Over at the Biblical Seminary faculty blog, I posted this entry about the matter of chronic pain for the Christian and ended with a few brief thoughts as to what faith looks like when you suffer with a chronic condition.
You will note that in the post I do not mention anything about healing. I resisted that discussion for the time being (good as it is) because I think it so often adds to the sufferer’s experience of pain (e.g., “now I carry the extra burden of wondering why I haven’t been healed and possibly your judgement that something is wrong with my faith”) AND minimizes the current experience of pain.
On Friday, Joni Eareckson Tada spoke about the fact that she still is stopped by people who tell her they pray she will get up out of her wheelchair and walk. I imagine she is polite but her answer was that she would not want that prayer answered now. She can save walking for heaven. Today, she has a more important job to do, and her paralysis is being used by God to refine herself and redeem others.
Last night we ended our counseling & physiology class. All semester we have been looking at counseling through the lens of the body and its problems. All counseling problems are physiological since all counselees come with a body. But of course, some problems have more complex etiology and require counselors to understand how the body is part of the problem and solution. This semester we looked at a wide variety of problems: trauma, anxiety, addiction, sexual problems, bipolar disorder, autism, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and much more. In addition, we explored how insomnia is the “mental illness multiplier” and some basic self-care and mindfulness provides much relief across all problems. And yet, we barely scratched the surface of the physical stuff we’d like to know.
But last night, we considered the problem of chronic illness, illnesses like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. Here’s the question I posed. What gives us hope when we no longer seek the removal or end of an illness? Most people come to counseling because they want to make their marriages better, end depression, find a new career, etc. But would you go knowing that all you can do is find marginal improvement and new ways to accept a chronic condition?
We discussed the unique problem of receiving endless advice (“Have you tried this? Have you considered that?”), the tendency to resist new ideas even while hoping a miracle will come along, and the fear that others will believe that your chronic condition is, “all in your head.”
Back to the question we asked, “What gives you hope when you don’t hope it will get better?”
Some answered that they found hope in finding other similar sufferers (though some danger in connecting with someone who only wants to vent). Others found hope in those who would be willing to listen and validate and help articulate lament. Still others found hope in those who would help them find just one more thing they can do to cope.
What would you find helpful and hope building?