When words fail…Navigating the challenges of sharing the truth about chronic pain

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I don’t often share about my ongoing physical battles here. This pain that moved in three years ago and never wholly left is complicated and hard to discuss.

I hesitate to share how chronic pain and digestive issues steal many of my days because fear easily outweighs words of hope. Pain persists day after day, hope falters, and I believe the lie that there is no purpose behind the pain and, worse yet, no meaning for me. 

Isolation is my greatest temptation when I’m having a flare of pain. It’s much easier to stay home than fake a smile when questioned about how I’m feeling; my answer is typically thin and a lie—”I’m fine.” I’m never sure how the hard truth will be received, and it’s difficult when well-meaning people give numerous suggestions that you’ve already tried.

Besides, I feel so repetitive.

It’s not as hard to share about new pain. But old pain, well, old pain gets old. When it’s the same prayer and the same request over and over, it feels exhausting. You feel as though you’re exhausting to everyone around you…including Jesus.

My birthday was one of my most challenging days a few months back. The night before was terrible. I slept for about an hour because the pain wouldn’t let up. The morning met me with pure exhaustion and frustration. As every call and text came in to wish me the best, I felt the worst. Pain that is easily tolerated on an average Tuesday feels intolerable on your birthday.

So, rather than enjoying cake, I spent my birthday eating mushed bananas and barely keeping chicken soup down. Sickness stole my sleep, and the day was spent trying to swallow food, only to end up muddling through tears of defeat. I didn’t share this with most people who reached out to wish me a happy birthday; I felt it’d be more than they’d want to hear. Hearing about another’s pain is never easy, especially when nothing can be done. We’re fixers, you know. We want to offer solutions and suggestions rather than sit in the discomfort of the unknown. Because pain—anybody’s pain—is uncomfortable, whether experiencing or hearing about it. And I’m just as guilty. I want to fix; from my husband to my kids to the next-door neighbor who lost their dog; give me a problem I’ll fix it for you.

So, to keep others from feeling inconvenienced by my pain, I faked my smile and endured another long day of chronic pain.

I don’t say this to gain sympathy 

I say it to speak the truth in an atmosphere that can’t handle much of it. 

Today I woke up wondering if I was the only one that lies through my teeth when asked how I’m doing and whispering little niceties so the air stays clear and doesn’t churn like butter, needing a knife to cut it.  

I wondered today about you.

I wondered if you experience pain daily. Maybe it’s not physical pain. Maybe emotional, spiritual, mental, or a combination of all. Do you hurt with no answer to the aching, and is there no end in sight? 

Does your suffering wear a label, or is it nameless and unseen like mine? An affliction that’s silent when the world is observing you?  

How we long for our suffering to be appropriately placed and controlled. This endless, nameless ache is suffocating to the sufferer and inconvenient to the observer. Those of us who suffer long become weary in the explaining, and those who hear the explanation feel hopeless and uncomfortable with the lack of fixes. Pain makes people uncomfortable, especially when it’s chronic and has no tidy solution. 

We want to call it by name and then put a prescription next to it—this relentless pain we endure. And when there is no prescription or answer, we often suffer in silence.

Because who would want to hear about “this again?”

I chastise myself for feeling pain so profoundly. This awful companion takes up so much space and time and causes me to weep and mourn. Especially when I assume everyone else is carrying their crosses while beating their burdens into submission and still getting the laundry done.

And here I sit in a puddle of tears all over again.

But you’re hurting too, aren’t you? Maybe not like me. But you have “that thing” in your life that won’t walk away and leave you alone.  

Sometimes we need it to be seen. We long for someone to see us and tell us that chronic pain matters and tears are worth something. To have someone come alongside and remind us that pain brings purpose when we fear there is none.

Be present IN our pain.

There’s no perfect answer for the pain, but I know there’s a better way– and I long to find it. I want to be in pain AND still be fully here and invested, not feeling the need to push aside my suffering to be in the presence of others. I long to be present in this current moment, even when the perfect version of myself isn’t. And I want to leave the thin lies and trite answers at home. 

And equally, I want to sit with friends going through long, complex trials that make little sense without feeling the need to offer solutions.

We need a listener, but we also need to allow others to listen.

For those who suffer long and endure deeply, we ask for a safe space to share pain without needing a fix. At the same time, we need to allow others a chance to be that safe space. We’re being unfair when we hold everything in and don’t give someone a chance to be the comfort we’ve been praying for. Let’s be willing to come alongside, sit next to big hurts with a quiet presence, and allow others the space to do the same.

I think we can do this better, friend. We can be honest about our pain while allowing others to come alongside and hold a seat for hope.

Above all today, please know that your pain—whatever it is— is heard and seen and known. And above all, we are held in the pain we endure.

As always, friend, thank you for stopping by,

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