CE Notes, September 2005
suffering" the Bible teaches us repeatedly. Is this crazy?
make it hard to cope, much less live and love with a smile.
You may know this from the experience of living in your own
body. All of us know this from talking with people in pain
who call and chat with us at New Hope.
Studies of people
dealing with chronic pain, as well as our own anecdotal observations,
demonstrate that some sufferers become miserable complainers
others while others find a way to cope with their pain cheerfully
and are generous toward others who suffer far less. What's
the difference? What can we learn from the "Positive Overcomers"?
And what can we offer those in pain who contact us at New
PAIN IS A HUGE PROBLEM
For instance, consider
the man who goes to his doctor and says:
when I press here" (pressing his side) "And when I press
here" (pressing the other side)
"And here" (his
"And here, here
and here" (his other leg, and both arms)
So the doctor examined
him all over and finally discovered what was wrong... "You've
got a broken finger!"
with chronic pain sometimes have trouble thinking straight.
Pain makes it difficult to concentrate. For instance, I read
a story from many years ago about a woman in her 80's who
was quite ill. The 911 emergency number was new. She was in
terrible pain and yet somehow she managed to drive herself
to the hospital and stagger into the front door from the parking
lot. The horrified nurse said, "Why didn't you call the
911 number and get an ambulance?" The lady said, "My
phone doesn't have an eleven."
people suffer from unremitting pain too. A little boy was
taken to the dentist because he had a painful cavity. "Now,
young man," asked the dentist, "what kind of filling
would you like for that tooth?"
please!" replied the youngster.
Seriously, chronic pain is an enormous problem in our
society. Consider these statistics:
- 90% of all diseases
may be associated with pain
- 65 million Americans
(22%) suffer painful conditions at any given time
- $120 billion
are spend each year because of pain
Our society is
starting to pay more attention to this problem. As one example
did you know that this week, September 12-18, 2005, is National
Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week? It's this week.
Really. It's sponsored by Rest Ministries, one of our New
Hope referrals, which I'll tell you about later. Here's what
Chronic Illness Awareness week is held annually in September
as a designated time, worldwide, in which people who live
with chronic illness, those that love them, and organizations
are encouraged to educate the general public, churches, healthcare
professionals and government officials about the impact of
living with a chronic illness that is not visually apparent.
You may have a chronic illness, but we hope this year you
will join us in choosing to THRIVE, not just survive! You
may have an invisible illness, but you aren't invisible!
of chronic pain. You may experience chronic pain in one
form or another. There are many diverse examples. Undoubtedly,
you know people struggling with this. Many of our New Hope
callers and chatters experience these types of chronic pain.
- Throbbing feet
- Back pain
- Ulcers and other
stomach and GI distress
- Chronic fatigue
- Nerve conditions
- Multiple sclerosis
- Others not mentioned?
don't receive available pain relief
Joyce Biddel (New
Hope telephone counselor) sent me a copy of AARP's October
2005 magazine article that covered the problem that 75% or
more of patients in hospitals aren't receiving available pain
relief because their doctors are afraid of being investigated
and prosecuted by the Drug Enforcement Agency for illegal
distribution of narcotics!
For instance, a
woman named Deborah was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.
For two decades she was tolerating numb extremities, tingling
sensations, and weakness that caused her foot to drag. Then
she began having intense shooting pains that raced across
her shoulder blades and down her limbs. For three years she
sought help with the pain from a neurologist every three months,
but each time he dismissed her pain by changing the subject.
Finally, she lost it with the nurse and cried out, "My pain
The nurse whispered,
"I shouldn't tell you this, but he doesn't want to treat
your pain because the treatment that works is opioids and
he's afraid to prescribe them".
of Untreated Pain
Living with chronic
pain takes a heavy toll on your energy, mood, outlook, self-image,
and relationships. It wears and wears and wears on you until
you're exhausted. The word "exhaust" is Latin and means "to
draw out your energy." Chronic pain leaves you feeling utterly
depleted or used up.
