What God is Teaching Me Through Chronic Pain

In this latest "Byer's Choices," Janan shares what her fifth knee surgery has taught her about leaning on God for strength.

What God is Teaching Me Through Chronic Pain

I’ve faced different kinds of pain throughout my life that I would label as "big." Natural childbirth. Postpartum anxiety. Watching my husband face years of depression. Feeling loneliness, miles upon miles from loved ones and everything that felt familiar.

The most recent of these “pains” is my fifth knee surgery. My second ACL replacement and my fifth meniscus repair. Honestly, not super fun. Somehow in my head, I was thinking I’d be up and around after a week. It’s not happening. I tried two hours of cleaning and sitting at the table to eat lunch with my family on day six. And then I spent the next two days in bed, in pain. I finally checked under my dressing to make sure I hadn’t done major damage. That’s when I found one the sources of my pain. Twelve staples (that I can count) holding the tough pieces of skin around my incisions together.

My guess? Maybe there was too much scar tissue from previous surgeries for regular stitches. My stomach dropped when I saw the ugly new scars and the merciless staples holding my knee together. No wonder I hurt. With every step I had taken, my brace had dug into the staples, digging further into my knee. I wanted to cry. I wanted to have a pity party. Maybe I had a small one. Maybe I had two. But in the days since, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my pain, and the purpose I can find in it.

One of my dear friends has been encouraging me to proclaim healing over my knee. And I have prayed that God would heal it. I’ve been anointed by my pastor. But for some reason, I don’t think it’s God’s will. And I’m okay with it. Chronic pain has become my life. I never thought that would be me, but it is.

Sometimes I dream of what it would be like to run again. Last spring, Ezra and I visited my home track from high school. As I walked around my typical number four spot on the track, I envisioned my favorite race, the 400-meter dash. It’s the longest sprint, and it can be grueling. If you start off too quickly, you die out fast. If you go too slow for too long, you lose. My specialty was keeping up a decent pace until I started to round the second corner. Then I kicked into gear, pushing with everything I had until the finish line. At one point, I held my school record. Never mind it was a tiny school in North Pole, Alaska and there really wasn’t much competition. I loved it. I was one of those crazies that actually liked running, and I did it without anyone making me.

It was after my fourth surgery I finally gave up running, and any kind of sport, for good. But then one day when Ezra and I were talking about it, it hit me between the eyes. I will run again. I’ll run in Heaven. The place where there are no more tears and no more pain. And that’s one reason I’m honestly not sure it’s God's will for healing my knee. It’s a reminder that this life isn’t what it’s about.

Along with a heavenly reminder, my knee has taught me several other lessons.

The first one is that I can’t do it all myself.

When I was a toddler, “I do myself” was one of my favorite phrases, and it still has a special place in my human heart. But God has been trying to carve it out of me. I can’t do “it” myself. I need Jesus. I need the people around me.

This leads me to my second lesson. It’s okay, it’s even sometimes good, to ask for help.

This surgery is one of the first times I’ve actively sought help instead of just “figuring things out.” Three kids will do that to you.

A third lesson my pain has taught me is that while complaining doesn’t bless anyone or ultimately do me any good, honesty about my capabilities is a strength.

It’s okay to simply say, “I can’t do that today because my knee isn’t up to it.” It may sound silly to some, but that’s always been hard for me. My tendency is to pretend I’m invincible, and that my knee can do the things it did when I was sixteen.

A fourth lesson is people don’t have to and may never understand or recognize my pain.

I’m prone to seeking others’ approval and recognition. Even in pain, there’s an odd hope in my heart that others see what I’m going through and admire how I still function as a normal person. Like I said, odd. But it’s there, and maybe I’m not the only one. Jesus understands my pain, and pleasing him is my calling. That’s all that matters here.

A fifth and final lesson, though I’m sure I could think of more if I sat here longer, is that things don’t have to be done my way.

Ezra is a super dad and husband, but he does things differently. Just come over and see our two new automatic trash cans. Part of doing things “my way” is thinking, even subconsciously, that I’m the one my family relies on to function smoothly. If it functions smoothly without me, what’s my purpose? Homemaking is my primary job right now, and sometimes it smarts to see that, although I may realize (with relief) the counter isn’t nearly as clean as normal, my kids are happy and fed, and our home isn’t a disaster without me. But underneath it all, I think maybe I needed to learn to let go a little more anyway, and maybe Jesus is trying to get my attention. These hours spent “not doing things my way” can be spent learning something new and seeking God’s will.

And I know I said that was it, but I remembered the most important lesson I learned years ago in the midst of Ezra’s battle with depression. Praising Jesus and trusting him when things are tough and not what you expected, even when you can’t feel him near you, is one of the highest forms of praise.

Maybe you’re facing some pain of your own. Perhaps it’s unexpected. Perhaps it’s been there for a while. I hope these thoughts from my heart have encouraged you. In conclusion, I’m leaving you with some choices as you go into your weekend.

Byer’s Choices:

Choice #1: Turn on some worship music and praise the name of Jesus.

This has helped me through so many times of pain and hurt. Remember that God is good, and you can trust his mighty hand.

Choice #2: Make a list of areas you may be trying too hard to “do it myself.” See if there’s something you can share, delegate, or maybe even just stop altogether.

As you let go, ask God how he wants you to use your energy and spend your time.

Choice #3: Instead of complaining, write or say three things out loud that you’re thankful for.

Ezra used this one last week, but it’s something we need to do daily. Sometimes when I notice the kids (and me) are grumpy, we start just taking turns saying things we’re thankful for. It’s amazing how the mood shifts!

Choice #4: Talk to Jesus about what’s going on in your life.

This one may seem obvious, but surprisingly enough, it’s one I can overlook at times. I pray for others, but I forget Jesus cares about everything in my own heart as well.