As someone who lives with chronic pain I’ve found myself asking many times, why pain? When I was younger my mom read us a book called “The Gift of Pain.” This was over twenty-five years ago so the details may be fuzzy but I remember being fascinated. The doctor who wrote the book discussed his work with individuals who deal with leprosy in a third world country. All I knew about leprosy was that it was something in the Bible that made you unclean. He stated that part of leprosy was nerve damage which causes a loss of sensation, mostly in the hands and feet. They couldn’t feel pain. Sounded like heaven at first, until he started talking about how patients would wake up in the morning missing part of a finger because the mice were nibbling on it all night. Or get a cut on their foot and not realize it until they ended up with systemic infection. Nasty. He goes on to explain how pain is a warning system to help keep us safe. To protect us. But what happens when that system goes off the rails in the opposite direction? When it sees everything as a threat?
Back in 2005 I rolled my ankle and ended up with a mid-foot sprain. No big deal, except my body got stuck in a “my foot is broken” cycle. The nerves in my foot decided that my foot hadn’t healed so they continued to send pain signals to my brain, in response it rushed all the healing properties to it. Swelling, bruising, and the nerves constantly telling me not to put any weight on it. Yet…there was nothing physically wrong with my foot anymore, it had healed. This phenomenon is called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, it’s literally where the on switch for pain doesn’t get shut off. I’ve been reading that our brains and emotions can get stuck in this same rut. Experts state that after 12 weeks of constant pain you move to the elite group of chronic pain sufferers. I’ve had pain off and on my whole life but constantly now for 10 years so I guess I qualify. Here’s the crazy thing. An article I read stated “Chronic regional pain is present in 20% to 25% of the population and chronic widespread pain is present in approximately 10% of the population. Those patients with one pain condition are more likely to develop another, more centralized form of pain. For example, patients with inflammatory or degenerative joint disease, for example, are almost four times as likely to also have fibromyalgia, the prototypical musculoskeletal central pain amplification syndrome.” I’ve attached the link at the bottom of this blog if you want to go read this article in its entirety. She goes on to explain how the longer your in pain the more your brain becomes accustomed to it. Pain literally starts carving paths through the brain so that it becomes the most traveled highways. It starts to interpret everything as painful or potentially painful. So just in case the actual pain isn’t enough our brains start assuming everything is painful. Then just to make life more interesting your hormones get involved and put you into a constant state of fight or flight. No time for resting and digesting just continuous rush of “we’re under attack!” Did you know that just a lack of solid rest can cause wide spread pain? I don’t know about y’all but reading all this sent me on a roller coaster ride of, “that makes sense, I’m not crazy,” to “wait, so the pain is all in my head?”
There is a certain amount of comfort in knowing that physical pain effects the mental and emotional aspects of our daily lives. After all, we feel it but to have science back up what we are going through can bring us some relief. Some assurance that even though there’s times we feel crazy, our body is doing it’s best to manage everything being thrown at it. I’m also continually amazed at how amazingly our bodies are created. It’s all so intertwined. That the body can’t feel pain without getting the whole system involved. You stub your toe and instantly everything jumps to attention and goes to work. Your nerves, muscles, hormones, brain, and unfortunately sometimes your mouth joins the party. How many times in scripture does God call the church, us believers, His body? It’s talked about a lot. Ephesians 4:15-16 “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” I find this one especially interesting because it uses the same terminology as Pslam 139:13 when David is speaking of himself. “For you formed my inward most parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” God uses the same care in creating us as He does creating His church body. When the church is functioning as it was designed it should be one of the most beautiful creations. When someone is hurting it should jump to attention and create a healing, protective atmosphere. All too often though we find it ignoring any struggles or pain, because it’s too messy. It’s easier to ignore the cut on the foot or the mice nibbling away at the extremities than to find a way to help. Or it chooses the opposite reaction, everything is the end of the world and needs to be spread to the whole body so they can “pray” and address any and every little issue. Y’all Christ said speak the truth in love! It takes both. We need truth in our lives but truth without love is the same as telling someone the mice are nibbling but not caring enough to help set mousetraps. Love without truth is like ignoring the mice completely and just hugging the person. Neither one works without the other.
I long for the day when my body will function as God designed it. More than that I’m so excited for heaven when His body will finally reach it’s full potential. In the meantime lets break out of the ruts that we’ve slipped into. It’s unnerving to realize that my brain and hormones have dug ruts that have become so ingrained that it now feels normal. It takes a lot of courage and hard work to step out and try to bend ourselves back to the way God designed us. It’s not easy. We need to take that first step. Let’s try to take what He has given us and use it to the best of our abilities to be His hands and feet.
As always I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
I couldn’t get the link to the article to copy but its on ncbi website and the article is called “Chronic Pain: Where the body meets the brain” by Leslie Crofford