The pain has gotten really bad, and you don't know what to do. You can’t sleep at night because of it, and you believe you will absolutely lose your mind if you don’t get some good rest. You've been to the pain doctors, and all they want to do is dope you up. Or maybe you've tried those pain meds, and you can’t stand the side effects, or concern for what they will do to your body in the long term has made you decline them in the past. You've tried every natural alternative that’s not clearly forbidden in Scripture, and none of them worked. Now, you are ready to take just about anything they want to give you, if you can just get some relief!
Does this sound familiar? Maybe it’s a little more or less extreme than where you are right now, but if you struggle with chronic pain, you can probably relate on some level. Most of us in the trenches of physical suffering will, at one time or another, face the medication question. Should I fill this prescription the doctor has given me? Could this little piece of paper really mean the end of my pain and the beginning of a whole new life, as the TV commercials proclaim?
Before I really get into the biblical perspective here, let me first say that I am not a medical professional. I am an IABC certified Biblical Counselor, not a doctor, nurse, psychologist, psychiatrist, or any other type of medical professional. I am writing from the perspective of a child of God who suffers, and that is all. Having said that, I do think I've learned some things over my years of suffering in Christ, and that’s what I'll share with you today. As I do with my counselees, I will begin by asking you some questions.
My first question is, where is your hope? Most of you would probably answer that your hope is in Christ. But I'd like you to look a little deeper, and see if your hope is truly in Christ alone, or if it is in Christ doing something to ease your pain. There is a difference. This post delves more deeply into that difference, and I would urge you to read it as you try to answer this first question. After that, if you find that you truly have placed your hope in pain relief, repent and turn from that, placing your hope fully in Christ.
My next question is, what is your definition of contentment? Is it possible to be content in pain, or do you believe the two are mutually exclusive? There is much about contentment in the Bible, and when you read about it there, you come away with a very different understanding from how the world defines it. In Philippians 4:12-13, Paul says he’s learned the secret to contentment in just about any circumstance. His contentment is in the knowledge that, no matter what God calls him to endure (see 2 Cor 11), he will be content in it because the very God who called him to do it is the one who will give him the strength to follow through! In other words, the author of his trial is also the provider of the strength he needs in order to glorify God in it. Christian contentment means trusting in God to provide all that you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), including wisdom about how to manage pain.
The bottom line in this decision about medical treatment is, what’s in your heart? Are you looking to pain relief to give you contentment? One thing I have learned over the course of several trials and many errors is this: If I am not content (trusting Christ no matter what) in pain, I will not be content out of pain, either. True Christian contentment has little to do with the condition of our physical bodies, our pain level, our disabilities, or any other earthly thing. Christian contentment is rooted in our relationship with Christ. It is not equivalent to happiness or joy. It is the settled understanding that, if I have Christ, my only true need has been met.
Having said all that, the question remains: Should I take this medication, or should I refrain? I cannot, of course, answer that question for you, because you are unique, and I am not in your skin. But I do have some general guidelines, in the form of dos and don'ts, that I hope will help you with your decision.
PRAY about your decision, and ask others to do so, too.
READ your Bible! There is excellent wisdom about decision making there[i].
Examine your LIFESTYLE. Are you eating well, exercising to the best of your ability, and avoiding things that are harmful? A healthful lifestyle can reduce pain and contribute to your overall sense of wellbeing.
Carefully RESEARCH the medication you are considering. Learn about side effects, both long- and short-term. (Avoid websites associated with the manufacturer of the drug.) Make a risk/benefit comparison chart, and bring it with you when you…
TALK openly with your doctor about this particular medication, and especially how it will affect your ability to think clearly. Ask him or her about alternatives. If you can't have an honest conversation with your doctor, you need to find a different one.
Seek WISE COUNSEL. Talk with others who also suffer painful physical affliction, and get their input. Some have suffered longer than you and will have knowledge and insight that you do not. If you are married, seek your husband’s input. Ladies, our pain impacts our husbands in many ways, and they deserve to have some say in our decisions.
READ good books about pain. A couple of my favorites arePain: The Plight of Fallen Man, by Dr. Jim Halla, and Pain: the Gift NobodyWants, by Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancy
WORRY and fret about the decision.
COMPARE your pain and choices to others’. Remember, even two individuals with the same condition can experience very different physical manifestations. Your decision is yours alone.
RUSH into a decision. If you've read this far into this post, you've been suffering for a while. A few more days won't make or break your pain.
Concern yourself with what OTHER PEOPLE will think of your decision. This is fear of man (Galatians 1:10, Proverbs 29:25). The only opinion of you that matters is God’s.
There is much more I could write about this subject, but ultimately, our medication decisions are just that: ours. As we trust God and pray, He will bring clarity.