It has been a little over two weeks since I announced my intentions to begin writing a book about chronic pain. Those past two weeks have flown by, and it feels like so much has happened in that time. Making a public announcement about my book has sparked a drive, desire, and intensity in my writing that is both scary and exciting. Exciting because my outline and first few chapters are coming together better than I had hoped for. Scary because I have begun to look into the publishing process and wonder if a book written by me can ever become a reality beyond sitting in my computer’s hard drive. I want my motivations for writing to be in the right place: I write because I have something to say, not for any recognition that would come from being published. I have time, and there is no rush.
My blog is entitled Life in Slow Motion for a reason. With chronic pain, nothing happens quickly, so I am used to taking my time. I do not like life lived in slow motion, but I am starting to accept it and get used to it. A slow writing pace is good and necessary because I am wrestling with questions that require time and great thought. As I write, I over and over again keep coming back to the question of what do we do when the pain doesn’t go away? I do not yet have full answers, and I am hoping I will learn and find insight as I write. I don’t have answers, but I do clearly see the problem. Everything I have learned in the church and as a Christian has not prepared me for encountering and living through a lifetime of suffering. I am prepared to endure suffering that has an end, but I am uncertain what to do when walking through the valley of the shadow of death becomes a metaphor for a lifetime and not just a season.
Within the Christian community, I consistently hear suffering talked about in terms of seasons. Christians speak of seasons of sufferings and what they have learned as they come out the other side. Christians will speak of the hope that Christ gives as he saves us from suffering and hardship. Of Christ’s saving salvation I am sure, but is it possible that sometimes other forms of saving and healing do not happen until heaven? Of course there is suffering intermingled with joy. Even in my worst of days, I will often have moments of joy in the good things God has given me, and joyful moments of basking in worship and in His presence. But unabashed joy that is untainted by the cares of this world? At times I had this in my pre-pain life, but perhaps I will not see this again until my eternal home when he wipes every tear away, and death, mourning, crying, and pain are no longer.
I find myself having trouble with verses like Psalm 30:5 which tell me that weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning. I believe Scripture, so I believe it to be true. But I am seeking to understand what it means for my life and what it means for any life that is lived out within the lifelong trenches of chronic pain. At times I weep at night, and I wake up weeping the next morning, whether literally or figuratively. But then again, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (II Peter 3:8).” And perhaps the span of a night, that transition between weeping and joy, presents a similar time quandary. Or perhaps I should be taking the verse as literally as it looks, and there is some other explanation for Scripture such as this in the face of permanent-until-heaven suffering. I am still looking for answers.
What do we do when the pain doesn’t go away? Perhaps another way to ask the question is what does it look like to suffer well in the midst of unrelenting pain? Sometimes I wonder if we (the church) are so focused on redeeming pain that we forget to teach people how to bear with long-term suffering. We forget to teach people how to bear pain, and instead look for quick fixes or passively wait in the hopes that the season will pass. But sometimes the season doesn’t pass. How do we avoid falling into a severe depression? How do we fight anxiety? How do we prevent full-out meltdowns and collapse? How do we keep people from reaching the point of seeing suicide as the only answer? All these questions and more need to be answered because many in chronic pain reach a point of no return, drowning in despair, devoid of hope until death.
What about seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living? How do we find this when all feels unwell, pain feels unending, and grief is our constant friend? These questions and more I seek to wrestle with as write this book. It will be the question I come to over and over again as I seek to discern what it means to experience chronic pain in a way that pleases God, and in a way that we feel the same pain, but perhaps we do not continue to suffer from the pain to the same extent or in the same way.
I begin with the one answer that I am sure of: We seek the Lord. We fall at his feet, we never stop talking to him, and we lean on his strength to get us through. We dig into his Word and desperately search for answers that will enable us to live godly lives in the midst of our suffering. We look for answers, and we trust and submit when the answers are unsure. The answer starts in the Word, and that is where I go as I grapple with this question that seems so unanswerable. The answer starts with Jesus, and that is who I desperately go to in my search for healing.