Faith and Pain

T-Without-painThere have been a lot of books written from a Christian perspective on what pain is, what its purpose is, why God lets us experience it, so on and so forth. If you’re interested in that kind of thing I would direct you to the writings of C.S. Lewis and a book called “The Gift of Pain”… I forget the author, but your local Christian bookstore will be able to look it up.

I can’t really add anything to that discussion, but I can rant and ramble about my own experiences and the question I get asked often: “How can you continue to believe in a God that allows you to live with so much pain?”

Some of you know my identity. I haven’t really tried to hide it. I should probably do more to protect that, since there are those that don’t understand this blog and how it has nothing to do/everything to do with the work I do at much church and how I raise my children. The things I’m about to write will probably do more to expose that identity, but at this point, who really cares?

I deal with a great deal of chronic pain. It all started about 9 years ago (erf… has it really been that long?) with what we have come to call “The Episode”. The Episode was a stroke-like event that caused me a fugue state. Over the coming weeks and months, things got weirder and worse. I experienced a lot of lost time, some bad episodes that included tremors and other things that I don’t care to discuss (call it shame or modesty or pride or whatever, but I’ll leave it to your imagination.) The worst was the headaches. Blinding, crippling headaches.

I lost my job due to being unable to work. I saw tons of doctors, had tons of tests done, lots of x-rays and cat scans and MRIs and I don’t even know what else. The diagnosis? We don’t know. I have spots on one side of my brain that could be an indicator of MS, but I don’t have any other indicators (something about spinal fluid “bands”? I don’t fully understand that part.) Over time some of the other symptoms, through medication, have either disappeared or are controlled. What remains is the pain. Lots of pain. In particular, migraines. (And some weakness on the left side as well as some vertigo, depression, and anxiety,  but mostly pain.)

What we do now is just treat the symptoms, keep an eye on the spots in my brain to see if they are growing or multiplying. The thing we’re currently trying is Botox shots. Unlike the beauty treatment, Botox for migraines is much tinier doses in lots more areas. The idea is to “freeze” certain blood vessels so they don’t expand or contract, thereby maintaining a certain blood flow to certain areas of the head in an attempt to keep the pain controlled that way.

And it works. Sort of. Overall I’ve had approximately a 15 percent decrease in the frequency of my migraines and about the same decrease in intensity when they happen. Now that may not sound like much, but it’s the difference between being constantly bedridden in a dark room, and having a few days a week that I can actually get things done (like writing this blog, going out with my wife for Chinese food once in a while, do stuff for the church, etc.)

But I still have more headache days than non-headache days. And still issues with walking and balance. I’m not allowed to drive and I should probably consider a handicap parking permit for days when the parking lot at Wal-Mart is just too big. Exercise helps, but it’s limited to good days because when the headaches kick in it’s too much to bend and stretch and move.

So that’s my story. I could share a lot more about insurance issues and how the “Obamacare” act has pretty much saved my life and other things some might consider “political”. But that’s the highlights.

And that brings us to the question. The one I get a lot from my non-spiritual friends. And it’s honestly a good question:

How can you continue to believe in a loving God when he allows you to live like this? With constant pain?

And I have to honestly say: I don’t know.

Why do I have constant pain? I stopped asking that question a long time ago. Eventually, there might be an answer.  Like it really is MS. Or maybe something like “Chronic Brain Breakatosis” or some other medical term I don’t understand. At this point, it doesn’t matter to me anymore. There is no “why”, or at least not a “why” that matters in any way shape or form. Not to me.

Why did God give me this pain? I don’t think God did. Some would say that God gave  me pain as punishment, some would say He gave it me to teach me a lesson, others say it’s for me to be an inspiration to others, still others say it’s to drive me to faith and to accept, name and claim, and some other thingy to make me fully rely on God and when I do I’ll be healed.

Ugh. None of that sounds like God to me. Sure there are examples we could point to in scripture, Job, for example, the Egyptians being punished before the Exodus. a few others, but I don’t think that stuff applies to Christians that follow Christ. There’s Paul talking about the “thorn in his side” and God saying “My grace is sufficient” instead of taking it away. It might be something like that, but I haven’t heard any voice from heaven (and there is a lot of danger in applying the stories from the Bible about other people to yourself.)

What is God’s plan for you and your pain? If there is a plan, I haven’t been told what it is. And honestly, it’s not my concern whether there is a plan or not. If I’m part of some plan, I’ll be directed in how to implement it. If not, then I won’t. So why worry about it either way? Honestly, I don’t think there is one, but I’m not God, so I don’t know.

So if there is no why or what, why believe?

I don’t know. Is there a why to believing anything? Sure, there is science that explains things we believe, but if you are presented with the facts of gravity, are you still “believing” in it or have you just been presented with the facts?

I think of myself as a rational, reasoning person. I always want to know how things work, why they are the way they are, and I really like taking things apart to figure them out and putting them back together. My Christian faith is the same way. I don’t believe because someone told me to, I believe because I worked at it. I looked at it and took it apart and I looked at other things and I took them apart and I looked at things that didn’t agree with those things and took them apart and I studied and I figured things out.

There’s a long story to how I arrived at the Christian faith as “the thing I believe”. Maybe another post I’ll share it all. But my point is, my faith is like that lesson in gravity. I don’t believe it, I have been presented with the facts. Sure there are things I can never “know’ about it, but even scientists haven’t figured everything out. There are things that won’t be “known” in their lifetime, but they can observe and study those things. That’s how I deal with my faith.

And in my study, in my observing and learning, there are many things I’ve come to grips with. Like pain. It just IS. Like the fact that my second toe is longer than my big toe and my earlobes are attached to my head and the temperature in the desert is generally hot. We can explain how those things are the way they are (genetics and climate) but not WHY. There is no WHY to my pain. It just IS.

And since it just IS, why should that affect how I live my life any more than my long toe and the temperature in Arizona? I can’t explain it, so I just deal with it.

And God is still God and it doesn’t do me any good, it has no effect on my pain, if I sit around all day feeling sorry for myself and just begging for answers that may never come. All I have is forward.

And I think that is what God wants from me, from any of us, to just keep moving forward. Toward Him in our own way. To pray and then put our prayers into action. To believe, yet move with purpose and love. To do all things out of love for ourselves, but even more so for our ‘neighbors’ (that’s everyone, by the way).

Pain? It ain’t nothing. Love. That’s everything.

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