Sometimes an irksome feeling of guilt creeps in. It’s not the kind of guilt that tells me I should be doing more chores around the house or putting in more hours at work. No, this is the guilt that tells me it’s my fault I am not getting better. I must be doing something wrong that is preventing healing.
It’s my fault my muscles have atrophied because I just can’t do my exercises without flaring. It’s my fault the prolotherapy I have been doing is not leading to significant improvement. It’s my fault I did too much last month and haven’t been in quite the same place since. It’s my fault my body isn’t responding like other peoples’ bodies typically respond.
Do you know the voice I’m talking about? The voice that says, I must not be trying hard enough. Other people with my condition improved from physical therapy, so I must be doing it wrong. If I hadn’t gone to the store yesterday, I wouldn’t have flared myself up, and if I always made the right decisions about these things, maybe I would be better by now. What is wrong with me that I can’t figure this out??
The answer is that nothing is wrong with me. I know this. Or, do I? Yes and no. I don’t have miraculous powers to heal myself as my thoughts suggest. But there is this part of me that thinks…if I could just get it exactly right, maybe, just maybe, the pain would go away.
But I can’t heal myself. As hard as I work, doing all the things that are supposed to bring about remission, relief, or a control; in the end, I don’t have control over the way my body responds and the ultimate outcome of my efforts to improve.
I know this. But the unpleasant thought lingers. These voices are difficult to get rid of. If you are like me, it’s easy to think we are just not trying hard enough. Quite often, those around us confirm this belief by telling us we simply need to eat better, exercise more, get more sleep, or try this or that to get better. We flare up and people ask us “Well, what did you do?? You must have done something??”
Together, we create this alternate reality in which chronic pain is transformed from a disease that has befallen us to suffering we have brought upon our own selves and could rid of if we worked hard enough and were persistent enough.
Oh, the delusions we fall into when there aren’t easy answers.
This is the reality. Regardless of what the empirical data says, there is no cure all and no ultimate cause and effect that will work in every situation. There will always be anomalies, physical traits that differ from the norm, and aspects of each of our individual bodies that won’t respond to medicine and treatment strategies as they are “supposed to.”
And more importantly, God is always at work. He is actively and continuously engaged in the process of our lives, including the inner workings of our cells, tissues, organs, and physical bodies. He is actively engaged, working things out for his own glory, whether that goes with or against the expected grain of science and what research shows to be true of God’s created order.
We can do everything we are supposed to do and not be healed. We can do what has healed 99% of other individuals in the same situation and still not get better. Yet still we hold no blame or fault. We hold no moral responsibility and are not culpable for our pain. We are free from guilt because only God can heal and only God can save. Work hard does not save us from our sins, and it also does not save us from our physical pain. God alone is the one who forgives our sin and heals our diseases.
As we live out this life of chronic pain, we need a relentless perseverance. Giving up is not an option, and our freedom from guilt and lack of ultimate control over our health don’t give us a free pass from continuously fighting to get better from our pain. But relentless perseverance cannot be equated with success. Faithfulness to work hard and follow the right treatment plan cannot be equated with a pain-free body. Somewhere along the way we have equated faith with fortune and work with good results. But this just isn’t the case.
When we finally believe that we can’t heal ourselves, and that nothing we do will bring healing apart from God’s intervention, a wonderful thing happens. We can finally move towards peace and freedom from this guilt that plagues us, the guilt that says, “Maybe the pain is my own fault.”
Do you find yourself apologizing for what you can’t do when your body is in a flare? Do you find yourself blaming yourself when you have a relapse? Do you analyze every single thing that you did over the last week, trying to figure out what you did “wrong” to increase your pain? Do you wonder if your pain is your fault?
It’s OK. I’ve been there, too. It just means that we are falling into a false guilt, and we are invited to rest and remember the truth. We are invited to rest when our bodies just can’t exercise. We are invited to be kind to ourselves when treatments don’t work – that wasn’t our fault. We are invited to stop defending ourselves to people who think we are sick of our own doing. We are invited to believe that we didn’t flare because we did something “wrong;” we flare because our physical bodies are not working properly.
Do you ever fall into this kind of thinking? What do you say to help yourself believe the truth?
Check out the first booklet in the Chronic Pain and the Christian Life series, But God Wouldn’t I Be More Useful to You If I Were Healthy, on Amazon.com.