Pain, Suffering, and Snake Oil

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I came across two brilliant articles on Pain and the Christian this week.  The first focused on the subject, Is Pain Relief A Human Right? and the second, Does God Want Me to Suffer?

If you are a regular reader here, you know I explored my own issues on pain back in February.  The articles I read this week prompted me to consolidate those posts and post them here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts if you can make it to the end of this article.

The Grace of Pain

I live with a lot of pain–Ouch.  That hurt me just to write.  I don’t talk publicly about pain for a reason.   I don’t talk about it because I know that 1/2 the general public will offer me all kinds of hopes and remedies and diagnosis from their own experience and expertise. It irritates me so much that I keep my mouth shut.

I know I shouldn’t eat sugar.  I know I should exercise more.  I know what natural remedies are out there and that the prescriptions I have to take could cause blindness, obesity, weight loss, hyperactivity, tiredness, dismemberment, and death. (a bit of sarcasm).   I know that Jesus is the Great Physician, and He can heal. I know, I know, I know.

So, I get tight-lipped and angry when people offer their solutions.

But, I do think I’ve been selfish.

I’ve learned a lot from pain that I think is worth sharing.

So I’m gonna.  I won’t like it if you send me your Grandma’s snake oil, but I will respect and admire your need for fixing others.

As I open this topic of pain, a few questions always come to my mind:

Why are people in pain considered weak or emotionally unstable? Or, in Christian circles, when the subject of pain and sickness are brought up, why does it immediately become a “spiritual” subject?  Why do so many who live in daily pain hide it to appear strong?

Yesterday I explained some of my own reasons about why I really don’t talk about pain much.

Last summer when we were making plans to go to India, Rob asked Rajendran if it was possible for me to have a bed to sleep in each night because of my Rheumatoid Arthritis.  He said to Raj, “You won’t hear her complain, she’s a trooper, but she hurts a lot and a bed would be a necessity.”  Raj kindly wrote back something like this (I lost the original email)

In India, sickness and weakness are not considered a thing to be ashamed of.  If one is vomiting and there is no where to vomit, one would kindly open her sari or cloth to catch the vomit to help the person.  I do not understand why you Americans are ashamed of pain as weakness.  We use weakness to show our love and care for one another.  Tell her we will all be here to help her.

And they did.  It was never spoken of, but they cared for me and our family so much, that we feel they really became part of our family.  We miss them and can’t wait to see them again this summer.

What if one of the reasons God allows pain is to teach us to care for one another, and bear one another’s burdens, like our friends in India do with such grace? What if he allows pain to teach us to give and receive all at once?

Many people think pain is weakness and to be avoided at all costs.  I am plunging headlong into pain and learning all I can along the way while trying to feel better every day.

To set the record straight, I need to have full disclosure about my own personal process with pain.  I do have chronic pain, but not to the degree that most people who struggle with chronic pain do.  I have experienced enough to think about it a lot, learn a ton, and grow in some ways I would never be able to grow otherwise.

The things I have learned I would not trade to have a pain free-existence.  I have learned to look on others with compassion that I can only know from what it feels like to hurt.  To see others’ pain through my own is something to be treasured indeed.  Do I envy those who seem to bounce through life unaffiliated by nothing except regular stuff like the common cold? Yeah, I really do.  There are days I feel like calling “Uncle” to God, and saying “I’ve had enough, I get it”.  But then I remember

Mostly I know that dealing with pain has taught me to think less of myself.  Not in an unhealthy self esteem-ish way, but to lay aside pain when it gets in the way of caring for the needs of my family.  I might hurt, but my kids still have to eat.  I might be tired, but the laundry still needs to be folded.  I may just want to lay down and read a book, but Isabelle wanting to play Guess Who? is much more important than me reading at that moment.

Caring for myself is a priority, but putting my needs and wants above those around me isn’t an option.

The entitlement mentality when you are sick or in pain is a very dangerous thing indeed.  The “Me first” way of living begins to unravel quickly when you are married, have young kids, or have anyone depending on you for anything.

Having said all of that, do I put my needs above those of my family?  Yep.  Almost every day. I need to constantly keep myself in check, and with God’s help, keep my life and pain in perspective of His plan and purpose for me.  I’m not perfect, but I’m learning and growing every day.

11 thoughts on “Pain, Suffering, and Snake Oil

  • September 24, 2010 at 1:52 pm
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    Michelle,
    I really can’t thank you enough for what you wrote…So much of what you write speaks to my heart! In so many areas, India, pain, you are able to put into words things I cannot even fully articulate. Thank you. For about 10 years I have struggled with chronic pain from endometriosis. It is not horrible by any means, and I don’t feel like I have a right to complain compared to what so many go thru, but what you wrote today touched me and so challenged me. I rarely talk about it, and don’t want it to define me…but has it changed my perspective on life, others suffering, and my relationship with God? Absolutely. While there were some long sleepless nights, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Those painful nights were when I first experienced God and His love for me. I learned that no matter what I will go thru, I will not be alone and for me, that kind of unconditional, unfailing love was revolutionary. Thank you for sharing….

