Chronic pain can be one of the most difficult health burdens to bear, especially in a fast-paced and very active world. Even ordinary tasks, such as checking email, voicemail, or opening a letter can be tough to do, and other daily duties such as bathing, getting dressed, and preparing a healthful meal can seem like a climb up Mt. Everest – without the sense of happy accomplishment when the climb is done. Living with chronic pain for years can bring fatigue and resignation, and these might isolate us at a time when we most need the help and good companionship of others. A sense of unworthiness might hang over what we do, and we might feel very close to just sitting idle, far from God’s love. We might fear that, with our current pain, we simply cannot live well.
God does not want us to be far from Him, and he does not want us to crumble under the weight of our health burdens. He loves us. He wants us to live with purpose and walk in step with Jesus – the very essence of what it means to live well. And, yes, we can do these things and more!
Even within the most horrible bouts of pain, or the longest days and nights of struggle, there are some things we can do to spiritually help us see the light shining through our suffering. These uplifting steps on a journey toward closeness with God are not a substitute for regular and appropriate medical care, however they are ways to cultivate internal, spiritual strength so that the ordeal of pain brings you a sense of empowerment instead of hopelessness. They refocus attention from the weight of pain to the amazing, uplifting presence of God in even the smallest daily occurrence. And they provide a powerful purpose for us - to be inspiration so that others come nearer to God, too.
To start on this journey of rediscovering God’s presence, one of the most important things to do is to understand that the pain is something that is happening to you, but it is not who you are. Your identity is far beyond and far more profound than physical challenges. Your soul, God-given, strong, and intact, is the essential you, ready to act and protect you like a port in a raging storm – and when you take even a few moments to reflect beyond the pain and on your precious soul, you can see, there and then, that pain does not define you at all.
If it is difficult, still, to find your soulful self, and thus God’s presence within you, fill your ears with inspiring music and your eyes with glimpses of beauty and goodness. Observe the world with curious eyes that want to see the mystery behind the mundane. Seek the creative hand of God in the earth in all its bounty and in artistic works that flow from others’ sensitive souls. Much like a balm that can soothe the sharp and persistent stabs of pain, when you bring positive external influences into your life, you are letting them wash over and ease your hurt. Then, you can let that soothing goodness flow, too, into your spirit and encourage your soul to move forward, toward light.
Scripture has a wonderful way of connecting us, in our language, with the language of God and the Spirit, and especially the life of Jesus. Read the gospels slowly, imagining them unfolding as you do. Open your ears as if you are hearing the words for the first time. Let this re-hearing kindle in your heart a personal connection with the learning and love God wishes for his beloved children.
When you begin to connect with your soul and sense God stirring within you, raise your hands in gladness and get busy! Consciously respond to the many helpful people who move in and out of your daily life. Engage in pleasant conversation with the cashier, pharmacist, or church usher. Smile, smile, and smile again – the more you do, the more natural it will feel, and the more positive feelings you’ll evoke in yourself and others. With each good grace you bring to the people around you, you will feel your heart lift. And as you find yourself marveling at how easy it is to be so very busy sharing the goodness inside of you, you will be filled with gratitude.
Express your gratitude! Put a stack of “thank- you cards” in your heart each morning and hand them out liberally to one and all who lend you a hand. Don’t expect thanks in return. The goodwill you share will come back to you multiplied and fill your heart with even more gladness.
And as that gladness builds, let it envelop you with the beautiful love that God has for who you are and what you can do. Know that God is not far away, but within and through all things. Identify with your unique soul and the Spirit that moves and drives you. Let God’s love energize you to continue to seek and give all that is good, forging a new path that leads away from the despair and idleness you felt before toward new and inspiring vistas.
If a setback occurs on your journey, if you feel a twinge of doubt, fear, or even guilt for that doubt or fear, offer it to the Lord, who understands, but stay fixed on the good in your life, and the setback will soon pass from view. If others try to bring you back down into an unhealthful cycle of wretchedness of spirit, call upon the strength you have built (and continue to build) and let your life speak volumes of the positive way you are allowing yourself to live well. And if you flag in energy, resolve, or direction, take your soul by the hand and bring yourself to the foot of the Cross. Look up and understand the close walk you are on with the Savior. It is not an easy walk. It does not take the pain away. But the abiding joy and grace are profound and eternal, treasures beyond measure!
To live well does not mean to gather possessions or be pain-free. It does not require a large bank account or prestigious position. For us to live well with chronic pain, we only need to understand who each of us is: A precious child of God created to be and bring all that is good. And then, we are on our way!