I live with chronic pain. Literally. I don’t mean that I personally suffer from it. I mean I live with it. It shares my bed. It eats at my table. It holds my hand on walks to the lake. It haunts my thoughts. It is always hovering dangerously close to my best laid plans. It has an annoying knack of showing up when I can least afford the disruption.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that my husband is truly the one suffering. He is the one with a drawer full of medications. He is the one who enjoys a ridiculously small percentage of good days amongst the bad. He is the one missing time with his children when he just isn’t capable of being near the sounds and light. He is the one who pays with days of pain for that short game of basketball with his son. He is the one who restlessly searches for the best position to sit or lie in to stave off debilitating pain in order to make it to his daughter’s concert.
Now, before you start searching the internet for holistic cures and special diets, kindly let me say–don’t. I don’t want more well-meaning people telling me how omega 3 saved them or how kale changed their life. I don’t want people looking at me with pity in their eyes. And believe me when I say that my husband NEVER wants anyone to make a fuss over him. He barely wants people to notice that he is in the room (unless he is trying to get a laugh–then please pay attention). And please don’t tell us that God won’t give us more than we can handle. That’s crap. He does it all the time. He allows life to overwhelm us and stands with his hand outstretched for us to grab on.
I write this for those reading who are living with pain. Or serious illness. Or depression. Or any other challenge that just won’t let up. God never said we would be free from struggles. God never said we would be free from pain. God never said He would answer our prayers in the way we deem acceptable or appropriate. The Apostle Paul wrote of his “thorn in his side,” — “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12: 8-9 NIV) Paul was never healed from whatever it was that troubled him. I have no doubt he would have preferred to be. My husband may never be healed from his pain. I have no doubt he would prefer to be. I would prefer it. That is not up to me. That is not up to the doctors. It is only God who knows why. And it is up to us to trust that God knows best.
Some days I get angry as I drive kids in circles because he cannot help. Some days I feel lonely as I parent while he hides in a dark, quiet cave. Sometimes I wish to stomp around and slam pans around the cupboards. Some days I can only sit and stare at the birds on the feeders. And pet the dogs. And pretend that I have nothing demanding my time. Some days I eat just a few too many chocolate eggs because the creaminess on my tongue is the purest joy I will have that day.
I apologize regularly to people for forgetting to answer an email, or text, or call. Sometimes I lose track of what day it is. I forget appointments. I arrive at the last minute when I used to always be early. I leave as soon as events end. I used to stay and talk after concerts. I miss that. I like to talk. A LOT. But now I’ve discovered a strange connection–the fuller my mind is, the less I say. I frequently eat dinner in silence. My desk grows stacks of papers that used to be neatly filed away. I try not to notice the dirt in the corners of the steps. I’ve turned a blind eye to my childrens’ unmade beds.
You see, when you live with chronic pain, your life changes. Your time with family becomes more vital than anything or anyone else. Your to do list gets dusty sitting on the counter. Your days are not your own. Pain keeps the calendar. Pain determines the family vacations. Pain decides when you can just relax and enjoy your meal. Pain decides which plans get canceled. Pain can’t notice the worry in your daughter’s eyes because her father is lying down in the dark again. Pain doesn’t care if you have bread in the house (which may partially explain my compulsion to have a room full of food at all times. Yes. A literal room of food.) Pain doesn’t care that you have a job to do.
My husband fights with every fiber of his being to ignore his pain and just live. He tries. He does things that he shouldn’t because he gets sick of pain controlling his activities. He feels guilty when responsibilities fall on me. He apologizes for falling asleep in the evening after fighting his way through work. He silently suffers through games and concerts and movies just to be with his kids. He gets depressed at the sheer exhaustion of life. He gets angry at his lack of control over this. But he keeps going.
And I guess that’s my main point. We all keep going. No matter the struggle. No matter the confusion and frustration. We keep going. We are not special. We are not superhuman. We are not alone in our suffering. And we have God there with us every step of the way. Sometimes He may get quite an earful from me as I yell at the injustice. Sometimes He may just listen to me cry. Sometimes He has heard my husband moan. And He knows what all that means. He feels our pain. He understands our anger at Him. He sees it even if we won’t acknowledge its existence. He smiles as I loosen my grip of control over my life. He beams with pride at those moments of acceptance. He nods when I am thankful for a day without troubles. He knows what He is doing. Thorns suck. We’d like them all plucked out of our lives. But at what expense? What would we miss if life were smooth and painless?
I know and love many who are living with pain; watching loved ones suffer with pain and debilitating diseases. Know that you are not alone. You are never alone. And even though it doesn’t feel like it, God loves you and is holding out his hand to you. Just grab on.