Monday, November 28, 2016

The Pressure's On!

It’s holiday time! I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot of pressure this time of year. Christmas shopping is just about the perfect storm for someone with chronic pain and mobility issues. Standing, walking, browsing, waiting in lines…Ugh, the very idea of it is dreadful. Yet, at the same time, I long to get just the right gift for everyone on my list, so I look for alternatives. Those motorized carts are so big and clumsy, and the last time I used one, it died in the middle of an aisle, at the farthest point possible from the door of the big box store I was in! Online shopping is less than ideal, as you can’t touch and turn the item in your hands. It’s hard to know how most things really look. Colors are often not true, and dimensions of things are hard to visualize. Gift cards are an option, but they seem so impersonal. It seems there is just no substitute for the painful process of actually getting out there and shopping, if you really want the “perfect” gift.

If you struggle with chronic pain and mobility issues, I’m sure you can relate, and you could probably add your own unique challenges to my list. So, my suffering sisters, what do we do with the holiday shopping dilemma? I hope you’re not like I was yesterday, feeling frustrated about the whole thing, snapping at my husband and generally being super grumpy (yes, I repented). I want to enjoy the holidays, don’t you? I want to focus on time with family and friends, not schlepping around the mall or sitting in front of the computer for hours. If this is going to happen, we are going to have to change our approach.

What is Christmas really about? Is it about gifts? Well, sort of. It’s about one gift—the gift of Jesus Christ coming into the world to save sinners like you and me. How is shopping necessary to celebrate that truth? It’s not. So why do we get so worked up over it? Is it because we want to express love to our families? We can do that without killing ourselves searching for the perfect gift. It’s OK to get a gift card, or to buy something online without knowing every detail about it. Girls, if we are going to enjoy the holiday, we are going to have to give up our insistence on things being like they used to be, or like we’d like them to be.

The fact is, the Lord has ordained this pain and/or disability for our good and His glory. If we keep struggling against the fact that “real” Christmas shopping is just too much for us now, then we will end up like I was yesterday, grumpy and discontented. We will need to die to ourselves if we are to truly represent Christ this year. Let’s give up this annual wrestling match, and enjoy the peace that this season embodies. The best way to let someone know you care is to love and encourage them all through the year, not to find the perfect gift for a single day.

It is not the gift that matters, but the relationship between the giver and the recipient. You can nurture that relationship without taking a single step into a store, or standing in any lines. Throughout the year, you can offer words of encouragement, a phone call to check in, a text of Scripture, daily prayer, and a thousand other things that will say to that person, “I love you and I truly care about you.” Then, when December rolls around, perhaps the gift-giving pressure will be off. Maybe you do these things already. If so, that’s great! What are you sweating about? Your friends and family know that you love them, and they know about your limitations. The last thing they would want is for you to put pressure on yourself for their sake.

Let’s do things differently this year. Let’s refuse to pressure ourselves about the gift-giving, and remember that God knows our weaknesses, and is able to give us the strength that we need—maybe not as much as we want—but all  that we need. Let’s trust Him to bless our Christmas in His way, by His grace. After all, this season only exists because of His birth. Who are we to say it has to meet certain expectations? No, we must repent of wanting things our way, and rejoice that He has already provided all we really need. Rather than becoming obsessed with the perfect gift, we must focus on the fact that we are perfected in Christ. Instead of standing in lines, we will stand on His promises. Cyber Monday can become a Sabbath, if we will only rest in His grace. Hallelujah! What a gift! What a Savior!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Red Flags

 I recently received a question from a reader, and as I began to compose my answer, it occurred to me that maybe some of you have the same question. So, I’m posting the question here, with my answer. Perhaps some of you struggle with this question too, and can help the rest of us. Please feel free to comment with your own strategies!

Here’s her question: “Suzanne, do you ever struggle with trying to 'fix' yourself or 'heal' yourself' and find that your thoughts are too much on yourself?” This reader had recently found a supplement that seemed to help with her pain, and it had spurred her to do some more research, trying to find other helps for the physical challenges she faces. As she researched, she realized that she was becoming very focused on pain relief, and she wondered if perhaps she had gotten too absorbed in herself in the process.

As I thought of what my answer would be, I recognized the problem right away in my own heart. I have spent a great deal of time and energy over the years seeking relief from my pain. As you know from reading this blog, I’ve researched surgeries, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, supplements, physical therapy—You name it, I’ve either looked into it or tried it. But, each time I go on a “heal-me hunt,” I come to that place where I realize that I have become more focused on pain relief than on God’s glory.

But how do you know when you’re approaching that point? It would be great to have some warning signs that you are crossing over the line between trusting God while seeking what He might provide for you; and seeking pain relief without regard to Him. Looking back over those times that this has happened to me, I see three warning signs that I was going too far:

1. An anxious heart

Any time that my heart becomes anxious as I am seeking pain relief, I know that I have gone too far in pursuit of it. When my search for help becomes consuming, I begin to sense fear that I won’t find the help I want. This is a red flag that I have drifted from trusting God and pursuing His glory, to trusting man (myself included) and pursuing relief. As my reader mentioned in her note, we are to “Seek first the kingdom of God.” When I become anxious as I research, that is a sure sign that I am not seeking my satisfaction in Him first, trusting that “all these things” will be given to me; No, that anxiety tells me that my focus is on pain relief and, ultimately, self-satisfaction.
I believe the anxiety comes from the “what if’s” of chronic pain:  What if I don’t find a cure? What if it gets worse? I’d better do all I can now, because I’m only getting older and it’s not likely that this will get better with age. If you find yourself focused on “what if,” then take that as a warning sign to redirect your thoughts toward a biblical response. How about Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct  your paths.

