"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Then and Now, the Gospel for Chronically Afflicted

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This article was published in The Messenger, May 2006; The Edmonton Journal, 24 June 2006.  I wrote this in a period when I was using high doses of narcotics and was having much difficulty with chronic pain (while working 60+ hours per week in a parish, so maybe not surprising).  I didn’t experience a miraculous healing, but God did place in my path two part-time jobs that I could handle without the drugs, that put me back on a path of effective coping.  That said, the message is still as valid today as it was then.


“… to keep me from being too puffed up, a disability was given me…” (2 Cor 12:7)

I’ve had several recent encounters with those bearing the burden of chronic, but unseen health conditions. It has sparked my own reflection as I search for a gospel and grace perspective to understand my own chronic pain. Just moving through Lent and Easter brought to mind some ideas to wrap around suffering to bring some greater perspective to pain.

Just as there are “hidden homeless” there are “hidden disabled”, those who suffer from chronic pain or chronic health conditions. Unless you meet one of these on a bad day you will likely never know what burden they carry. This is perhaps one of the reasons behind not judging: we rarely know the burdens of others.

Witnessing the miraculous healing of others creates conflict. Why not me Lord? Why must I suffer? Even worse is intrusive compassion, to be asked to do something and then told, “Oh, I forgot, you can’t do that.” This was made clear when my help for a severely disabled man led to anger when I took away one of the few things he could do, opening a container of chocolate pudding.

When sleep escapes through discomfort or exhaustion, and you sit alone, the real understanding of loneliness comes to keep you company. In a sleepy world a person too sore to sit and too exhausted to read or pray waits alone for the dawn. That time before the morning watch stretches forever.

It is not hard for me to place that dark time before dawn in Gethsemane with Jesus (Luke 22:40-46). His companions receive the gift of sleep, but there is no sleep for Jesus as he wrestles with the coming trials. Jesus was alone in the pre-dawn and wracked with pain. In the end he is strengthened, not because the burden was removed, but because he becomes prepared to continue the journey.

For those who sit in the dark of night, alone and suffering, it is some help to know that Jesus has been there too. What comes with the dawn may not be healing but the strength to see the journey through another day or another hour. But, even this consolation is limited for saying, “Jesus suffered too” is too distant from this night alone in my world, in my time, to help.

When dealing with pain that your painkillers barely touch, that loneliness comes again. How do you explain to your young child that the tears in your eyes are not from sadness or even happiness but just because the exquisite pain brings forth unbidden water? So you are left again unable to pray, unable to read and perhaps only repeating, “God, keep a smile on my face for another hour!”

The fatigue is another thing entirely for pain, like grief, is exhausting. Sometimes my only prayer seeks not relief, but energy to remain awake to complete a board game or for the focus to play catch with a child. That exhaustion deepens through endless arguments with caregivers and insurers about treatments often denied.

The trite answers, “Jesus suffered worse” or “Jesus wept” do not help. To know that my Saviour has suffered does little to remove the intense isolation of a chronic condition today. Like that useless adage, “What would Jesus do?” those thoughts are all in the past tense and of little use to me in my present torment. My solace comes only from the immediate thought: Jesus is suffering with me now.

Lofty thoughts about pain keeping one from arrogance worked for Paul but help little when today seems impossible. My hope is in the gospel account of another chronic sufferer, Jesus. He left the garden with friends but was still very alone for His last hours on earth. Jesus rose into the glorious tomorrow through the crucifixion but still bore the marks of that torture on his body (John 20:27). Jesus came through the pain, not because he knew there was relief in sight but because he accepted what he was to be for the next hour.

The gospel shows us that great grace exists through just continuing the journey. For those with chronic health issues, God’s grace is sufficient to help place one foot in front of the other to struggle until the finish line of this race comes into sight. If continuing that race means sitting, alone, in the early morning dark only able to mouth the word ‘Alleluia’, than so be it. I know my Saviour sits with me and that is enough.


Written by sameo416

April 19, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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