This isn’t a fun post. Sorry.
I’ve considered the usefulness of writing about this, and have been certain I’d never mention it. But it’s nagged me for a while and the reasons I’ve gleaned FOR writing, in my opinion, outweigh that keeping-personal-things-personal.
I’m not in the best of health.
The maddening thing about it is that no one knows what’s wrong with me.
I’ve had chronic pain since the 8th grade (and you’d never know it; I was an all-star athlete) but ever so slowly, new areas of pain have cropped up over the years. Last October was the first time I was in so much pain that I could barely walk.
I leaned on my grocery cart for support while limping through the store, and held onto furniture as I fumbled around the house tending to my four little boys.
Since October, different areas of pain have bounced around my body rendering me completely useless in the area of housekeeping. Although it’s never been my strong suit, one might now imagine how the laundry situation looks with 4 children in my wake. My husband has shouldered much of the tidying on the weekends. My mom comes once a week to help/give me a break.
I’m currently in limbo as a I wait to be seen in June by a rheumatologist who will do more blood testing, but so far, the only thing I’ve heard mention is Gout. WHAT 31 year old has arthritis??
Personally, Dr. Google and I have narrowed it down to a few other suspects: Fibromyalgia, Endometriosis, and Systemic yeast overgrowth (which actually is closely linked to the latter two, as well as gout and other arthritic conditions.)
My family thinks its just in my foot. But it’s all over. I’ve been seeing foot specialists because the medical system can’t handle more than one area of pain at a time and they make you schedule different appointments with different doctors based off of which part of your body is giving you a problem, and they don’t seem to enjoy connecting how the body is more of a whole than a bunch of separate parts. but whatever. I’m bitter, and I’m not a body part specialist.
And who knows, maybe there’s nothing wrong and my body is swelling in different places and I’m hobbling around because it’s all in my head and I’m crazy. And if you make it to the end of this post, I’m pretty sure that will be your conclusion too. Post over! Bye.
Okay, so there’s that information about me. I really didn’t want to share it. Why didn’t the blogger want to overshare? (That sounds like the beginning of a social media joke.)
Because this is what I fear spectators will say:
“It’s from having all those kids so close together!”
Maybe. Maybe it is. Maybe I’m breaking under the yoke of 4 little boys.
Diagnosis: TOO MANY KIDS.
Okay, who would you have me return in exchange for the ability to run a 5k (because obviously the choice is clear: Have too many kids or run marathons.)?
Second, I only have 4 kids. Not 8. Four children is not a big deal at all. Four! It’s a laugh. The spacing between them is 2 years on average.
But likely? I knew this was coming.
I believe what I am experiencing is a mix of genetics, environmental toxicity, and not being more self-aware.
If I’d seen a doctor and had my vitamin/mineral levels checked for deficiencies, had my blood tested properly for thyroid issues when I was in eighth grade and falling asleep in class unnaturally exhausted, and suffering chronic neck pain, perhaps I would not be where I am today.
If I had cut out gluten the day it occurred to me that perhaps it’s what makes me feel like I’ve been hit by a truck when I wake up, perhaps I’d not be counting down the hours until I can take my next round of Advil.
But I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t know.
Okay, so let’s get over the possible cause of my problems and move on to a deeper level:
the topic of pain.
Every specialist I’ve ever seen asks me the same question:
On a scale of 1-10 what is your level of pain?
My answer is always, “… not giving birth?”
Because on a scale of 1-10, 1Billion would be giving birth, and anything under that is, in my opinion, paper cuts.
But then those paper cuts are constant, and by the hundreds, and they interfere with your ability to think, to function, do normal things that you’d never thought twice about; like bending down to change a baby’s diaper, like dropping something and picking it up, like making a quick errand, like getting out of bed in the morning. I just spent two weeks waking up, afraid to move from the pain that would follow, and having to lay there and stretch for up to 45 minutes BEFORE I COULD EVEN SIT UP.
So yeah, no, this pain is not that shocking equivalent to losing a limb or giving birth, but more like someone taking a hacksaw to your leg, your toe, your foot, your back, your neck, and giving it a good tug every few minutes, every single day, every single night. Sometimes, that hacksaw is merely the sheets gently brushing an area of skin.
I don’t want prescription pain medication. Forgive me a little conceit when I say I’m smart enough to know that pain medication isn’t fixing my problem.
“yeah, but it helps you get through the day until you do.” I have been told countlessly. Okay, but more important to me is that I fear addiction. I have personally witnessed addiction to simple pain meds, and I have seen what it does to family. I won’t be counted among that.
Here we are! Here’s the whole point of this post:
Don’t waste your pain.
We live in a time where people believe that needlessly suffering is unthinkable. People need to be in comfort at all times.
I feel that if people in pain knew that they could use their pain as a weapon, as a way to bring others to Christ, they’d opt for it more.
[Here’s where you can scroll down to the bottom to read the “Too Long Didn’t Read Version”]
Uh…yikes, Carolyn. That’s a little, um. masochistic.
I know how it sounds at first. I do. It sounds like I’ve lost my marbles.
But I’m not the first person to think about pain like this. In fact, while looking up writings from the Bible and the saints about human suffering, I landed right in the lap of my patron saint: John Paul The Great.