The American Academy
of Pain Medicine and physicians specializing in pain say that
pain is not only a symptom but can become a physical disease
by itself that if untreated can trigger a cascade of other
health problems like a weakened immune system, obesity, sleep
disorders, and suicidality.
THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT CHRONIC PAIN?
A lot actually.
Job suffered from chronic pain and the Bible gives 40 chapters
in the book of Job to tell his story. David and the other
psalmists wrote Psalms when they were in pain. Jesus and the
Apostle Paul both suffered terribly. We'll come back to their
Suffering is one
of the most common subjects in the Bible. And it's a good
thing given the pain that God's people have suffered from
over the centuries. Here are a few examples of verses applicable
to chronic physical pain from my article, "Bible Verses for
the Soul: Dealing with Pain," which is on my website - ChritianSoulCare.com:
is Honest: In Pain we Often Struggle to Feel God's Love
O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide
your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1).
Jesus: We all
Experience Troubles and Need to Learn to Find our Peace in
"I have told
you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this
world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome
the world." (John 16:33)
God Allows Underserved Disabilities to Display His Glorious
"As he went
along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked
him, `Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he
was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,'
said Jesus, `but this happened so that the work of God might
be displayed in his life.'" (John 9:1-3)
Jesus: God Allows
Undeserved Sicknesses to Reveal His Grace
"There was given
me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me, `My grace 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 12:7-9)
Bring Grief and the Glorious Joy of Growing Faith
"In this you greatly
rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to
suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that
your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even
though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result
in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though
you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled
with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving
the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter
us in Pain so we can Comfort Others
"Praise be to the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion
and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort
we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
OF CHRONIC PAIN
the proverb, "A cheerful heart is good medicine"
(Proverbs 17:22). Indeed laughter can help us cope with pain.
(It can also be an unhealthy defense mechanism used to deny
pain, as in Proverbs 14:13.) Perhaps the therapy of laughter
is why some people laugh when they hurt their "funny bone."
Here's a true story
told by a family physician about an incident that actually
happened to him back in the early days of his practice.
He said a woman
brought her baby to see him, and he determined right away
that the baby had an earache. He wrote a prescription for
ear drops. In the directions he wrote, "Put two drops in right
ear every four hours" and he abbreviated "right" as an "R."
with a circle around it.
Several days passed,
and the woman returned with her baby, complaining that the
baby still had an earache, and his little bottom was getting
really greasy with all those drops of oil.
The doctor looked
at the bottle of ear drops and sure enough, the pharmacist
had typed the following instructions on the label:
"Put two drops
in R. ear every four hours."
with a terminal illness or at the end of life requires special
The American Academy
of Pain Medicine and physicians specializing in pain argue
that a more aggressive approach to treating chronic pain is
needed, not only for the patient's comfort, but also to prevent
the health problems that can result from chronic untreated
pain. They say they are able to use pain medicine to relieve
pain without fogging patient's brains or turning them into
pain pill addicts if the medicine is used appropriately. Some
patients do abuse pain medication and need to be treated for
prescription drug addiction.
For those who are
using pain medicine appropriately it needs to be taken as
prescribed. Some people dealing with intense or chronic pain
may wait until their pain comes back to take another dose
of medicine, but this causes needless suffering. It's easier
to prevent a pain episode than calm it down. Pain medicine
requires a certain amount of medicine in the blood to work.
Heat relaxes muscles
and thereby can reduce pain. Warm showers or baths, hot water
bottles or warm washcloths can provide comfort. Massage also
relaxes sore muscles and brings comfort.
the skin and muscles can soothe pain as well, especially pain
that comes from inflammation or swelling.
pain is a battle. You feel attacked and under siege. You get
exhausted need strength and help! Exodus 17:8-15 records the
story of Moses leading the Israelites when they were attacked
by the Amalekites. As long as Moses held his hands up to God
in prayer the Israelites were overcoming their enemy, but
when his arms got too tired to stay raised up to God then
Israel was being defeated. Moses needed to sit down and receive
the help of Aaron and Hur. Together they kept Moses' hands
raised in prayer until the sun rose and Israel defeated her
enemies. God's power flowed through Moses hands as long as
he received help to pray.
