Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chronic Pain

“Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for,
that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off!
Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—
that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.

What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
What prospects that I should be patient?
Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze?
Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?”
(Job 6:8-13)

“But he said to me, ‘My strength is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Chronic pain. Living in survival mode. Disconnected. Thankful that my family’s life can go on without me when I have nothing to give. But feeling like days are wasted. Life is going on and I am not participating. Sidelined. Only half-living. Sometimes not even half.

The Sunday after my birthday in early March, I was lying in bed with terrible migraine pain that wouldn’t go away. Not responding to medicine. I felt desperate, like the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and thought, “If I can just get to Jesus…” My desperation though was to find a pain-killer that would work—to be knocked out, to able to sleep, to get away from the unrelenting pain.

From my bed that day, I could overhear Charly in the living room having a positive discussion with our kids about our year in Lanzhou…lessons learned about connecting with the community here…how we could all work at connecting with our new village community when we move (its this coming Saturday!) I felt convicted that I still don’t feel that connected in Lanzhou. And here I am lying in bed—not able to do anything. By afternoon, I was finally able to sleep, and by dinnertime the pain had subsided so that I was able to get up and eat with the family. But I felt so worn out, weary, and broken that I cried through the blessing on the meal.

In a quiet moment after dinner, Charly asked me what was behind my tears, and I choked out the words that were on my heart, “I feel like I don’t have much of a life.” Charly gently told me that wasn’t true, but he could see how I would feel that way. He said that what I had blogged about recently was written out of my pain, and he believed that the lessons God was teaching me through that pain had and would minister to others. But he could understand how I could still struggle with believing those truths myself when I was in pain. I’m so thankful for my husband and how God used him to bless me in a very significant way at that time of brokenness.

Now I feel like I am emerging from that bad stretch—today is my 9th day in a row headache-free! And I’m trying to process what to do and where to go with what God has brought me through. I want to reconnect where I have been disconnected…in relationships, in commitments, in responsibilities. But there’s cautiousness in not wanting to “jump” back into life because I never know how long a good stretch is going to last…

We’ve been watching the destruction of homes behind our apartment this past week—as there was a landslide while we were in Beijing, and the city declared those homes to be no longer safe. Out of all the rubble accumulating as the walls come down, I can see the workers saving as many bricks as they can.

As I sort through the rubble in my life, I too want to seek and to set aside the bricks of truth with which to rebuild. I want to be open to what God wants to continue to teach me about those many “wasted” days of pain, and the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, and discouragement that I was fighting in addition to the physical pain.

One brick of truth came this week as we studied “Experiencing the Power of Jesus” in the Max Lucado study and Joshua and Jordan recited their memory verse of 2 Corinthians 12:9. I even asked them, “Does it really say that…so that God’s power may rest on me?” I had never noticed the word “rest” there before, and that phrase really resonated with my heart.

His power resting on me turns my weakness into His strength.

Another brick came this morning as I was looking up “rest” in the concordance and “pain” caught my eye. I scanned down and noticed Job 6:10 “my joy in unrelenting pain.” As I flipped to read the full passage (quoted at the top of the page), I wondered if Job was superspiritual here and had joy within his pain (unlike me).

When I am in significant pain, I generally do not experience a special closeness with the Lord, feel a deeper dependence on Him through prayer, or have a joy that sustains me. All I can think of in those times of pain is bringing it to an end. In whatever way. As soon as possible. In this passage, I discovered that I could relate with Job asking God to end his life so that his “joy in unrelenting pain” would be “that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.” He had no power of his own to help himself, no strength to keep on hoping. He was out of patience. That’s how I feel. I want to be desperate for Jesus like the woman bleeding for twelve years. But reality is that often my desperation is for pain killers that will bring relief quickly.

