chronic pain, soul care & better theology

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 17 Comments

chronic pain soul care and a better theology

“when we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope”

– henri nouwen

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one year ago today i had back surgery to repair a gnarly ruptured disc.  it was one of the scariest things i have ever done.  as someone who had never had a serious injury and rarely takes any medicine, and is always on the go, it was really traumatic.   the pain leading up to it was excruciating, like none i had ever been remotely close to experiencing before, and i didn’t drive a car for 2 1/2 months and would have to either stand or lay down wherever i went.  i wrestled with the reality of being desperate & the bad theology that sometimes oozed on me.  it wasn’t just painful physically; emotionally it took its toll, too.  after my surgery, some of the pain dissipated and i started to resume some parts of my old life, but i am forever changed.  i have to think of my back every day, all day.  once in a while i go an hour or two where i don’t think about it at all, but that is very rare.

i’m so much better than i was a year ago.  and for that i’m grateful. 

however, before my surgery i could work all day and then all night and be just fine.  i could go, go, and go some more.  now, all of that has changed.  a year later, i have slowly eased back into my normal pace, which is a fast and intense one.  and i have discovered, unfortunately the hard way, that it’s just not possible.  my normal pace is no longer an option.  the stress i used to be able to carry is now just too much sometimes.  this past month has been a rough one for me, lots of ugly situations that have taken their toll on my soul. i have felt my back start to break again, pain i hadn’t experienced in a long time seep back in again, and at first i did what i usually do.

got mad at myself for working too hard.

got really scared.

got frustrated at God for somehow messing with my old life.

but, fortunately, i didn’t stay there for long.  that’s my reflex, no doubt, but i am learning a new way of living that isn’t so harsh & mean, not only to myself but to God, either.  i continue to practice letting God off the hook.  and then, instead of beating the crap out of myself for working too hard, take a step back and recognize that i am just still learning how to live this new way.

i am now a person who has chronic weakness that i must be aware of.

i am more vulnerable.

I now must tend to the care of my body & soul in an intentional way.

it’s terribly hard for me to embrace this reality.  but it’s just the truth.  and it’s been better for me in all kinds of ways, too.   it also opens the door for such a better theology.  that God is not the one who causes this pain and if i do this or that spiritually, it will all magically disappear.   i do not believe that.  i am a human being and i live in a broken, weird world where there is a gap between what i want and what i need.  strength in the world’s eyes tends to be utter and complete healing, kicking ass & taking names, conquering the battle.  i wish i could on this one, oh i wish i could.   that’s what i was hoping for, too.

but a year later i think there’s a better lesson here that i’m learning to embrace.  my back is an indicator now to listen.  a voice that talks to me and tells me that i’ve pushed it too far.  or i’ve been pushed too far.   that i need to slow down.  that i need to let go.  that i can’t carry the burdens in the same way i used to carry them.  it points me toward soul care & taking better care of myself.  it reminds me of my desperate need for Jesus’ love & comfort & mercy & peace.  it helps me mourn and feel and be a human being.  it calls me to strengthen my pericardium in some important areas.   it reminds me of the often forgotten line in the serenity prayer that calls us to “take this sinful world as it is, not as i would have it.”

so there’s my little ramble for my one year anniversary.  i am thankful for all the ways i am moving again, living again, feeling again, for the ways i am indeed healing.  i love what i’m learning in a lot of ways & hate it in others.  but i do know that gratitude heals and that pain can teach us important truths about God, ourselves & this crazy little life we get to live.