Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hurting in a cursed world: Dealing with chronic pain ...

Millions of people today can relate to the painful plight of Job from long ago ...

"And now my life seeps away. Depression haunts my days. At night my bones are filled with pain, which gnaws at me relentlessly," Job 30:16-17.

For a period of time, Job would know the misery of chronic pain, something millions of people today are suffering and struggling with ...

"So Satan left the Lord's presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, 'Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die'," Job 2:7-9.

Job's wife observed the misery of her husband and had no patience for watching him try to endure his pain with integrity. Even the great prophet Jeremiah would know the pull of impatience with God, as he wrote:

"Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry," Jeremiah 15:18.

There are a few reasons why pain and suffering exists in this world, which makes for a theological discussion for a different post at a different time. But pain at some point, and to some degree, is something most don't escape in their lifetimes. In the book, "Christian Discipline," Oswald Chambers wrote the following:

"Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends in the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering."

Living in a cursed world means we will be subject to the experience of pain, perhaps even chronic pain like that of Job which "... gnaws at me relentlessly."

"Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay," Romans 8:18-21.

Yes, chronic pain is a hurtful reality for humanity, BUT their is help and hope. Helen Keller once said, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

Let's take a moment to look at the issue of chronic pain, and some ways of coping with it. The American Psychological Association (APA) states the following:

"Chronic pain is physically and psychologically stressful and its constant discomfort can lead to anger and frustration with yourself and your loved ones. By definition, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months and affects how a person lives their daily life. While physicians can provide treatment for the physical dimensions of chronic pain, psychologists are uniquely trained to help you manage the mental and emotional aspects of this often debilitating condition.

"Several medical treatments may be used to alleviate chronic pain, including over-the-counter and prescription medication, physical therapy, and less utilized treatments such as surgery. However, these options are only a few of the pieces necessary to solve the puzzle of chronic pain. Mental and emotional wellness is equally important --- psychological techniques and therapy help build resilience and teach the necessary skills for management of chronic pain."

I want to give you HOPE that studies show --- and my own clinical experience also verifies --- that a competent, skilled clinical therapist can routinely help chronic pain sufferers improve their experience in living with chronic pain. Following are some helpful tips regarding coping with chronic pain:

There's more than a spiritual "component." Chronic pain is more than a physical experience with a philosophical exercise. We are spiritual beings who happen to have physical bodies that may experience pain and hurt. In the Word of God we can gain a greater understanding of why pain is a part of this world (the "why" often makes an impact); but even more, we discover the Great Physician who can heal us of any malady (He healed Job) or enable us to endure physical pain that persists. When pain is chronic, it is often the dogged practice of spiritual disciplines that help us move effectively and purposefully from day to day.

Educate yourself. When it comes to your body and its health, you are your best advocate. Do your homework and educate yourself about the diagnoses of the cause of your pain. During appointments with physicians, ask all the questions you have and make sure your physician(s) understand you want to be well-educated and informed instead of settling for a quick five-minute doctor appointment that raises more questions than it does in providing information or answering questions. Also, make sure you have competent medical care. If you don't have confidence in your physician(s), seek referrals and make changes until you have medical care you have confidence in.

Be a good patient. When you have competent physicians to treat you, be a good patient and cooperate with them! If helping you includes taking medication regularly, going to physical therapy or receiving other tests or treatments, make sure you are doing what you should be doing to help yourself improve your own health.

Get professional help. Data shows that competent clinical therapists usually can help people suffering from chronic pain, often in significant ways. Yet, many chronic pain sufferers will see a physician but stubbornly refuse to find a competent counselor. While physicians work on addressing the root cause of the pain, you can get real help for the mental and emotional trauma and trials that chronic pain usually brings with it.

Direct your thinking productively. A competent clinical therapist can help you learn to direct your thinking from being overwhelmed with the experience of pain to more productive thinking patterns that help you endure and even overcome the assault chronic pain has on your thought life which, in turn, impacts you in every way. Again, get professional help for this!

Manage your stress. The APA states: "... emotional and physical pain are closely related, and persistent pain can lead to increased levels of stress. Learning how to deal with stress in healthy ways can position you to cope more effectively with your chronic pain. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep and engaging in approved physical activity are all positive ways for you to handle your stress and pain."

Become active and stay engaged. Chronic pain sufferers are often tempted to "shut down" or withdraw. While that temptation is understandable, it often makes the experience of coping with chronic pain even worse. The APA says, "Distracting yourself from your pain by engaging in activities you enjoy will help you highlight the positive aspects of your life. Isolating yourself from others fosters a negative attitude and may increase your perception of your pain. Consider finding a hobby or a pastime that makes you feel good and helps you connect with family, friends, or other people via your local community groups or the internet."

Find support. It's tough enough to persist through the daily challenge of persistent pain, but it can be even harder trying to do so all alone. Let family, friends, and your church family know your need to stay connected with others and how they can help you effectively endure your trials. Search the internet or your local community for support groups that offer an opportunity to connect with others with similar experiences who can understand your needs from the perspective of their own experiences with chronic pain.

There is both hope AND help for those who suffer chronic pain. That's not an empty statement of encouragement; my own experience counseling people with chronic pain has shown that getting competent professional help can make a life-changing difference in being able to live with pain, and quality-of-life doing so. If you're struggling with chronic pain, get the help you need!

Scotty

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