I occasionally hear people refer to chronic pain, in and of itself, as a blessing from God, but I do not believe this to be true.
Chronic pain is not a blessing, but blessings often come about through the direct and indirect effects of chronic pain. Chronic pain is not a blessing, but chronic pain can be redeemed. I believe these are important distinctions as we move forward in our lives of pain.
I think some people settle on this idea that chronic pain is a blessing because in the midst of suffering we desperately need answers. We want to believe that pain has a purpose. We look for the quickest path between pain and redemption, but the true redemption we desire will not come about from easy answers or shortcuts.
There is redemption for this chronic pain that we bear, but to find it we will have to wade deep, search far, and begin at the beginning. We will have to move deeper than platitudes that tell us our pain is a blessing.
I believe that physical hurt and bodily trauma are not blessings, but a form of suffering that by the grace of God can be redeemed. And to reach the end where the blessings that flow out of chronic pain gloriously filter through, we will first have to wrestle with the far-reaching extent of chronic pain’s curse.
The Curse of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain began as a curse that was birthed out of darkness and sin. Can we begin at the beginning? We cannot skip over the hurt, the curse, and the affliction that is physical pain and suffering of all kinds. There was no chronic pain or sickness in our world until we were plunged into an era of darkness when Eve took a bite from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The evil, sin, sickness and suffering that came as a result of the Fall are curses; they are not blessings or good things.
I believe one reason we fail to believe this is because of verses such as Romans 8:28 that tell us all things work for the good of those who love God. We become confused and start to believe that this makes all those individual things good in and of themselves. But this is not the case. The names we use for things are important, and I believe that we must be careful to name suffering as suffering and pain as pain.
Many people are hesitant to speak suffering’s true name. And in this hesitancy to use proper names, we start to take away other peoples’ right to claim their suffering as real and true. No matter the struggle that ails someone, we ask people to move on, and we ask people to pretend that their suffering is not that bad. We don’t want to meet others in their suffering and actually sit with them and acknowledge that what they are going through is horrible. And so we begin to settle on the false hope that suffering and pain have this underlying goodness to them.
We need to face reality. Chronic pain is real and chronic pain is hard. Chronic pain is inherently adverse, difficult, and not originally meant for this world. There is no underlying, inherent goodness in isolated instances of pain. Pain on its own, outside of God’s lifelong redemptive work, is simply pain, and it simply hurts.
Let’s be real for a moment, because I am tired of pretending. Being unable to sleep for days on end because of severe pain is a cruel form of torture. It is not good.
Those days we are too depressed and in pain to feed ourselves are not in any shape or form “good” days. When we are alone and isolated and unable to be in community, this is not the way life was intended to be. This is outside of God’s good plan for us.
Being seen as a second class member of society because of an inability to work and contribute is not good; it is a form of oppression.
Being labeled a drug addict for taking prescribed pain medications is hurtful and unjust.
Chronic pain is not fundamentally good. Chronic pain is a horrible and tragic form of suffering. There would be no chronic pain if evil, sin, and darkness had not entered the world.
If we want to truly understand chronic pain and how we can live a life of freedom and hope in the midst of suffering, we can’t start on false grounds. We must not be scared to name chronic pain’s true name. Chronic pain must be named for the darkness and suffering that is its true nature. This only makes it more incredible and glorious when we see how the work of Christ redeems chronic pain’s darkness and turns it into light.
The Redemption of Chronic Pain
The blessings that flow from chronic pain lie in God’s promise of full redemption, his promise that everything we face in this life will unfold as one piece of his ultimate plan. We face a definite temptation to wallow in the horror of chronic pain, struggling to believe that something so comprehensibly terrible can be changed or made new in the end. But God tells us that our suffering is redeemed, not through some simple, easy, or quick change of perspective, but through a messy, painful, confusing process that occurs across a lifetime.
Throughout our lives of chronic pain, much hurt and sorrow must be waded through. Much mourning must occur. There is a time to sit in our suffering and recognize that it hurts without knowing the end or being able to see any redemption. There are times, like in the story of Job, when the redemption of our pain will not be clear to us even in this lifetime; and there are times to not dwell on the specifics of how our pain will be redeemed, as it will only make us crazy and draw us into unbelief when the answers are not clear.
But we eventually come to a place where we reach out of the darkness and seek to find that semblance of meaning that can flow from our chronic pain. Here on earth we will only experience a sliver of this redemptive process, but it is there if we have the courage to look and believe.
The blessing that flows from suffering is one of the many glorious paradoxes of Scripture. In God’s world, so much is turned upside down and looked at from a new and opposite perspective. We bow before a Savior who sees strength in our weakness, teaches that the first shall be last, and says we must give to receive. Suffering and chronic pain present a similar paradox: through the curse of chronic pain flows blessing from our Savior.
Somehow, God does something miraculous in the lives of all his children, to all of us who suffer from chronic pain and call on his name in the midst of our hurt. Those sleepless nights, depressed days, isolated weeks, shamed moments, and false accusations, while curses in their individuality, come together as good in their entirety.
It is hard to see because God’s redemptive work in our lives happens through the years and decades, across millions of moments, and through the collective intermingling and outpouring of multiple joys and sorrows in each lifetime. But eventually, the inherent curse so easily found in each individual feature of our pain combines into something wonderful and redeemed, blessings in the lives of God’s children.
The blessings that come from chronic pain are not easy blessings. These are not the blessings of ice cream, comfort, entertainment, frivolity, and ease. These are fierce and severe blessings, hard and difficult Providences in the lives of God’s children to show us what really matters and what is really important in the eyes of God.
These are the blessings of sanctification and suffering service, longing for eternity and desperately depending on God.
These are blessings of prayer and worship, real community and accepting help.
The blessings of participating in the suffering of Christ and being a witness to the world of how God’s people respond when life becomes hard.
Over the years and the decades, we begin to find glimpses of the redemption of our chronic pain, if we have the courage to look and believe.
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