (including the annual calendar). This term was applied later to the overthrow of the revolutionary government, including Robespierre, in an event called the Thermidorian Reaction, in July 1794. Another very hot month, another political inferno.
This blog is not about history (although I appreciate your allowing me to indulge in writing about it sometimes). But we can apply the concept of “Thermidor” in a very contemporary way and perhaps learn from it.
If revolutions can spark during the hottest months of the year, what about anger in our hearts toward our lives with illness? What about frustration toward God for giving us such burdens? What about moments when we lash out at those we love because they “just don’t understand?” What about self-pity parties because we feel oh, so sorry for ourselves when it seems everyone else is getting a vacation and there is no vacation from illness for us? Ever. Can the heat of the summer instill heat of another kind in our hearts – a heat that is destructive and can cause lasting harm to us, our relationships, and our faith?
No flippant question, here. I notice that, if I go outside in the heat of the day, I am not at my best emotionally or physically. Hot weather zaps my energy and erodes resilience to keep my temper tempered, my thoughts away from how uncomfortable I feel (and oh, how it isn’t what I want at all). Yes, I can get angry when the mercury climbs, my own Thermidorian Reaction!
In my previous blog post, I wrote about illness triggers and ways to understand them. I mentioned heat as something that can be a trigger for me. All the more reason why I avoid it! And all the more reason to keep learning from history – we never know when we’ll gain wisdom and acquire awareness!
Sometimes when our illness flares or we experience new symptoms, we turn outward. Was it the weather that brought this on? To much work? Family quarrels? Traffic?
But as easy as it would be to blame every flare or symptom on our chronic illness, we know that sometimes we contribute to the situation, too. We allow stress to eat away at us inside. We don’t pay attention to the heat or the cold, even if we know that these extremes will bring physical harm to us. We allow family members or friends to draw us into their drama and, so, invite negative emotions and all the stress and syndromes that those can cause. And as for traffic or other “ordinary” challenges of daily life, well, we cannot avoid these completely, but sometimes we ignore the effects that they will have on us “just because we need to get something done.”
I know well the unpredictable nature of chronic illness. I’ve all but given up trying to predict how I will feel from one day to the next because lupus can be just that slippery. But I know, too, what some of the concrete triggers are that will cause me to be worn down, achy, or otherwise vulnerable to a flare. I know, for example, that extreme heat will make me so tired that it can take weeks to recover from exposure to it. Same thing with sunshine and some other things, too. And I’ve learned (the hard way, sometimes, but I’ve learned) how to adapt and avoid these triggers, even if it means “missing out” on some activities.
Do you cause your flares? How do you find out what your triggers might be? It helps to keep a very candid log of flares and what you were doing and feeling when they began. Track back to any spike in an activity, dietary routine, or overall lifestyle change that might have flipped the switch from “off” to “on.” Of course, the key word is, “candid.” If you find yourself thinking, “I never do anything to bring on a flare,” think again. Learn more about your health condition, talk with your doctor, examine your actions. You might uncover a trigger you didn’t consider before, or you might realize that you have been pushing yourself too hard to be “like you were before,” and are ignoring obvious things you could do to feel better (or, at least, prevent a flare from becoming worse).
Prayer always helps me center my thoughts and examine my actions, including those that involve living with multiple, serious chronic illnesses. As I pray, I ask for wisdom to do my part in staying stable in health and vigilant in my life. The more I listen to God’s guidance, the more I am able to do this. Then, I can work with my doctors to “change the things I can” and weather the storms that will come just the same.
I watched the events in Dallas and elsewhere unfold into the late hours on Thursday and could feel myself sicken at what I saw and heard. I know many people experienced the same kind of physical reaction, a kind of pervasive emotional nausea that oozed into the spirit.
Immediately, I turned to social media, but there, too, were words that seemed to intend to inflict more harm. Perhaps unconsiously or without meaning to. But, well, there was a lot of hurt all round that night – and there has been more to come as the story goes on.
With all the pain swirling around in Dallas and into our homes, added to our already painful illnesses and other chronic health conditions, we might be sensing even more “illness” than we did before. A kind of sickness from what is happening around us instead of only inside of us. It’s stressful to live in a world where some are so bent on violence and hatred. It’s even more stressful to think of that violence and hate darkening our communities or doorsteps. As we know, stress is a great enemy of our health (or what health we might have). And this kind of stress, public and powerful, exacerbates our worry – and can have a negative effect on our physical illnesses and pain.
As I watched and listened Thursday evening, I tweeted and sent off prayers. I’m still praying. And as I turn to God for grace, calm, wisdom, and stability in a very unstable world, I find that the stress caused by what I see is held off more and more by the very things I’m praying for God to bring. Yes, we can become what and who we pray if we keep at it. And if we join others in those very potent and wonderful prayers, turning our focus to our loving God, we can bring cleansing that begins at home and moves out into that stressed world.
We can pray as we watch the news. We can pray after we turn off the news and rest in quiet. The important thing is that we pray, and we join our brothers and sisters in prayer. Let God’s comfort pour over you and me, putting us back on right footing and our hearts to right focus.
Yes, let us continue to pray and invite God’s love in where it hurts the most.