Thinking About Pain…because it’s easier than feeling it

I have lived a relatively pain-free life. Until recently. I can remember about a year ago when I was sitting at a meal with friends and the person next to me asked what was wrong with my neck. She went on to say that I seemed to be moving stiffly. I was surprised because I hadn’t even noticed.

Fast forward about three months and I did start to notice some pain in my shoulder. I pretty much tried to ignore the aching because I feared that perhaps I had injured my rotator cuff and my mind was full of horror stories of painful surgeries and even more painful therapeutic recoveries.

Then about six weeks ago at a routine checkup I mentioned to my doc how the pain seemed to traveling down my arm, seizing the bicep and causing tingly itchiness all the way down to my hand. I was having trouble typing on the computer, which all but put a halt to my writing.

My doc sent me for an x-ray of my neck and the findings supported her suspicion and diagnosis of degenerative osteoarthritis of the C5 and C6. Welcome to the perpetual pain club that goes along with getting older. Take your ticket directly to physical therapy and make friends with your nsaid.


Then I got sick, so-much-pain-I-couldn’t-move sick. Seems I had a wicked strep infection that my body responded to with an interesting, but non-life-threatening, condition called ermythia nodosum. I ended seeing a dermatologist and having a biopsy and a rheumatologist and gaining a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, along with several other multi-syllabic scary medical words.

Yesterday I wore tennis shoes to work. I was a little nervous about it. I work ten hours and the longest I had shoes on for almost a month was about a three hour stretch. Other than soreness in my shoulder, I’m feeling pretty normal. I’m quite happy to report that I wore the shoes all through the day, right up to bedtime!


Normal. Just what is that? And what will it look like in the future? How does one learn to live with pain? I have watched my husband be in chronic pain for thirty years. I have seen him cycle in and out of major depression because of it. I have made excuses upon excuses for his moodiness and the dark cloud of pain that has hounded him for so long. I don’t want to let my pain control my moods. I have seen it try…I didn’t like the way I responded.


As I pondered this, my thoughts seemed to automatically go to Paul’s prayer for the thorn in his flesh to be removed. Paul: God, take this away. I can’t do everything you want me to do with this. Others will see this problem and focus on how you seem unable to remove it. That can’t be good PR for an al- powerful and lavishly gracious God.

And God says: No. Nope. Not going to do it. See, the more dependent upon me that you are, the more you will find that I am all you need and that I will give you just what you need, right when you need it. Not one minute before. And it will feel like I’m late, like I’m not paying attention. Do not give into that lie. See, here’s the thing when you come to the end of yourself, your answers, your strategies, your strength, I AM there. When you’ve come to the end yourself I AM. And I will be. I will be your strength. And I will be your joy.

On the first Sunday back to church in a month, I had the blessed opportunity to sing a duet with my pastor, a godly man with a wonderful tenor voice. We sang the old hymn, “Day by Day.” Words that went straight to my heart. Psalm 84:7 describes how the followers of God go from “strength to strength.” There is no gap, no space where His strength is not available to us. No space whatsoever. None. Day by day, every hour, moment by moment, the Lord himself is near me, with a special mercy for each hour. For you too.

My prayer is that when the pain is bad, and the heart is weary, that God will make His strength known, both in my head and my heart, my feelings…because that’s the place where the gap sometimes forms for me. When what I’m feeling hurts and screams louder than what I know to be true from God’s Word, I need to lean hard on the One bridges the gap.

Have pain? Need strength? Leaning hard?

The Message in the Silence

This morning my daughter posted this on Facebook: Why is it that your kids don’t seem to hear you unless your yelling at them, but then they give you that pouty face that makes you feel sick for having yelled at them so they’d finally listen?! Being a parent sucks!

I will admit that my first thought was to smile, thinking of all the yelling I did when she was my strong willed always right closed minded child. We raise them to be independent and have opinions. We just don’t realize that they’re going to develop those so early and with such strength.

Reading her post got me thinking about my own childhood. My mother wasn’t a yeller. That’s not to say she couldn’t—I received my share of loud scoldings. My mother had three other weapons in her arsenal that often left me wishing she was a yeller. First, she was the master (perhaps even the inventor) of “the look.” No word needed to be spoken; message received loud and clear: cease or die. What was most amazing to me was when she used it on other kids at stores or other public places and they got the message too!

The second tool that my mother relied on was action. We knew that mom would not hesitate to use whatever was at hand or just her hand to make her point. This resulted in my brother getting konked on the head the telephone receiver when was making too much noise while she was on the phone (phone calls were typically fewer and much more important back in the day). Hair brushes, yardsticks, and those stupid paddle ball paddles—looking back I now see why she was always willing to give into that childish indulgence as we checked out at the store. You think we might have put that together better.

But the most effective tool in my mother’s parental arsenal was silence. Silence typically conveyed one of two messages, both extreme. She was either extremely disappointed or so angry that if she said anything she would have exploded. This final weapon was so powerful that it always got our attention and resulted in our praying for the silence to end.

As I am writing this, I am on the mend from a very weird and pain-filled three weeks. I progressed from swollen feet to extremely swollen feet and ankles and pain while walking to nodules all over my legs and arms and in my joints (elbows, wrists, fingers, knees, ankles toes), to fevers and shakes. I’ve had so many blood tests, I feel like a pin cushion—the very nice woman in the outpatient check-in knows me by name. I had a punch biopsy. Standing was so painful. At times I admit I just melted into tears. And I just couldn’t shake the thought: what if this is as good as it gets? I believe in healing, but I know that God doesn’t remove every infirmity.

Now, I realize that my suffering was probably very light compared to others. But it was mine and for a relatively active and healthy person this was intense and scary. Perhaps the was the worst: not knowing what was going on and not knowing how long it would continue.

Getting quiet with God this morning, thinking about my daughter’s post and my pain, I found myself thinking about the times I cried out to God these past few weeks. I began to feel like Malachai: how long, God? Silence. I wanted to be angry, to decry what seemed so unfair. But I couldn’t. Because somewhere in the silence there was a drawing…a calling…a voice…trust me.

At first I thought my pain was God “screaming” at me, me the errant, disobedient child. Punishing. Then it seemed more like a “smack” of sorts to get my attention. But each of those fell short. All my experiences with the silent messages from my mother were good for one thing for sure: they taught me to listen, listen hard, and listen long—for the answer is always there in the silence. At least it has been for me.

But like I said, I appear to be on the upswing. Maybe that’s why Job didn’t curse God when his wife suggested it. She wasn’t evil, she just ached to watch him suffer, and was suffering herself. Hope dies hard. Even if the pain I was suffering was going to be my friend for the rest of the journey, I would have adapted…somehow. And I know that God would have been with me. That was the kind of answer that Malachi got. God let the prophet know that he wasn’t going to like the answer to his question because God was going to use his enemy to bring about His purpose. It was the same message for Jeremiah (read ALL of Jeremiah 29).

I don’t know how it goes for you, but I tend to struggle with trying to fix and control. Trust doesn’t always come easy, but I usually get there. Just like when I was a child. Just like when I dealt with my own children. Sometimes learning is hard, as my daughter is finding. Parenting, too. Just ask God.