Chronic Pain?

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By Laurie Baron
Hope Church (RCA), Holland MI
Breaking Barriers Summer 2014

After I’d been out of commission for a few months, my pastor made a passing reference to “these chronic conditions.” I corrected him—my condition wasn’t chronic, it was just slow to abate. Now, five years on, I still don’t know what to call my dis-ease and wonder whether I will ever feel “normal” again. But my dictionary defines chronic as “persisting for a long time,” and there’s no denying it’s been a long time.

If I resist the word “chronic,” I hesitate to claim “pain” as the problem. I’ve told doctors often that I don’t really have pain. Rather, various discomforts and malfunctions, sometimes manageable, sometimes incapacitating, have wreaked havoc with my life and expectations.

So the doctors turn their tests and skills toward finding an answer for me, but so far solutions have been partial at best. In fact, I look quite healthy. I respond to this clearly good news in a variety of ways: I have been angry, cynical about medical practitioners, depressed, panicky, convinced I am faithless, convinced I am losing my mind, convinced I am an emotional cripple, or a few of these at once. Always, I carry the weight of my paradoxical reality.

Slowly, I am coming to learn that this struggle is itself a kind of chronic pain. If I can’t name my suffering, how can I control it? How can others understand it? How do I care for myself, and how can others care for me? Can I still be of use to anyone? The easiest thing is to back away from the questions, the fear, and the confusion that is alive in me and obvious in the faces around me.

During the darkest time, I began to notice some faint lights glimmering. A few people kept popping up in my inbox—even mailbox!—not close friends or designated caretakers but people from my church who noticed my absence and sent greetings. My pastors and a few confidants stayed present. They believed me and continue to respect my experience even on the days when I find it difficult to do so. They honor and welcome my gifts and accept unquestioningly the extent to which I feel able to serve. Their openness has helped me swim against the tide of isolation and toward life and wholeness.

An old intercessory prayer may resonate for others as it does for me: May God’s Spirit—and God’s people—be present “with all who suffer with whatever their suffering may be called.”

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Sherri Maat

Sherri Maat

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