Entering Pain

I once had a very wise doctor who taught me an important lesson about pain. At the time, he was removing an inch-long metal screw from my hip under local anesthetic. He seemed to be using an ordinary, Home Depot Phillips head screwdriver which rather amused us both. But the novelty of the situation soon gave way to the piercing pain of metal turning against bone. When I began to fidget and moan, the doctor asked me to do him a special favor. He said that he was conducting a research project into the nature of pain and wanted me to carefully describe what I was feeling. I struggled to describe the location and varying pitch of the sensations, whether it throbbed or stung, felt cold or ached or surged. Sooner than expected he tied the last stitch, and I took my shiny souvenir home in a jar.

The funny thing was, he never did compile the results of his meticulous survey. The man had used a benevolent, psychological trick to get me to stop resisting the pain of minor surgery. But in the process I discovered a truth which has been important to me. Instead of panicking and running from the pain, he got me to look at it, even to move toward it. I don’t know that I felt any less agony, but I felt it differently. The pain was less like a monster attacking from the outside than it was a peculiar part of my own being which could be touched and explored. I found the same kind of meditation very useful in other situations, including the natural delivery of two children.

Pain, like other difficult circumstances in life, can be fled or it can be explored.  One can fight and flail against the inevitable, or one can accept and even find peace inside the dreaded cavern. In her beautiful book, The Scent of Water, Elizabeth Goudge describes depression as a dark cave. But she points out that many scholars believe the stable where Christ was born was a cave, and also the tomb where He was buried. If depression is a cave and pain is a cavern, they are inhabited by One who is well acquainted with the layout. 

Christ dwells wherever we do, at the bottom of the ocean, the end of the world or the darkest pit. He offers us His companionship and strength. When we stop running from all our pain — emotional, spiritual and physical — and explore it to the edges, we can find many truths inside it. It is Christ in you who paints the ceiling with glowing crystals. It is Christ’s arm which keeps your foot from slipping in the dark. It is the presence of Christ which turns cold desperation into peculiar fellowship. And it is Christ’s love which places daily treasures for you to mine. God can sculpt the stalagmites of your grief into monuments of His glory. It is a trick of the mind to stop fighting the pain; it is a truth of the heart to find God inside it.

Not only the comfortable, good and happy walk with Christ. In fact, they mostly ignore Him. The next time you feel the walls of pain closing in on your soul, try taking a good look around in there. You might be surprised at what you find. Or Who you find.


This is the third in a series of blogs about chronic pain of all kinds. Go back to the first one here.


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On Seeking Help

CounselingDear Christian Counselor:

 

I’m always trying to reconcile what the Bible says about giving our cares to God and trusting in Him versus seeking professional help from secular counselors. My concern is, if we’re turning to fallible man for answers on anxiety and depression, we’re not trusting completely in God.  If He wanted that “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7) removed from our side, He’d remove it.  But if prayers go unanswered for so long, when is it time to say “enough” and seek professional help?

 

– Jewels


Dear Jewels,

 

Would you say the same thing about medical care?  If God wanted to instantly heal a person’s diabetes, He could certainly do that.  But we observe that He often heals it through medicine.  Perhaps that is so we don’t grow proud or complacent; perhaps it connects us better to others in community; perhaps we need the ongoing process to stay dependent on the Lord.  Talking to a counselor represents less intervention than your average doctor visit.  However, you used the word “secular,” so I want to make sure you know that there are plenty of educated, licensed Christian counselors around, combining the best of both worlds.  In my view, Christian counseling is just discipleship on steroids.  Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. (Prov. 19:20)

 

One of the things a counselor might suggest is that you visit a psychiatrist for an evaluation and possibly for medication.  You get to decide whether that’s something you want to do or not.  I have seen many cases where anxiety and depression can be alleviated without medication, carriage wheelsbut I have also known others where medication has been an amazing blessing.  Once our brains have been stewed in the chemicals of sadness and fear for a while, it can be like a cart which is stuck in the sand.  Just turning the wheels isn’t enough to get it out.  Sometimes medication gives you the jump-start you need to change direction. 

 

Anxiety and depression tend to be self-focused conditions.  Jewels are made to shine outward.  I would encourage you to seek help and comfort in your struggle so that you can *sparkle* for God’s Kingdom.

 

Please see our Resources page for some suggested reading material on anxiety and depression.  Here’s another article you might find helpful: Fear Not: Command or Comfort?

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Safe Inside Cancer

“You have cancer.”  Are there any words you dread hearing more than those?  Let me tell you that we who have already heard those words shudder at the memory.  Nevertheless, it is possible for the worst thing that ever happens to you to also be the best thing that ever happens to you.

I just received my copy of Safe In The Storm: The Grace of God, In the Midst of Cancer by my good friend, Steve Hatcher.  I have watched him walk faithfully through a year-long journey with multiple myeloma.  His honesty and wisdom have encouraged me and many others.  I hope that, after you read the excerpt below, you will use the link above to purchase your own copy and embark on an adventure you won’t soon forget:

All: I am still in waiting mode.  The initial shock of having to delay my transplant for a week wore off after a day. Thanks to many of you who gently reminded me that God controls all things in the life of the believer (Romans 8:28), including the timing of my transplant!  I had to remember that waiting patiently is part of the Christian pilgrimage.  Here I was, failing to trust God with my admission date when at the same time I said that I trusted Him with the much more amazing mystery of designing stem cells to engraft into bone marrow.  Another example of how I often trust Him with the big things, but not the small ones, specially when I am impatient.

So, if God wishes it so in His timing, I will enter the transplant unit Wednesday.  That will only occur after I have a chest x-ray and a doctor visit to see if I am “all clear” to go forward.  Please pray for that success with me.  Most importantly, however, pray that God moves me into the unit in His perfect timing, regardless of any schedule I have set in my heart.  Then pray that I will hear Him during that period of relative solitude.  Pray that you can hear Him, too, even without going into the desert.

Steve


Follow Steve’s continuing journey on his blog: stephenbhatcher.com.