Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Pain, New Gain

Do you suffer from some type of chronic pain or disability?  If so, then you know that fearful sense of dread and doom when a new pain or weakness arises. Perhaps you’ve gotten used to your “new normal,” whatever that may be, and you’ve come to accept—maybe even embrace—your limitations. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, some new pain arises, and you go into a panic.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it would go something like this: “Oh, no! Now what? Did I do something to myself? (At this point I’m wracking my brain for how I may have overdone it at some point recently.) Is this a further progression of my condition? Is this something new, separate from what I’m already dealing with? What new medication or therapy will this require, and how will I fit that into my schedule and budget?” As I’m going through all these questions in my mind, my emotions are revving up, and if I don’t get a handle on them, this will become a genuine panic!

Before I even know what I’m dealing with, I can let my emotions take over. When that happens, whatever twinge inspired the whole thing has become genuine pain because I have become so focused on it. Thankfully, by the grace of God, it has been a long time since new pain inspired such a vortex of emotion for me. God has given me many opportunities to grow in this area, so today I’ll share with you three things that may be helpful to you the next time some new physical affliction surprises you.

Don’t be caught off guard.
That very surprise is the first thing you must guard against. Even those who do not suffer chronic pain must always be prepared for the physical degeneration of their bodies. After all, we are all aging, and, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:18 (AMP), “progressively decaying and wasting away.” So, why are we surprised when something goes wrong with our bodies? Are we especially entitled to have no further pain or physical suffering, just because we already have a lot of it every day?

No, my dear sisters, we are not. Our chronic condition does not win us any special privileges when it comes to the decay of our bodies, so we should expect that these new pains will crop up from time to time. You will be pleasantly surprised at the reduction in fear and anxiety that is produced just by taking out the element of surprise. When you are prepared in your heart for the eventuality of more pain, it loses its power to frighten you.

Set your mind on things above.

Did you know that, according to Colossians 3, you have already died? If so, then what are you fearing right now? Think about it: Deep under the soil of panic over a health issue is that root fear of death. Yes, there are surface fears of medical interventions, increased pain, and decreased capabilities. But underneath those things is a common-to-man fear that inspires them all.  Christ came to take away that fear. Colossians 3 tells us that, as far as this world is concerned, we have died and our new, real life is hidden with Christ in God.

So why do we act as though we are still in bondage to that fear of death? I believe it is because we do not follow the instructions of Colossians 3. We don’t set our minds on things above. We have our mind firmly fixed on just one thing on earth: Our comfort. We forget that, because we have already “died,” we can now live our real life, which is hidden with Christ in God. We have put on the new man, who is renewed in knowledge according to God’s image. We must train ourselves to put off fear and anxiety, and put on that new man, who knows that death is no longer a threat, and God can be trusted.

Get on with life.

As we set our minds on things above, we will be focused on bringing glory to God in our response to this new pain. Instead of focusing on symptoms and relief, we can look outside of ourselves, and into a world where there is pain and sorrow on a level that, by the grace of God, we will never know. How can we sit and stew over some new pain, when others are hurting so much more than we? This is the only time I would ever advise you to compare yourself to others. No matter how much you hurt, there is someone who hurts more. There is someone who has fewer resources than you with which to address her pain. There is someone who has less help; more responsibilities; and more limited mobility.

Begin today to train your heart and mind to fix your eyes on things above, not on things of the earth. Every new pain presents an opportunity to choose: Either you will trust in God, or you will trust in yourself. You cannot do both. God is far more faithful, trustworthy, and good than you or I could ever hope to be. Let’s be prepared. Let’s remember that our bodies will age, and let’s expect new issues from time to time. We can exercise proper care of our bodies, investigating the cause of new pain, but let’s take the fear out of it! The God of the universe, who created your body and knows it better than you ever will, is fully able to lead you through the process.

If you’re still having trouble trusting God, take a look at this video, where my friend Joni, who has been in a wheelchair now for 50 years, will give you some encouragement!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Three Strategies to Beat Self-Pity

Self-pity, like every other sin issue we may face as we deal with our pain and disability, is a thinking problem. But, like every other thinking problem, it begins in the heart. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts, because everything else—thoughts included—flows out of it. So, as the pain becomes more intense, limitations are increased, and life changes yet again, we must diligently guard our hearts against the trap of self-pity. Self-pity is a direct path away from God because it means we have turned our focus to ourselves: Our pain, our loss, our sorrow, and our sadness. As these become bigger and bigger in our thinking, God’s place in our minds becomes smaller and smaller.

So, we know that we must guard our hearts against self-pity, but how? What are the practical steps to take so that we won’t indulge it this time, and the temptation won’t be so strong next time? I believe there are three things that have to happen in our hearts and minds before we will be able to overcome self-pity.

Biblical View of God
Before you can begin to address your view of yourself and your problem, you must have a biblical view of God. Many times, we who suffer with physical pain are perplexed that a good and loving God could allow us to be in such agony. If He loved us, we muse, He would heal and relieve us of our affliction. But wait. Is that really true? What does the Bible say about the goodness of God? I challenge you to do a study on this subject. You will find that none of the proclamations of God’s goodness are dependent on our circumstances or the outcome of our plans. God is God, and He is who He says He is regardless of what is happening in my life or yours. Read A.W. Pink’s The Attributes of God to fully inform your heart of who God is.

Biblical Grief
No matter what the cause of your pain or disability, it constitutes a loss. Maybe you are less mobile, less able to walk, stand, and move. Maybe you’re no longer able to drive, or your pain has caused you to give up favorite hobbies or activities. Perhaps you have friends with whom you no longer share a common interest, and they don’t come around as much. Whatever loss you have sustained, have you grieved it biblically? Have you cried to the Lord about your loss, and told Him how much it hurts? If not, this may be one reason you struggle with self-pity.
I am not saying that you should blame God, or whine at Him. There is such a thing as biblical complaint, and David was a master of it! Get a study Bible and look up the Psalms of Lament for a model and pattern of how to cry out to God about your loss. Dear friend, your life changing pain or disability marks a significant loss, and you must grieve that loss before you can leave self-pity behind. Bob Kelleman’s book, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses is an excellent guide for processing through your sorrow. I use and highly recommend this journaling approach to biblical grief.

Biblical submission
Finally, if we want to get out of self-pity, we must learn biblical submission. Submission is not a word that many people like. In fact, some equate it with oppression! But in biblical terms, submission is a true source of joy. When we submit our hearts to our loving and merciful God, trusting Him for our lives, we can rest. We no longer have to strive with discontentment, dissatisfaction, or self-pity when we know that the loving, all-powerful creator and sustainer of the universe has ordained our circumstances for our good and His glory. What more could we want than to be directly in line with the will of God?

When you are biblically submitted to God, you will not only peacefully accept the condition of your body, but you will thank Him for it! Why? As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we can give thanks in all circumstances because they are God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. Think about this, my dear sister: God thought of you and me, desired to make us more like His precious Son, and came up with the perfect plan to do it! Granted, this might not have been our first choice of how to make that happen, but who are we to argue with God? Read Job 40 and 41 for a glimpse into God’s mind when we question Him!

There is much more that I could say about self-pity. If you’d like to learn more, you can purchase a recording of a breakout session that I did on this subject at last year’s B3 conference, here. The bottom line though, like just about every counseling issue, is knowing who God is, trusting Him, and honestly walking through each day very near to our Healer.