Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chronic Pain and the Weak Optimist

Acute pain often accompanies injury. Given enough time, acute becomes chronic. Sometimes, despite doctors and their treatments, defying nutrition and prayer, chronic pain persists.

… a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me … I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." … Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses …
~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)

A familiar passage—yes? "My grace is sufficient" is oft quoted, a talisman to convey strength amid suffering. It's right up there with "God works all things for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28) and "the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).

… I take pleasure in infirmities …

But how often do you hear a Christian quoting that phrase?

[C'mon, Paul—are you for real? (And people say Jesus has some hard sayings …)]

~ ~ ~

My default setting is optimist. When inconvenience strikes (like the dead car battery this morning), I try to remind myself that my time belongs to God (and then give Him thanks for car #2 while trusting Him for how to push a full sized van out of the garage to jump start it later). When something is damaged (like water ruining the basement carpet), I remind myself that it all belongs to God (and then rejoice at His gift of new indoor/outdoor carpet at a ridiculously low price). I consistently maintain a "can do" spirit when plans go awry (usually because I forgot to put something on the calendar and either I or our household's vehicles are double booked).

As a parent, I regularly look for the affirmative way to state directions rather than give a negative prohibition. "HEY! Finish your school work and then you can go outside" instead of "don't run in the house." "PLEASE speak kindly!" rather than "don't talk to your sibling that way." "Take a break from your chore so you can get some time by yourself for a little bit" seems more constructive than "your attitude stinks."

But Paul, through God's Word, pushes me toward a place the optimist has absolutely no desire to visit—a place where optimism wanes.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)

Looking at this passage, I find comfort seeing "in" rather than "for" preceding "everything." There's sufficient struggle in thanking God for whatever good persists in the "everything" rather than for the everything that includes suffering. I readily confess that I'm not quite at the place where I "take pleasure" in a visit from Infirmities et al.

When speaking of that satanic messenger, the translators of 2 Corinthians 12:7 (above) take a little liberty in translating the Greek kolaphízō as "buffet." Surely they're simply trying to convey the buffeting implied by a strong wind. Perhaps the more literal meaning of "a blow, to strike with the fist" seems a little too physical when speaking of warfare that's spiritual.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
~ Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

(If you picture a wrestling match, it's about as physical as physical gets.)

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …

(True enemies are not human, no matter what any human may be responsible for.)

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …

(But we do wrestle while occupying flesh and blood that experiences chronic pain.)

~ ~ ~

This optimist occupies a human body that just three years ago felt like 25 (see "How Old?"), which has since then taken a … (ahem) "buffeting" [trying not to roll my eyes here]. The optimist makes jokes and laughs about the warranty running out when you turn 50.

Then I stop laughing and look for something deeper. I look for the strength found not in a 25-year old body, nor in a body that feels like 25—strength found only in weakness.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NKJV)

I ask God to renew the joy of my salvation (Psalm 51:12). And I reach for the joy of YHWH that transcends chronic pain and makes me stronger than I've ever been before.

"Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
~ Nehemiah 8:10 (NKJV)

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Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.


  1. I think I am forever an optimist and have a "can do" attitude about most everything. So I appreciate the things you have written concerning being affirmative. However, often attitudes of that nature go out the window (confessions of a Christian mother here), when it comes to my bratty kids that know better.

    I regularly say:
    - Hey! Don't throw that in the house, you're going to break something!
    - Don't talk to your sister that way!
    - I am super sick of your bad attitude cause your attitude really stinks!
    - If you say even "one" more word, you are really going to be sorry!
    - Just what on earth made you thing that you could do that!?!?

    While I have words of affirmation as well, sometimes my kids really get to me when they appear to just not care or are especially mean to each other.

    I know that was not the gist of your post but that is what struck me. Keep up the good work!

    1. Yeah, Mary, I regularly say all those same things. (And I'm not always speaking "nicely" or in an indoor voice.) Probably the most upset I get with myself is when I let the kids push me into sin. Joshua and I were just yesterday discussing that I'm still the sinner when I respond wrongly, but he shares my sin if he's a stumbling block to me (Romans 14:3).

      The single worst thing they do to upset me is treat one another badly. Ironically, that's also what I usually respond to the best. Because it serves as a glaring reminder to me of how our Father in Heaven feels about the way we treat one another, I think seeing them injure a sibling, show disregard for a sibling's feelings, or treat their belongings as more important to themselves than their siblings gives me strongest motivation to be an example to them right on the spot of what love looks like. (At least that's how I generally respond after my initail outrage that they can be so cruel—probably not entirely unlike the way our Father also feels.)

      Thanks for the encouraging words, my dear sibling! ♥ (Did we ever talk to each other the way our kids do? I honestly don't remember, and if we did I'm glad to forget!)

  2. Thanks for the reminder... As I lay here waiting for Tavish to come out of surgery, I know His grace, and nothing else, is sufficient for me!

    1. I am praying for him as well knowing the uncertainty that life offers. But we know that God is not uncertain. The scripture of the week at my work is:

      And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8

    2. If His grace, Helena, carries us even in the moments we don't know we need it, how much more so in the moments we know!

  3. Anne, I hadn't visited your blog in awhile. I'm glad your RT of my tweet led me here. I recently had neck surgery to help correct problems which have been painful for twenty years. So I totally "get" what you're saying. It is tough to keep our eyes on Jesus during suffering, but that is the path to true, lasting joy.

    Thanks for your ministry here. I've linked to this on our featured post page on the High Calling. I hope it brings me some readers! :)

    1. Dena, I'm most appreciative and definitely humbled by your highlighting this piece. Thank you!

      I am learning that our joy in the Lord is so much more powerful and meaningful when it defies the chronic pain we learn to live with. Our precious Jesus is truly our All in All. Praise God that He's used surgery to help correct your pain. I'm certain that He has worked powerfully in your life during that time. Thank you for all the ways you share your testimony.

  4. Anne! So glad I followed the link from The High Calling! It's great to visit you, again. It's been awhile, but I'm so glad to see you here, shining light. Grace to you!

    1. Thanks, Deidra! It's wonderful to see your face. Circumstances have allowed me to be online only a fraction as much as in the past. I've missed connecting with all the lovely people with whom I used to stay in better touch—like you!

      God's grace IS manifold to me. I'm grateful that His light still shines here, humbled that He uses me as His vessel.


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