(By Heather Marshall)
I lay quietly in my bed, half praying, half lamenting to God, wondering why I am here again, flat on my back with pain that shoots down my spine every time I move in the slightest. I hear the busy, active sounds of my family as they go about their lives and I long to be there with them, involved in their chores. Instead, I am stuck in my bed barely able to make it to the washroom, let alone care for my family.
My pain story started the first year of my marriage, over 18 years ago now. In 2003, I was involved in a rear-end collision that resulted in a herniated disc and spinal stenosis. I have struggled on and off again with chronic low-back pain from that time until today. I have come to appreciate that, although hard, my pain has given me some gifts.
Living with pain takes perseverance. Perseverance means persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. When I first sustained my injury, I remember thinking that I would be back on my feet and back to my regular life in no time. But as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, I realized that it was going to be a process that would take time. Only I didn’t want to wait.
Dealing with my pain necessitated different treatments, some that helped and some that didn’t. And with each treatment attempt that was unsuccessful, I felt crushing disappointment. Dashed hopes led me to cling tightly to the Living Hope, and His presence held me in my sorrow. His promises led me to a deeper understanding of true hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.”
The very essence of perseverance is that it develops over time and with a struggle. It is not something that you magically wake up with one morning after a restful sleep. This quote by Walter Elliot is an apt description, “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” I am encouraged to keep moving ahead, one day after the next, and in the process, learn to persevere.
As I struggled with pain, I became more aware of posture. From a physical perspective, I was now more attune to the posture of my spine since certain positions aggravated my pain and other positions helped alleviate it.
I’ll never forget the day when I was down on the floor playing with my toddler (not considering my posture) and my back gave out. I had to call my husband to come home from work and help me off the floor and into my bed. I had three children under the age of two and I was out of commission. Thankfully, loving sisters from my local assembly drew alongside and took care of our family’s every need.
This experience taught me the spiritual posture of humility. I was so used to being self-sufficient, taking care of my own and my family’s needs. I learned that I can’t possibly do it all myself. The Lord reinforced the truth in my mind of how much I need Him and my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
We were created for community and to care for one another. We can see this principle all through Scripture, starting in Genesis when God created Eve because it was not good for man to be alone. Learning to allow my sisters in Christ to minister to me and my family taught me the truth of Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love.”
Joni Eareckson Tada, a Christian woman who became a quadraplegic after a diving accident, has experienced her share of chronic pain. She once made this comment, “Perspective is everything when you are experiencing the challenges of life.”
This has been true for me in my pain journey. Seeing my pain as something that the Lord is using to mold me more into his image gives me hope. When we turn to God in our pain, He can use our suffering to mature our faith and make us more like Him (Romans 8:28-29).
The more I am able to see my pain as a temporary struggle, the more I am able to gain perspective and focus on the amazing future that awaits me. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 summarizes this,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory and far outweighs them all.
Experiencing pain has given me a different perspective on other people who are also experiencing pain in their lives. I find myself having a greater level of compassion and understanding for what they are going through, which is helpful in my job as an occupational therapist. I am able to relate to my patients in a way that I couldn’t before my back injury. The words of the song “Relate” by the band For King and Country express this beautifully:
Now I don’t know what it’s like to be you
You don’t know what it’s like to be me
What if we're all the same in different kinds of ways?
Can you, can you relate?
We both know what it’s like to be hurt
We both know what it’s like to feel pain
But I think it’s safe to say we’re on to better days
Can you, can you relate?
Pain is a common language through which we can relate to one another. Whether our pain is little or great, we have all experienced, pain and from that commonality we can come together, supporting one another. As 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 urges us to comfort others, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Secular studies on the role of prayer in pain have shown that prayer may be considered as an effective adjunctive therapy for pain. My sleep has often been altered by pain through the years. Instead of tossing and turning and stressing about being awake, I have learned to take this time as an opportunity to pray. I pray to God about my pain and ask for His help to get through. I also pray for others who are experiencing pain whether physical, mental, or emotional.
The Lord Jesus’ example of prayer as He prayed for His disciples in His intense moments of pain in the garden of Gethsemane encourages me. By focusing on His example, I am reminded of the words of the writer to the Hebrews:
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down on the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Personally, my wakeful moments have been a practical way to apply the truths found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Somehow, when I take my pain and give it to the Lord and then pray for others in pain, I receive God’s comfort and eventually I relax and sleep comes.
Perseverance, posture, perspective, and prayer. Four positive “p” words which come as a result of one hard “p” word — pain. I’m sure there are more, but these are the presents I have received through pain. May God give us eyes to see the blessings that can flow from the hardships that we experience in this life and vision for the pain-free future that awaits us as described in Revelation 21:3-4:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away."