    Reply
    • September 25, 2010 at 11:06 am
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      Jessica, know that I will be praying for you. So glad to know you are letting God use this pain in your life to draw you closer to him.

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  • September 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm
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    I have Fibromyalgia and I so understand what you are saying. I don’t tell a lot of people that I know personally (it’s so much easier to share that with a stranger on the internet) because there is so much judgment in our culture toward illness. I’m like you – there are things I can improve upon and then there are things I am doing 100% right and I am still in pain.

    It is VERY frustrating to have someone tell you that you need to do this or that when their opinion has not been sought out. I’ve heard it all at this point (or at least I hope I have).

    My impression about India has always been that they are some of the kindest people on earth. They take care of their young and their elderly with such pride. I love how they all live in the same house and take care of one another.

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    • September 25, 2010 at 11:05 am
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      Well, thanks for sharing with this internet stranger Darla. 🙂 So good to know we’re not alone.

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  • September 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm
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    Thank you for posting about chronic pain. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one & of course I know I am not. I was diagnosed w/ Multiple Sclerosis earlier this year. Trying to explain how I physically feel is frustrating. And having what I call an “invisible” illness can be a blessing & a curse. I hear “but you don’t look sick” or “I know how you feel”. I read both of the articles and this is what I can relate to “For example, women with chronic pain are more likely to receive medications for depression and anxiety.” Just today my dr. asked me if I needed meds for anxiety or depression. Umm no! Also relate to, “Thernstrom notes that “pain never simply ‘hurts.’ It insults, puzzles, disturbs, dislocates, devastates,” leaving those in pain feeling that they have lost their real lives, even lost themselves”
    Due to fatigue & chronic pain, I have a hard time making it through the day. I don’t have the energy to do grocery shopping & laundry in the same day. After church last Saturday, I couldn’t walk to the car with out assistance from my husband(this happens a lot). Sorry I feel like I am venting, but this post came on a day when I really needed it. Thank you Michelle, I love reading your posts, even when they really hit home.

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    • September 25, 2010 at 11:04 am
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      Stacy,
      I am so sorry that you’ve been given this diagnosis. It is impossible for anyone to know how you specifically feel. Prayers and hugs to you today.

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  • September 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm
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    Hi Michelle – Thanks for tracking me down through my blog! (Other readers – I am the author of the two articles Michelle linked to above. Can I just say how nice it is to have my articles called “brilliant”? Made my day. Made my weekend!). Thanks too for your honesty about pain and how you set it aside to care for your family. That’s a familiar story for me as well.

    I’ve written a much longer article, much more personal, about my life with chronic pain and the dueling narratives at work about people like me who take prescription pain medication: One narrative is life-giving. It says we are accessing a helpful therapy so we can live a full life and care for others despite chronic pain. The other narrative is one of great shame. We are not strong, smart, or spiritual enough to combat our pain with alternative therapies, mindset, meditation, prayer, etc. We are dependent. We are weak. We need a medication that is responsible for an explosion of painkiller abuse, and somehow our need is implicated in the crisis.

    I’m hoping to submit the article to some print magazines. We’ll see where that goes! But even if it doesn’t get published, writing it was therapeutic. And I love when what I write connects me with others who have similar struggles and joys.

    Reply
    • September 25, 2010 at 11:02 am
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      Ellen, thank you for not thinking I am a stalker. 🙂 Your words will be an encouragement to many who are hurting. Good luck on the other article you are trying to get published! 🙂 Let me know where/when. I’d love to see it.

      Reply
      • September 27, 2010 at 8:40 am
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        Some of the most rewarding collegial relationships I’ve developed with other writers via the Internet have resulted from my own “stalking” of others through their blogs! Thanks again for being in touch and sharing your own writing with me!

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  • September 25, 2010 at 11:27 am
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    Marc and I had a discussion about this the other day. For yrs I suffered from intense migraines then thankfully they subsided. They have now come back, not in the same way but just enough to aggravate me because I had gotten use to not having them. I told Marc I did not understand when people hide their pain from others. I tend to want the encouragement, prayers, even the sympathy. Thanks for giving me a different perspective though (because I soo agree with your friends from India) because I never thought of it in the way that you put it. I will try to be less judgemental, but I am glad that you shared. I won’t offer any advice but as usual will keep you in my prayers.

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  • September 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm
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    I love this…”In India, sickness and weakness are not considered a thing to be ashamed of. If one is vomiting and there is no where to vomit, one would kindly open her sari or cloth to catch the vomit to help the person. I do not understand why you Americans are ashamed of pain as weakness. We use weakness to show our love and care for one another. Tell her we will all be here to help her.”
    I probably would have never been this close to the Lord w/o my chronic pain…who else would I go to for help than Him?
    Blessings

    Reply

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