Of course, you funny guy. OF COURSE YOU WROTE EXTENSIVELY ABOUT THIS and of course I’m reading it right now when I need to.
1984, the year I was born, St. Pope John Paul II wrote a 16k+ word apostolic letter titled:
Salvifici Doloris: ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING.
St. JPII used the Bible as the main foundation for his letter, and expanded his thinking, which of course perfectly aligns with Catholic teaching.
Basically, JPII says it’s natural to look to God and say “WHY!? Why me? Why that person? WHY SUFFERING AT ALL?”
JPII blasts away the stereotypical outsider opinion that Christians believe they suffer because they have sinned. “It is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. […] but first and foremost [because] it creates the possibility of rebuilding the goodness in the subject who suffers. […] Its (Suffering) purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God.”
JPII acknowledges that the “why” for suffering is a mystery, BUT! Lucky us, (and poor Job) it is because of Christ that we can grasp the meaning of it:
In order to discover the profound meaning of suffering, following the revealed word of God, we must open ourselves wide to the human subject in his manifold potentiality. We must above all accept the light of Revelation not only insofar as it expresses the transcendent order of justice but also insofar as it illuminates this order with Love, as the definitive source of everything that exists. Love is: also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
If you didn’t get that (I had to read it 3 times over), basically, it means: The answer to suffering is in love. We’re talking the love that caused God to send his only begotten Son into the world, knowing that by His holy and innocent son’s suffering and dying on the Cross, silly, not-so-innocent people like me will be able to see His awesome face when the time comes.
PJII explains further:
As a result of Christ’s salvific work [suffering and dying on the Cross], man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation. This is the light of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News. At the heart of this light is the truth expounded in the conversation with Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”(31). This truth radically changes the picture of man’s history and his earthly situation: in spite of the sin that took root in this history both as an original inheritance and as the “sin of the world” and as the sum of personal sins, God the Father has loved the only-begotten Son, that is, he loves him in a lasting way; and then in time, precisely through this all-surpassing love, he “gives” this Son, that he may strike at the very roots of human evil and thus draw close in a salvific way to the whole world of suffering in which man shares.
Christ died on the Cross in order to open the gates of Heaven, not to end human suffering on earth. As every single human being on earth has been created in the image and likeness of God, we are made to follow Christ to Calvary, and to suffer with Him. And if we think of God and His existence not in our 2D dimension of time by saying “Well Christ DIED and the work is done now,” we have to open our perception. Yes, Christ is the ascended Son of God, but we still have work to do. Jesus made that very clear to his apostles in the days leading up to his crucifixion and in the 40 days afterward before He joined our Father in heaven.
Now that kind of thinking is crazy talk to lots of people who think Jesus died to save the world from temporal suffering and they just get to kick back and live the good life and raise their hands to the sky every Sunday to the sound of drums.
But what I’m talking about –what JPII, what the saints, and the entire point of Jesus Christ’s story in history are talking about– is the only thing that makes sense!
BECAUSE HERE I AM IN MY PAIN and THERE YOU ARE WITH YOUR PAIN! On earth, after Christ saved us.
Okay. So there is actually a reason for pain: to draw us and the whole world closer to Christ.
Next question: What are we doing with this pain?
Have you given your pain a purpose?
Here are a few examples of how I’ve given my suffering a job (and it doesn’t have to be only physical pain!):
I offered the pain I experienced during each of my childbirths up to God, for the salvation of separate, specific people. These people do not know who they are, nor will they ever.
In October, I offered what I expected to be a passing nuisance up to God for someone else. I guess I’m still offering this pain for that person.
What kind of God warrants that people allow themselves to be in pain so that others may gain Heaven?
Well… The kind of God who sent His only begotten Son to the world to suffer and die on a cross so that the gates of Heaven would open. But also, God doesn’t “warrant” so much as He gives us a choice -our own free will- do to what we will with our circumstances.
I believe that, in pain, we can encounter Christ in an intimate and personal way as he was scourged, as He hung on the cross. I believe that we can desire to live in Christ, yes, in his glory in heaven, but also in his suffering on earth. I believe in our moments of pain, suffering, loss, we can hear his slow breath in his very last moments, we can share some sense of his own suffering. I believe that Christ particularly hears the cries of those in pain. I believe that at the most intense times of suffering in our life, we have the ability to be closest to Christ crucified; and as a Christian striving to live like Christ, why not whisper “Father bless that person. Father forgive that person.” along with “through your own wounds, heal my body. I trust in you.”
Too Long Didn’t Read Version:
No, don’t go cutting yourself because it’ll get you or someone else to heaven. Point totally missed. If you know your Bible, you’ll know “your body is a temple..” But ironically, because your body is a temple of God, when suffering -in any form- falls upon you, offer it up to Christ Crucified while also praying for your own healing, because “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.k” and my personal favorite: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
I’m working to improve my health, to figure out what’s wrong. But in the meantime, it seems I have some work to do. I’m not taking prescription painkillers in attempts to obliterate every wince of pain, but I am taking supplements, I’ve altered my diet, and I’m going through Advil like they’re breath mints. Yes, I’m short on patience with my boys, yes I complain ALL THE TIME. I’m a flawed human being trying imperfectly to live like Christ.
I’m letting my pain be my prayer.