Living With Chronic Pain
It’s not easy for a person to set aside her will for God’s.
by Nancey West
“We will find out what is wrong with you,” the doctor said with confidence, “but you won’t like it.”
His words replayed in my mind over the following months. I may not like a diagnosis, but I hated not knowing what was wrong with me.
Pain and fatigue
After I fought depression for years, medication helped turn my life around. I conquered the despair and felt satisfied with myself — a feeling I never thought I could experience. But all that changed when I began developing muscle pain and debilitating fatigue during routine work.
“Jon, there is something wrong with the 4-wheeler,” I told my husband one night. “It is pulling to the left. My arm gets tired from fighting with it.”
After checking the vehicle, Jon shrugged, “Everything looks fine to me.”
I loved doing work on the farm, but the ache in my arm and shoulder made it unpleasant. The following day I would be too exhausted to do anything. I stopped driving the equipment while I rested to heal.
It wasn’t only the farm work I had to give up. Frustration and fatigue kept me from completing exercises at the gym and riding my horse. My dreams of trail riding and camping with my family were quickly fading.
I had spent my life believing my value was related to what I contributed to my family, church, and community. My self-esteem and confidence began to fade. I’m not worth anything anymore.
I explained my condition to each new doctor, waited for test results, then waited to see the next specialist. This process took time — a lot of time. Weeks quickly blended into months. Seasons passed. Then my illness was measured in years, with the same pain and fatigue.
Disappointment weighed heavily. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong, but worse, they had no sense of urgency. Whatever I had was not life-threatening, so time was of no concern for them. This condition may not have been fatal, but it had killed my lifestyle, threatened my dreams, and attacked my value.
There’s so much I used to do — so much I want to do now. I prayed for the answer I wanted: to be healed of this draining illness.
One morning dawned to yet another gray day. Heavy fog hung like a curtain around the trees, their eerie silhouettes barely visible from my bedroom window.
The cold image seemed to mirror my life since I developed chronic health problems. My world kept shrinking around me, cutting off the vision I once had for my future. The faint outline of my dreams seemed to be slipping away through the uncertainty around me.
I snuggled beneath a blanket and read through old journals. One line caught my attention: “Sometimes the despair of feeling hopeless can open channels to God. For God, even when we use Him as a last resort, is always there with loving arms.”
Feeling despair: That was definitely me. But I was not using God as a last resort. I was relying on Him to answer my prayers.
That was the problem. I was waiting for Him to help me through this health problem. I never asked Him to help me live with it. God provides the ability to do His will. I was just passing time until I had strength to do mine.
“Lord, show me how to be productive again!” I cried as I thought about the words of Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (NLT).
I realized my illness wasn’t meant to be a disaster; it was a new direction. I may not be able to live the lifestyle I once had, but God promised me a future. Getting my old life back was not an option; letting go of the past was. I would praise God and use the abilities He gave me in hope for the future.
I began to exercise again — not the kind I had done in the past, but movements my body would allow without becoming overwhelmed. It wasn’t much compared to what I used to do, but I felt a great accomplishment.
Eating better became a priority. I read labels, avoided certain additives, and added more vegetables to my diet. Soon, I had more energy.
I educated myself on more than food. I researched symptoms, what may cause them, and how to treat them. My search confirmed there was no magic cure.
I decided to join a class on living with a chronic condition, and it was the best thing I could have done. There I met others dealing with known conditions but still sympathetic to my ordeal.
We had many things in common in our struggles with the medical field, our self-esteem, and facing the future. A weight lifted from my shoulders after I shared with people who understood.
Also, I learned to set goals. I tired easily, so I planned only one main adventure each day. That might be going to church or sweeping the floor. If I had something important to do that would wear me out, I would plan to rest the day before and a couple of days following.
It was imperative to know when to take breaks and rest. I wouldn’t start a project if it had to be finished before I needed a rest. I did not return to work on the farm, but I did work in my yard, setting a timer so I didn’t overwork before I took a break. When my body became sore, I would relax in a tub of hot water. It was my job to take care of myself.
The most important change I made was in my attitude. First, I had to learn to forgive myself. At the grocery store, I often found myself explaining to the checkout person, “You must wonder why a healthy-looking person like me would need assistance with my groceries.” In time, I learned not to apologize for accepting help.
Fortunately, I had help from my loving family. Jon never complained when he had to cook his own dinner after a day at his job and an evening working on the farm. He accepted my limitations; now I needed to. And I had to stop dwelling on negative things, like what I couldn’t do. I had plenty of good things to think about.
I stopped waiting on God to restore my health. Instead, I trusted Him with my future and worked on areas of my life that I could improve. I used the gifts God gave me and reestablished my love of writing.
As I stared out the window to absorb my thoughts, I looked up past the treetops, where the fog was lighter. Gazing straight up through a part in the clouds, I saw blue sky.
I took this as God’s reminder to look up to heaven in my struggles. My future may not be clear, but nothing can fade the hope God has promised.