Even though I feel very far from spiritual when I am hurting, when I look back, I can see how Christ’s power can rest on me like Paul described in 2 Corinthians 12:9. A power dependent on the giver not on the receiver. In weakness the receiver has nothing to give. Only able to receive a power that is a gift. A treasure.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 14a, 16)

Through His power resting on us, we are renewed. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead. This power does not come from us, cannot come from us. It can only come from Him. And can only come when we are needy. Broken. Spent. Struck down.

Brennan Manning said in Ruthless Trust, “Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded.”

Pain is not wasted. It can be transformed.

There is more to this life. By ways that we do not understand and by working where we cannot see, God is creating something beautiful through pain. If you are struggling with chronic pain, my heart truly goes out to you. I would love to know what God is teaching you through your painful circumstances.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither heights nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

When life feels hopeless, and no end to the pain is in sight, God remains the God of Hope.
When life feels devoid of all joy, and even a simple smile seems impossible, God is still the true Joy-Giver.
When life feels heavy with burdens, and we have no ability to offer anything, God continues to be our God of Peace.

May His power rest on you today to give you the very strength that you need for your unique circumstances and challenges. He can make our lives full even when we are in survival mode and feel only half-alive. I don’t know how He does it, but I believe He can.

He is sufficient and He never changes. Even in chronic unrelenting pain.


  1. Thank you Jodie for this post. I can relate. But I don't think my pain is as severe as yours.....nonetheless....I can see where you are feeling half-alive - trying to find anything to relieve the pain..thanks so much for your thoughts..I was encouraged. Has BRT helped you?

    1. Thanks for your note, Marilyn. I thought BRT was helping in the beginning. But then February was the worst month I have had in a long time. The recent neck treatments I had in Beijing and taking atenelol every day this past month I think have really helped. But just as I don't always know what causes my migraines, I don't always know what it is that is helping. Thanks for your encouragement and prayers!

  2. Wow - Thank you for sharing so much detail from your personal experience with pain. I truly had no idea how much your migraines have affected you. I have prayed for you many times before but I am convicted to pray for you more. However looking at your wonderful, loving, and funny children, it is clear to me that despite your struggles, God had blessed your parenting abilities. Your life is an example of how the Author and Perfecter of our faith can bring much fruit out of our pain! Your quote from the author of "Ruthless Trust" “Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded” was strangely comforting to me and what I have been trying to believe for several years! Love you, dear Friend!

    1. Thank you for your encouraging note! It is so true that God has blessed me with wonderful, loving, and funny children (despite my struggles and my parenting :) I would love to share a cup of tea with you and talk more. Thanks for your ongoing prayers. What a blessing. May God richly bless you too.

  3. Jodie, I love this post. Charly is right when he says what you've been blogging about encourages others. It certainly encourages me! I'm so glad you're having a "good stretch" where you have relief and your eyes can be opened to all God is doing in your heart. I pray you will stay migraine free and I look forward to hearing more as you sort through the rubble. You (and the whole family!) inspire me. Thanks for sharing so honestly. Thinking of you all as you prepare to move. Miss you. Love, Jillian

    1. Thank you, Jillian. You are so sweet. I just read your post about a potential adoptive family for Wei Wei! You and Chase are inspirations to Charly and me in faithfulness, hope, and trust. We are praying for you too!

  4. Jodie,
    Thank you for sharing so fully and vulnerably (is that a word) in this post. I pray that your stretches of migraine-free days would lengthen to months and then years, even decades...
    I agree with Jillian, you never fail to inspire and encourage me, whether it be in person, or through your blog, or through your interactions with others that trickle down to me...
    I hope you can visit us in Qingdao when we get settled there! We love you guys.


    1. Olga, Thanks for your encouragement. We love you guys too! So thankful for the way that God has knit our families together. We will definitely try to visit you in Qingdao. God bless the 6 of you :) Love, Jodie

  5. I think your words are profound, but even more the story behind them. God is indeed working his purposes for His glory and our good, but it would be nice to see it from His perspective, wouldn't it? Thanks for blogging.

    1. Thank you, Ann. I really appreciate your support and encouragement! Looking forward to hopefully connecting with you this summer...



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