Ask yourself: Where is God in my research? If it gets worse, where will God be? Will he abandon me at a certain point, if I don’t keep trying to fix this? What do I need right now that He cannot give me? Your answers to these questions will help you determine whether you have gone too far.

2. Waning desire to read my Bible and pray

When the realization first hit me that this surgery had been a disaster, I sat down at my computer and rarely got up from it. I researched message boards, scholarly articles, and medical websites. I followed leads for surgeons who were experienced in this area, and made phone calls to Mayo and other research hospitals, seeking someone who could fix this. I was consumed with finding an answer.
Every time I sat down to read my Bible, I would begin to think about my leg again, and end up back on the computer, looking for something else that had come to mind as I was trying to focus on the Scriptures. I simply could not force myself to concentrate and focus on my reading because my mind was so preoccupied with finding the answer I wanted for my circumstances. In other words, my desire for temporal healing had superseded my longing for spiritual nurturing and growth.

Are you finding that you are less and less interested in God’s Word and more and more into whatever research you are doing? When was the last time you got up from your devotions feeling spiritually refreshed and encouraged? What is your mind occupied with most of the time? When you are not busy or distracted, where does your mind go? Your honest answers to these questions will give you a clue as to whether you’re on the right track.

3. More excitement about potential pain relief than about Christ.

During that time, whenever I found a new supplement, treatment, or technique that I thought might help, I couldn’t wait to tell people about what I had discovered. I knew all the details of how it worked, and how it would affect my situation. I spent time learning all about it, and was eager to tell my friends and family about this exciting new possibility. Other than asking people to pray that it would work, I don’t recall a single spiritual conversation.

Oh, I was still reading my Bible, but in a perfunctory, check-it-off-the-list way. I was rarely encouraged to the point that I wanted to share it with someone else, and my prayer life was very lame. I prayed for the salvation of my children, and I prayed the obligatory prayers for my husband and friends, but my relationship with the Lord was about as deep as a puddle. I was obsessed.

What about you? When was the last time that you shared Christ with someone? Have you experienced times of refreshing in the Word of God, and have you encouraged others with that? When is the last time you just sat and meditated on the goodness of God, or simply praised Him for all of His kindnesses toward you? If it’s been awhile, or you are splashing in puddles like I did, then it’s possible you have tipped the scales of enthusiasm from Christ to pain relief.

These are only a few of the many red flags that the search for pain relief has led to sinful self-focus. I was very happy to receive this question, because it shows that the person is zealous to guard her heart against anything that wants to take the place of God. Even the concern that this might be happening is a wonderful assurance that the Lord is near, prompting and cautioning. What a good Friend He is!
What red flags warn you when you are getting to deep into your desire for relief? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Two Friends

I have just finished another round of PT. While I did get my range of motion back to where it was before, I didn’t make any further progress; and, as usual, other areas of pain are flared up as a result of the rigors of PT. As I left the gym this morning, the thought occurred to me that pain is my constant companion. I don’t hate or lament it as I used to, it is just always there.

As soon as that thought crossed my mind, another came close behind it: I have another Constant Companion, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. These two are always with me: At work, at the gym, in the car, in sleep, on waking, and on and on. Neither of them ever leaves me, and that will be true for both until the day that I leave the one behind and run (or possibly skip) into the arms of the other.

So, what is the significance of this? Though they are both with me always, that is absolutely the only thing they have in common. Everything else is a contrast. So, I thought today that I would list out the many ways that my Savior and my pain are different. Though that may seem like a silly exercise, indulge me and you may find, as I did, that it is actually quite encouraging.

Pain wants to drive me away from God. Jesus draws me near. Matt 11:28

Pain wants to make me weary. Jesus gives me new strength. Is 40:28-31

Pain says, “You can’t.” Jesus says, “With me, you can.” Phil 4:13

Pain tries to make me afraid of the future. Jesus holds the future in His hands, and says that it is good. Jer29:ll

Pain tries to make me doubt the goodness of God. Jesus assures me that all things are for my good. Romans 8:28

Pain is temporarily relentless. Jesus is beautifully eternal. Revelation 1:17-18

Pain is ever changing. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Heb 8:13

Pain insists on having my attention, and makes demands to be treated and managed. Jesus is attentive to me, and provides all He deems needful for my comfort. Philippians 4:19

Pain wants me to look back on what used to be. Jesus lifts my head to see all that is yet to be. Psalm 3:3

Pain says, “How will you do this for the rest of your life?” Jesus says, “Follow me, one day, one hour, one moment at a time.” Matt. 6:33-34

“Pain says, if Jesus loved you, you would not suffer.” Jesus says, “Your suffering is a gift, to draw you to myself and give you opportunities to bring glory to My Name.” 2 Cor 1:4

Are you suffering today, friend? Maybe you can come up with more of these contrasts between pain and your savior. When I first thought of writing these out, it seemed a strange thing to contrast Christ and pain, but after doing it, I have even more of a sense of the love of Christ in my pain. Even better, I see how these two companions work together to keep my feet on that narrow way: One tempting me to wander, the other leading me back onto the path.

It is amazing how God uses our pain to work in our hearts. I would love to read some of the contrasts that you come up with, out of your own experience with these two constant companions. I hope you’ll think on this, and comment below. Bonus points if you have Scripture to back it up!