As a child, I never imagined that one day, I would suffer from chronic pain. I was an active kid, a teen who loved physical activity. I thought I would remain healthy forever. But sometimes, life takes a detour.
A few months after the birth of my third child, my right side started trembling whenever I made the slightest move. Inexplicable weakness, extreme fatigue, and neurological pain continued to affect my life for years. In time, I discovered that the primary cause of the weakness and fatigue was intolerance to gluten. Three days after I switched to a gluten-free diet, my fatigue lifted, the weakness disappeared, and I could walk without a cane! I still have relapses from time to time if I come into contact with gluten or other allergens that have the same effect on my nervous system. But usually, I only have to deal with moderate fatigue and weakness, not the debilitation I used to know.
Read more about Anne-Marie's struggle with chronic pain.
However, the neurological pain on the right side of my body never went away. Up till this day, it greets me upon waking and accompanies me throughout the day. Sometimes, it lessens in intensity, but it never fully leaves me.
I am not the only one to suffer from chronic pain. According to Statistics Canada, in 2005 “chronic pain affected 27 per cent of seniors living in households, compared with just 16 per cent of the household population aged 18 to 64.” It might not sound like it, but that’s a lot of people! This means nearly one person out of six living in Canada suffers from chronic pain.
The effects of chronic pain
Chronic pain inevitably influences our quality of life. Pain can rob us of hope and joy and leave us feeling discouraged, even depressed. Our inability to accomplish even simple tasks is frustrating. The fact that we live in a society that puts so much stock in productivity can leave us with an inferiority complex. If our pain prevents us from finding employment, we then struggle with all the issues that poverty and lack of status bring with them.
Thanks to my husband, I never had to deal with the effects of poverty, but I did experience the other effects of chronic pain. I can’t begin to tell you how often I found myself crying alone in my room because I could not be the mother, the wife, or the friend I wanted to be. I begged God more than once to heal me, but in vain.
Over and over again, He brought me to verses that asked me to trust him, promising he could accomplish more through this suffering than without it. I did not find that thought very comforting — at least in the beginning — but slowly, through the years, I saw God work in my heart and in my life in unexpected ways.
Freedom from human expectations
I’ve always wanted to please others, and often, I’ve exhausted myself trying to do so. However, chronic pain imposed huge constraints on the help I could offer. In fact, I found myself having to ask others for help: my husband, my children, my mother, my friends, my neighbors. I found it difficult to ask each time, because to do so, I had to abandon this image of myself as a strong, independent woman.
One day, I was talking to God about how frustrated this made me, and I sensed his Spirit saying, “I always give you the strength to do what I want you to do. But are you willing to only do what I want? If all I want from you is that you lie there in that bed and enjoy a relationship with me, would you do it?”
At first, my answer to this question was a resounding “NO!”
My response revealed a lot to me. Years before the pain started, I had opened my heart to Jesus, telling him I was willing to be whoever he wanted and do whatever he wanted. But that “NO” of mine showed me that what I had meant, really, was that I was willing to be whoever he wanted, as long as that person was healthy and strong; I was willing to do whatever he wanted, as long as that work was important in my eyes and the eyes of others.
As I slowly adapted to the restrictions that pain and weakness imposed on me, I realized that I was learning more and more to relinquish my desire for human recognition and draw my sense of worth simply in whom I was to God. His love for me is constant, unconditional. He never ceases rejoicing in me and delighting in me as his child. I discovered that his love, joy, and peace could fill my heart — despite the weakness and pain — when I chose to live united to him, content to do what he asked.
An eternal perspective
Often, through those years, all he did ask me to do was to lie in bed and enjoy him. In those times of rest, I discovered the comfort and strength that comes from focusing my whole heart on his beauty and the beauty of the eternity he offers. Through Christ, God has provided the perfect, eternal solution to the problem of sin and pain, suffering, illness, and death. I learned to long for that eternity, thankful that all the pain in this life is but the tiniest dot on an infinite line.
The pain God has allowed in my life has also helped me become more disciplined. I have learned through the years that pain is lessened if I watch what I eat, how much I sleep, and what kind of exercising I do. As a result, I have adopted a healthier, more relaxed lifestyle.
I didn’t realize it as I was going through it, but those years of weakness, pain, and rest were preparing me for what I am doing today. As a writer, I constantly draw on all God has taught me and continues to teach me through those hours spent in bed listening to him and talking with him. As a mentor, I answer letters from people who are struggling with pain and suffering, and I know that my own experience with pain helps me pray compassionately for them and encourage them in their journey.
A daily choice
I am still learning to live through the pain. The choice to find my worth, peace, and joy in God is a daily one. I also need to constantly renew my decision to limit myself to doing what he wants me to do, secure in the knowledge of his perfect love and delight in me. On those days when I choose to live for God and with God, fixing my eyes on eternity, I really do enjoy life, despite the pain. In fact, I find that often, in my times of worship and meditation, I become unaware of the pain for awhile. (By the way, I have found that distraction is a great method of pain reduction, which is my excuse for watching TV and films when the pain is bad.)
God doesn’t promise a life free of pain, but he does promise to walk with us every step of the way if we invite him to. And He also offers us freely an eternity where pain, sorrow, suffering, evil, and death will be things of the past!
If you struggle with chronic pain, you are not alone. God is there to comfort you and guide you through it.