Start With Compassion

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By Terry A. DeYoung
Editor, Breaking Barriers Summer 2014

This spring, in the days prior to and especially following knee-replacement surgery, I was asked several times a day, “How would you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10?” Frequently, pained by uncertainty, I would respond with a mocking precision that puzzled the questioner. “3.63,” I’d say confidently, pausing for effect, “but I’ll leave it to you round off that number for your charting.”

I was having fun, mostly, but if a simple question to measure pain at a given moment is a challenge for some of us, imagine the chore of defining, tracing, or pinpointing something evasive, mysterious, and misunderstood like chronic pain.

Generally pain is a protective sensation, an alarm essential for our survival. But sometimes pain seems to go haywire as systems malfunction, sending false alarms that torment people’s lives.

Although an estimated 100 million North Americans live with chronic pain, there’s no telling who the victims of chronic pain will be. Chronic pain may be traced to something like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or neuropathy, but in many instances the cause is not identifiable, diagnosable, or logical. For example, do you know anyone who experiences phantom pain associated with an amputated limb?

If doctors and their patients are stumped by chronic pain, how can we in the church possibly help? We can begin by showing compassion—listening, trying to understand, praying for one another, offering assistance with practical tasks. As John Cook cautions in his helpful resource, A Compassionate Journey: Coming alongside People with Disabilities or Chronic Illnesses, avoid giving advice or seeking solutions. “Ultimately,” writes Cook, who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, “trying to ‘fix’ things will lead us away from genuine caring.”

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Sherri Maat

Sherri Maat

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