When you're attacked
by chronic pain you need help! You need someone to life your
hands to God in prayer. And you need the comfort of being
listened to and empathized with as you share your experience
and feelings. Practical help with meals, driving, housework,
and errands are often the kindnesses that are needed.
Stress and anxiety
make it much harder to cope with pain and can actually intensify
the pain. Strengthening your personal boundaries and maintaining
good limits to reduce your stress are important.
also important. The same relaxation exercises that help with
anxiety also help with pain: exercise, deep breathing, meditation,
guided imagery, and so forth.
A news brief cited
on Pain.com made the startling claim: "When it comes to controlling
pain, positive thinking can be as powerful as a shot of morphine
according to new brain imaging research at Wake Forest University
Baptist Medical Center." The research study found that positive
expectations decreased people's pain ratings by 28% - equal
to a shot of morphine. The positive expectations significantly
reduced both the subjective experience of pain and the activation
of pain-related regions in the brain.
New Purpose in Pain
For the joy set
before him Jesus endured the excruciating pain of the cross
- years of anticipation and persecution then beatings, punches,
thorns piercing his brow, staggering under the weight and
splinters of carrying the cross, being nailed to the cross,
being naked hung up high in the cold wind, and suffocating
to death, to say nothing of all the emotional pain of the
betrayal, trials, and abuse. Is pain sometimes a way that
we're to take up our cross and follow Jesus? As with Jesus
is our cross carrying a path to joyful intimacy with God and
blessings that we can pass on to others?
Of course, whenever
we have an illness or are in pain we hope and pray for God's
healing - whether through a miracle or medical treatment.
This is natural. Besides, Jesus does heal people. But if the
condition persists or the pain is chronic then what?
The Apostle Paul
was in this situation and he learned to follow Jesus. He had
painful problem, perhaps a disease with his eyes, and he cried
out for healing in intense prayer on three separate occasions
and each time the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient
for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians
12:9). He came to accept his pain as his "thorn in the flesh"
that taught him to rely on God's grace. He did the same with
many other persecutions, abuses, and hardships.
Could we accept
our pain and problems as Paul did? Dare we try to find a God-honoring
purpose in something that feels bad? To do this we have to
grieve what we've wanted and missed out on. We have to learn
to desire God's will above our own comfort and then give ourselves
over to the Lord's service so that he can bring a greater
good. Then we can say with Paul:
to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father
of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us
in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble
with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For
just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives,
so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed,
it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted,
it is for your comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3-6a, NIV).
For years Lisa
Copen has lived with chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis
and fibromyalgia. She started Rest Ministries, a Christian-based
outreach to help other people deal with chronic pain. On her
"As the founder
of Rest Ministries, I have found a joy beyond description
in being able to use my earthly weaknesses towards God's greater
good. Even when I mess up, I am able to shar my struggles
with all of you, and then I receive letters from you saying,
'That is exactly how I felt too and your article really helped.'
When we open ourselves up to God's plan the pain becomes bearable.
By using your pain for God's glory you will begin to focus
on Christ and others, and the pain will become more of a tool
and less of a thorn." ("Finding Purpose in the Pain.").
I talked with a
woman recently who was in pain after a sudden seizure. This
came out of the blue and while she was in a public restroom.
She was badly bruised and cut. She lost consciousness for
some time and was found wandering around. Of course, the experience
was quite traumatic for her. Because of the risk of her having
another seizure her driver's license was suspended. So added
to her pain, upset, embarrassment, and fear of having another
seizure was the inconvenience of not being able to drive to
do her errands or to get her children to all of their many
It'd be understandable
if this woman were depressed, besieged with fear, or angry
at God. Instead she was thankful to God for his care and how
he was using this trauma and it's aftermath to help her to
grow closer to Jesus and to her husband who was caring for
To have a positive
attitude while in significant physical pain like Jesus, Paul,
Lisa, or my friend is not easy. It requires deep trust in
Jesus that's developed over time. It requires a shift in priorities.
It helps us deal better with intense pain if we first learn
to deal with "little" nuisances, deprivations, and pains by
"rejoicing in the Lord" and relying on "the joy of the Lord
as our strength." We can practice this by giving thanks in
all circumstances and denying ourselves certain pleasures
or comforts as we do when we fast from food for a period of
HOW TO RESPOND
TO SOMEONE WHO IS IN PAIN
I hope you know
that teaching a class to Christian counselors is very different
from caring for someone in pain. I don't talk to hurting people
in the way I've been teaching you. At times in psychotherapy
I am able to teach important lessons in Christian living to
clients, but I am very careful about this, always focusing
primarily on expressing compassion and being gentle in what
As a volunteer
crisis counselor you have to be especially careful not to
turn a conversation into a teaching time - because your training
and your context are much more limited than mine. What I've
been teaching you in this class is for you personally and
for your understanding of a Christ-like way of dealing with
chronic pain. As this kind of thinking and this way of being
becomes a part of you it will have a profound influence on
the "you" that you offer to hurting people - the way you listen
and care and pray. This is what's important rather than you
trying to teach New Hope callers and chatters what I'm trying
to teach you!
requires special empathy
In Chronic illness
the natural cycle of healing doesn't occur. With other sicknesses
and diseases there is a period of illness and then recovery.
The care and help that are needed are time-limited and hope-filled
because the person is expected to get better. It's harder
to respond to someone in pain when their condition is permanent
or, even worse, degenerative.
Lisa Copen knows
what it's like to be hurt by other people's insensitive reactions
to her chronic illness and pain:
"I hoped that people
would stop saying, 'Smile!' or 'You sure look tired today.'
If I tried to explain that my illness tended to make me tired,
they would respond, 'Oh, I'm tired too. I had a late night.'
Is there anyway to explain that my tired is different than
Don't say, "I
Even if you're
going through a similar situation let other people describe
their uniqueness and then offer your empathy by communicating
specifically what you're understanding.
Don't give advice.
Chronic pain is a complex and emotional struggle. Advice would
be like a bandage on an infected wound. Listen, care, and
then go fishing for ideas from the person on what he or she
needs to work on today.
Don't give what
Lisa calls "God balm." Don't offer spiritual reassurance
like, "God will heal you."
Don't try to
fix faith struggles with Bible verses or principles. It's
"spiritualizing" to say quickly and tritely things like, "God
will work this for good for you." There's a place to offer
Biblical truth, but you need to be hesitant and very careful
with this. Remember, the wise dictum, "People don't care what
you know until they know that you care." When people are having
trouble trusting in God or feeling his love listen, empathize,
and pray silently. God doesn't need to you polish his reputation,
but he asks you to show his compassion.
Don't pray according
to your agenda. Pray for what the person requests or is
ready for. People in pain are seeking different things:
- Strength to
- Regain more
- Sense God's
- Grow spiritually
- See God use
them to help others in pain
REFERRALS FOR CHRONIC
There are many
referrals that may be helpful to someone in pain, depending
on the kind of pain they're in. You'll find them in "New Hope
Referrals" on our website (http://www.newhopenow.org/)
and in binders in each booth in the phone room. For instance,
for those in chronic pain look under the category "Health
& Medical" and you'll find these three referrals:
support, Q&A with doctors, http://www.pain.com/.
from and referrals to specialized pain doctors, http://www.painnet.com/.
Christian organization providing information, resources, and
support groups for those with chronic pain, http://www.restministries.org/.
Also, I have a
three-page handout of Bible verses on "God's Relationship
with and Response to Our Pain." You can receive this by e-mailing
me or going to my website http://www.christiansoulcare.com/.