Imagine that you have to live with nonstop pain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How would you cope with such a condition? How would it change you? Would you try to numb your pain with alcohol or illegal drugs? Would you withdraw from society?
What if your condition disabled you to the point that you could no longer be employed outside your home? Could you handle your income being shrunk? What if you had to depend on friends, relatives and government assistance in order to survive? Would you be able to manage to get by without losing your mind?
For most people, this scenario is something that they can only imagine. I don’t have to imagine it because it has been my life since December of 2011.
Ankylosing spondylitis isn’t something that one normally hears about unless one works in the medical profession. I hadn’t heard of it until a physician told me that I had it. By the time I was given that diagnosis, my life had been turned upside down.
The Spondylitis Association of America describes Ankylosing spondylitis as “a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, although other joints can become involved. It causes inflammation of the spinal joints (vertebrae) that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort.”
Fatigue is a major part of this disability. One person describes the fatigue this way: “It’s nothing like when you have overworked your garden or put in too many hours on the job. It’s a totally different type of fatigue. You don’t have energy to take a shower. You are just too tired to stand up. It takes all of your energy to breathe and you feel as if your life is slowly leaving you” (Spondylitis Plus, May/June 2004).
That description fits what I experience.
The pain that I experience can be quite debilitating at times. Sometimes, I don’t wear socks or shoes with laces because I have difficulty bending over to reach my feet. I have had moments when I struggled to lift food or a beverage to my mouth. Sometimes, it takes me 30 minutes to get out of bed after waking up. Often I cannot leave my home because the pain in my right leg does not permit me to drive safely. Shopping for groceries is strenuous. Typing on my computer is a slow, painful process because I struggle to control my arms, hands and fingers. The simple act of writing with a pen or pencil is a nightmare.
Just sitting down can cause so much pain that I have to stop what I am doing and lie down.
When I do use my computer to write something, it might take me a week to write something that others could write in a few hours. Just writing this blog post was a long chore.
So, how is a person to respond to a life of nonstop pain?
The way that people respond varies from person to person. Some people numb themselves by getting drunk, by getting high on marijuana (if it is legal where they live) or by using a drug that is illegal where they live. Some people seek relief through prescription narcotics, which all too often leads them to becoming addicted to such medication.
My rheumatologist had me try non-narcotic prescription medications, but none of them helped. At that point, my only source of comfort came through my faith in Messiah Jesus.
So, how is a Christian like me supposed to respond to such a medical condition?
Some Christians believe that Christians shouldn’t have any physical ailments. They often cite the last part of Isaiah 53:5, which says, “With his wounds we are healed.” However, that verse fraction is quoted out of context.
Here is Isaiah 53:4-5 in full: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah says that the Messiah’s wounds will provide us with spiritual healing, eliminating the rift between us and God. Nowhere does Isaiah mention physical healing.
Indeed, when the Apostle Paul asked God to heal him of an illness, God declined to do so. This is what Paul says about it:
“A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
Paul asked God for physical healing, and God said, “No.”
Christians are just like non-Christians whenever God tells them, “No.” They don’t easily accept that answer. Plenty of Christians would rather flock to those who promote a false interpretation of Isaiah 53:5 than consider the possibility that God might actually decline to provide physical healing.
Then again, plenty of Christians have difficulty accepting the reality that God might be responsible for a person having a physical disability. Yet, in Exodus 4:11, God tells Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
Now, there is nothing wrong with a Christian asking God for physical healing. Paul did so three times. He didn’t get what he wanted, but he did ask.
I asked for it, too, believing that God could give me physical healing if he chose to do so. However, God gave me the same answer that he gave Paul.
So, what does my physical condition mean for me spiritually?
To be honest, sometimes I hurt so much that I cry in the privacy of my bedroom. Yet, I remember that a believer in Messiah Jesus such as myself doesn’t suffer without God’s knowledge or concern.
I am convinced that Messiah Jesus is with me during my pain. Whenever I take communion at church, my pain gives me a glimpse of the pain that Jesus suffered while he hung on the Cross. Knowing that his pain was worse than mine, I have a greater appreciation for what he did for me.
I will probably never know on this side of eternity why God permitted me to have nonstop pain. Having it hasn’t turned me into some kind of super-saint. I haven’t become more spiritually pure because of it. All too often I respond to the pain by being angry and impatience with everyone and everything.
What I can say for certain is this: Believers in Messiah Jesus who experience physical suffering haven’t been forsaken by God. Such believers are precious to our Heavenly Father.
Faith in Messiah Jesus calls us to trust that we are in the palm of God’s hand even when our bodies are screaming, “Lord, please take this cup from me.” Thankfully, through his grace, God gives us his strength so that we can endure. As God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Sure, not everyone living with nonstop pain believes in Messiah Jesus. Their way of coping with pain isn’t the same as mine. Also, not every believer in Messiah Jesus understands the teachings of the Bible the same way that I do.
Well, I have no control over what others believe, and it is not for me to coerce anyone to believe as I do.
Yes, this cup given to me isn’t pleasant. Living with nonstop pain really is a pain. Yet, I have God’s grace to carry me. I wish that everyone else experiencing nonstop pain – or any other disability – would experience God’s grace as I have.
Side Note: People ask me if I have tried one of the so-called “natural remedies” for my medical condition.
Yes, I have. I have even tried the natural remedy used by Elmer Fudd.