How Does Your Faith Help with Chronic Pain?

When you are seeking relief from suffering, both physically and spiritually

Posted in , May 24, 2022

Knee pain

I was on a Zoom meeting the other day when someone noticed that I was wincing and grimacing.

“Are you okay?” she asked. 

Well, no. All I’d done was cross my right leg over my left, and my right knee felt like it was going to explode. 

The injury happened on an early morning hike with my golden retriever Gracie. We were coming down the steep part of the Three Mile Hill trail in the Berkshires when I lost my footing on a dew-slick rock. I fell forward and landed solidly on my knees on a flat rock a foot or so below, my right knee taking the brunt of my weight. I writhed around in the dirt for a few minutes, uttering some things I won’t record here while Gracie looked on with that expression she always gives me when I stumble: Why don’t you just go on all fours? She is a skeptic of bipedalism and truth to tell, she rarely takes a spill herself. 

Fortunately, we were near the end of the trail, so I hobbled down to the Jeep berating myself for being so clumsy. I should have iced as soon as I got home, but I put it off and just popped a couple of Advil instead. That should do it, I thought. Now I was paying the price.

The knee worsened as the day wore on. Even after icing I was limping. I could barely climb the stairs unless I took one at a time. This was real pain.

It had been a long while since I’d had to deal with acute physical pain, a blessing I now realized I’d taken for granted. So many of you out there deal with chronic pain every day. Relief from debilitating pain is one of the most common prayer requests we get at Guideposts, pain much worse than my contused knee. My wife Julee has suffered from back pain for years. Gracie sprained a paw this winter running through the snow. We had to ice it daily and wrap it at night and give her pain pills.

Pain is part of life. When I was little and hurt myself, my mother, devout Catholic that she was, would tell me to offer it up to the souls in purgatory to help shorten their time there. Reluctantly I would agree to “suffer it up,” as I put it, though I didn’t really get the concept of after-death purification (neither did Martin Luther).  She also reminded me that Jesus too suffered, and not just on the cross. “Imagine how many times He hit His thumb learning to be a carpenter under Joseph or stubbed His toe walking the shores of Galilee. He suffered like us.” Pain, my mother believed, could be sacrificial, which was why she put sharp pebbles in her shoes on Good Friday. 

Still, there is nothing pleasant about pain even if it is the body’s way of warning us that something is wrong (just as a pained conscience is God’s way of telling us we’ve sinned). And I’m not happy about my knee. But I will suffer it up, as it were, not for the souls in purgatory this time but for all of you who endure far greater debilities than I and as a reminder of how profoundly blessed I am to have been spared such suffering so far in life. In fact, my knee feels better already. 

For those of you who have chronic pain, please share how you deal with it physically and spiritually. Do you struggle? How does your faith help sustain you?

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