the stopping place of chronic pain
Early last year I was given a long-awaited diagnosis by a neurosurgeon for a neck injury I’ve been dealing with since 2015. Major disc generation. Bone spur. Spinal stenosis. Cervical facet syndrome. Low fluid. No more running. Nerve pain. The only solution would be surgery and we won’t do that. Over the years that initial injury has bloomed into daily discomfort in my arms and especially my elbows and hands. Aching. Throbbing. Fatigue.
Maybe you know this too: the thing about chronic pain is that is forces you to pay attention to the minuscule… and remain there.
When it's quiet, or when you're still, or when life is running full tilt, the chronic pain's discomfort screams quite loudly. And peace has to be made with what doesn't change.
If I was going to be stuck (for lack of a better word), I didn't want to be stuck alone.
Simone Weil wrote, “Attention is the only faculty of the soul which gives us access to God.”
I asked God that I could really know Him in everything.
And in His remarkable grace, He grants me that gift, and it makes dealing doable. For example, things like a sweet moment with Anna, or the working out of both girls being asleep for an hour at the same time, or a great book to read while I pump milk, or an extra encouraging text from a friend, or a belly laugh at something John says, or stealing cookie dough (my favorite) from my sister's fridge, or an inspiring quote, or an overwhelming washing of joy or peace when I least expect it… in the micro, I see God reaching out for me.
Or when, even when I want to fold into self-pity or discouragement or flat out quit for the day, and I don't, I see it as God showing up for me. Producing for me what I can't.
With me. In this.
There are days the discomfort is so distracting I want to cry. And sometimes I do. With nothing else to do, in my heart's eye, I'm a child reaching out for the hand of the Shepherd. His eyes are kind, His touch gentle, His words meaningful.
Abigail Dodds wrote once, “His pushing us past our limits is his grace to us just as much as his encouragements are. He’s driving us toward his goodness. He’s pressing us beyond ourselves to new vistas of himself.”
Who is God in chronic pain? He's there. He's transcendent. He's personal. He's real.
Nothing is pointless. Nothing has to be wasted. Anything can be useful to draw nearer and nearer to a God who wants to be known by you.
Sometimes I wonder if I have the stamina for this to be a thing for the rest of my days, but at least I'm not alone. I'm close with Someone who for forty years sustained His people in the wilderness; “they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.” (Nehemiah 9:19-21)
Here are two other reflections throughout this journey: