My Path through Pain

These past weeks and months have been a season of supporting in prayer dear friends who have had serious adversity in their lives. Our hearts have been heavy, as those we love have lost a child, a grandchild, a husband, and a father while others have suffered depression, illness, and financial distress. Indeed, we know that God tells us not to be surprised by the fiery ordeal that comes upon us for our testing as though some strange things were happening to us. (1 Peter 4:12) As believers we know that we WILL experience seasons of suffering.

My personal journey (which cannot begin to compare in scope to most of those mentioned above) these past few years has been through the valley of physical pain. I am up at 04:00 this morning once again visiting this “friend” with whom I’ve walked so closely for almost five years now. At present it is back pain, but for most of these years I have had a debilitating headache (caused by an old neck injury) which has wrapped itself around my brain twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Often it has been difficult to speak cohesively or to think clearly, much less to carry out the many responsibilities that come with the task of wife, mother, home school teacher, homemaker, hostess, and Bible study leader. For a year, the pain stayed near a level 8 or 9 of 10 almost continually. Though I was pursuing medical diagnosis and treatment, I was in China where medical care is not as advanced as in America and where pain is French bread. (OK, that’s in France but, yes, I admit it, I am a big “Remember the Titans” fan!) But the point is that in China the medical community doesn’t tend to be overly empathetic and except for anesthetizing during surgery rarely medicates for pain so I was pretty much on my own, except for God (but fortunately, He is an awesome “except”).

This adversity brought me face to face with a long held fear. I had never wanted to be a “sick mother” and, yet, there I was- living smack in the middle of a dreaded nightmare! As a Christian, I believe that God is sovereign; I believe that He is wise; I believe that He is good; and I had a decision to make. How was I going to respond in the midst of the battle? I strongly considered whining about it and throwing a pity party, and I confess that I had days when I tried it, but that was obviously unproductive! Practically speaking, the pain impaired my abilities, but spiritually speaking, I knew that God had my best at heart and I wanted to somehow glorify Him in this passage.

Months went by and the headache didn’t stop. In fact, it increased until it felt like a horrendous beast inside my brain roaring at me night and day. As most believers would do, I thought a lot about James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my beloved brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Through this, my gracious Lord led me to stop running FROM the discomfort, but rather to embrace this journey as a tool He was using to do a work of sanctification in my life. He convicted me that if I believed He really was in control, really was all wise, and really did love me perfectly, that He would only allow this headache in my life if it were for my best and His glory. Gradually the focus changed from “How can I make it stop?” to “How can I live with the headache in a way that glorifies God?” I can only attribute this switch to the amazing grace of Christ working in my heart, because in my own flesh such a thing would never have entered my mind. (And I want to add that I have never stopped praying that whenever God was done teaching me what He wanted me to learn from this, He would remove the headache.)

One problem with pain is that it is so consuming that it’s easy to focus inward, to magnify self, to want the whole world to cater to me. But that path leads only to despair and hopelessness. It was a trail I did not want to tread – but what a battle NOT to live in that dark place! In His grace, and as many sufferers through the ages have done, God led me to the Psalms. The Psalmists often began with crying out to Him with their troubles and concerns, but by the end of their song, they praised God for His mighty works and His holy character. Second Corinthians 10:5 also exhorted me to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, which became the discipline I desired, by God’s grace, to practice.

In the valley of intense pain, the Holy Spirit turned my gaze to the beauty and majesty of Jesus as shown through some favorite passages of Scripture two of which I will write at the end of this post. In the night watches when I had pain so intense I was in tears, I meditated on these verses, rejoicing in the sacrifices Christ made for us, in the humility He showed in His own sufferings, in the depth of His affliction on behalf of His children. And (this part sounds weird, but it really did help me) as I thought about my beautiful Jesus, I inhaled and exhaled deeply, intent on taking in the goodness of God rather than concentrating on the pain.

Many years ago, I approached a friend who was very joyful in her Christian life and asked her how she stayed that way. I didn’t really understand her reply at that time, because she said, “God has allowed many trials in my life. And I can’t explain it, but somehow at the bottom of them all, I found the joy of the Lord.” Friends, NOW I understand that answer! I can’t explain it either, but as God kindly drew my attention to His goodness and grace in a deeper way, I have exponentially more joy in Him than I ever imagined. He is SO sweet and SO lovely! His grace truly IS amazing!

Though I’ve had some times in the past six months of relative ease from the agony of intense headaches, they and other forms of pain continue to return regularly. I still have to fight my flesh, control my thoughts, and concentrate my attention once again on Christ. The battle is not over, and probably won’t be this side of glory. However, He has given me hope in the midst of the storm. He has shown me that His grace is sufficient, and it truly is sufficient, and it is and ever will be sufficient. And for that, I praise His name, and thank Him for the pain- that at the bottom of it, there can be joy in Him.

By grace alone,

Pat

Below are some Bible passages and the lyrics of a song that have ministered to me in my affliction.

Phil. 2:5-10

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
 And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs
 and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
 we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
 and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
 stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
 and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
 and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

2 Corinthians 4 and 5 have been particularly helpful as well, but I won’t clip and paste those here!

Also, I found my heart’s cry in this song:

Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer by Keith Getty

Jesus draw me ever nearer

As I labour through the storm.

You have called me to this passage,

and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

 

Jesus guide me through the tempest;

Keep my spirit staid and sure.

When the midnight meets the morning,

Let me love You even more.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

 

Let the treasures of the trial

Form within me as I go –

And at the end of this long passage,

Let me leave them at Your throne.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

8 thoughts on “My Path through Pain

  1. Pat, this is beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I remember spending great times In Isaiah when in back pain that had me in the bed. Hugs to you and I hope that there are more times of relief from this pain. He is faithful, come what may.

  2. Isn’t God’s Word so powerful when we lean on it? I’ll have to read back through Isaiah, Tricia, to be refreshed through it. Hugs back to you. I was happy recently with the photo of you surfing on your fiftieth birthday remembering how bad your pain had been! Praise God! Love you!

  3. What beautiful insights, Pat. Thank you for taking time to put this all in words to encourage and comfort others. I continue to pray for you, my sweet friend!

  4. Dear Pat,
    Thank you for pouring out your heart and your sharing your experience through pain. But, mostly thank you for sharing Jesus and His amazing, wonderful love for you (and me). I truly did not realize that you continued in such pain. I remember when you asked me to pray for you years ago and I did. However I did not realize the pain has continued. When you asked me to pray for you a couple weeks ago after our wonderful chat I realized that you must still have some level of pain. I will continue to pray for you! I will pray for relief from pain but also that the Lord will continue to use this to glorify Him and draw others unto Himself. Blessings my friend and lots of hugs to you from Ohio to Guangzhou! :-)

  5. Reading this makes me feel blessed in 2 ways….that I have an amazing God AND that I have such a wise and wonderful friend who helps me understand just how wonderful He is! I will be praying for you friend……thanks so much for sharing your heart.

    • Thank you, my friends, for the encouraging words and the prayers! God is so faithful. I appreciate His kindness in supplying me kind friends such as you ladies!

  6. Pat, Was referred to ‘THe Pearl River Diaries’ via an adoption blog I was reading. I’m sorry that you are experiencing the pain-I also have been living with it. Many surgeries, complications. Maybe you have tried this-but one of the things that has ‘drastically helped’ my neck/headaches (which would lead to vomiting/hospitalizations), is ‘deep tissue massage’. It took many sessions but I now-rarely get them. Blessings and may you find physical comfort.
    Pam

  7. Hi Pat, Joy google+ me…. How are you doing now? I am so encouraged by your writing and I can totally relate to your sharing. I used to experienced the a physical trial in HK and I was so amazed how close I was with him and how joyful peaceful I was when I was suffering. Just want to let you know we all share each other’s pain and lift up each other. Your family will be in our prayers.

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