Nothing is more humbling than being gifted with a thorn in your side. Yes, I said that correctly. I do see the thorn in my side as a gift. Some days I don’t look at it through the rosiest of lenses, but overall, I love some of the huge blessings I have received because God allowed a chronic physical affliction in my life. Chronic pain, not so much in my side but in my lower back, has taught me so many things. It’s only best to document the lessons that can be learned only through a thorn in your side.
I suppose I received my gift right after I went off to college. Back pain without a major injury in your late teens is really weird. I had a few doctors and therapists take a basic look but no real explanation or diagnosis came from the search. So, I just lived with it.
Mid-twenties arrived and I had a sweet baby girl and the pain intensified but was still manageable. It felt a lot like being achy, all the time, no letting up soreness and tightness. Late twenties, second baby and this is where I started to have back spasms – the “throw your back out” events. It wasn’t like I wasn’t active. I had two little kids and worked out on top of that. Why would my back be this bad?
Life took its toll – lots of really hard life seasons – one after the other after the other after the other. I suppose you could add extreme stress on top of the pain. I suppose I was able to keep it at bay for a while due to my very active lifestyle. But somewhere mid-thirties it happened………
Spasm after spasm after spasm. No real break. I tried chiropractors, bone and joint doctors, physical therapy, you name it. I stayed away from pain clinics and pain pills – I didn’t want an addiction on top of pain. I knew it was only a band-aid and I wanted it fixed. Doctors can offer you drugs but usually no real explanation. I did receive a degenerative disc disease diagnosis, and a spondylosis one.
One of my doctors looked at my MRI and said, “I won’t touch you. You’re too young and you need new discs in your back. I see 75–85-year-olds with your back.”
Don’t think I didn’t pray every day. Every day I begged God to take away this pain.
My poor husband was at the point where we bought a new mattress a few times just to see if that would help (no small investment but now our house has great mattresses for all), he had to do more of the house work, more of the cooking and cleaning, you name it. I got to the point where I could hardly walk, much less use stairs, and driving my kids to school was excruciating and sometimes I needed outside help to get them there and back.
My back was so locked in spasm, that I was permanently hunched over to one side. I couldn’t breathe without pain. Lying down at night didn’t help, I literally couldn’t understand why this was happening and what on earth the rest of my life was going to look like.
Debilitating pain has a way of sucking the life out of your life. Chronic fatigue is chronic pain’s other half. It affects the energy of your existence in such a way, that after a point you start questioning your desire to go on.
At this critical point, propped up on the couch all day every day, I did a lot of soul searching. Was this a punishment or instruction? That was the question circling my brain like a hamster in a wheel. What a peculiar question.
As sweetly as God does, He speaks softly through the quiet and reveals Himself in the Word.
He kept showing me the word, “instruction.” It sure did feel much better to have it confirmed I was being taught, rather than punished. Not that many other things in my life were not consequences to my bad decisions but this wasn’t. I think knowing this encouraged me.
God tells us He deals with us as children and that He instructs us and corrects us, among many other things. This is how we know we are His – if He continues to work on us, making us look more and more like Him.
As I seek the answers to the wisdom I’ve requested, God shows me.
Time and time again, the people who walked up to Jesus and asked for healing believed all they had to do was ask Him. To which almost every recorded time, Jesus replied, “___________, your faith has made you well.”
That’s it! Faith? Just faith? Wait, that’s the first step – the walking out of obedience and belief comes next. Most of the people who received healing had further instruction from Jesus. Some had to go get in a river, some had to walk away before they received healing. Maybe this is a journey.
I wrote on a mirror in my room in some red lipstick – “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” He did if for them, He can do it for me. I’ll take that promise.
Well for me really was just getting back to functioning like a human.
The journey towards better came little by little, and through suggestions of others, through places in my life I was working on forgiving, and believing God had something redeeming about this thorn in my side.
The path of forgiveness is a hard one. When I finally realized I hadn’t really dealt with a lot of things in my life, it took what felt like a forever amount of time to unpack all the forgiveness I hadn’t realized I hadn’t given out. Even to myself. I blamed myself for my youngest daughter’s brain injury from vaccines. That was the biggest place I had to forgive myself.
As I unpacked all the emotional pain, all the out-loud forgiveness a few times over (for both myself and others), I could literally feel more movement. I had to couple this with a lot of self-care.
My days revolved around Epsom salt baths, stretching and deep breathing. And praying, and praying and praying. And praising God for the help He’d given and the help and healing I was going to have. It took bravery for me to start moving and not being afraid that the slightest misstep in my movements would have me back on the couch. Trying to overcome fear was a huge part of walking out my belief that I was getting better.
I started walking up and down stairs, driving my children places, going back to grocery shopping and eventually back into a gym that had a workout program designed by a wrestler that broke his back and stretched his way better.
The days were still hard going through all that. Some days my pain was a 9 out of 10, others just a 6. On the hardest days, I’d pray something like, “Holy Spirit, please come into my pain and help me. I can’t do this without you.”
Pain makes you open those weak places in life and beg the Father to rest His strength on your weakness. When your experience with answer to prayer is so cerebral, it blows new hope in your soul.
This level of pain teaches you to suck it up a bit, too. Pain teaches you to fight. Pain teaches you to find help outside of yourself.
Sometimes it looks like asking others for help (vulnerable) and constantly being in God’s ear about coming in and coming extra close. Pain teaches you that you need to address things buried deep within. It teaches you to be grateful for doing little things you took for granted before – like putting dishes away from the dishwasher, carrying groceries in the house, walking up and down stairs. Every time new pain is introduced, you handle it better because you are well acquainted with pain. There’s more but these are the big ones.
A few years go by and here I am. I still have chronic back pain, but not level 9 and 10 all day every day. Thank God, thank God, I literally thank God when I sit down to tie my shoes, thank God! I just got a huge extra dose of pain healing since moving to Georgia. There has to be less allergies here and I was led to some natural pain relief that has made my quality of life so much better.
Do I still have some level of daily pain? Do I still have to ask people for help in ways other people my age wouldn’t have to ask and it comes with a side of embarrassment that I can’t do things I want? Yes. But do I have lasting mindfulness of gratitude for God’s great mercy and grace for where I am now? More than I’d have time to write.
I challenge you to look for God in the thorn in your side. His grace is sufficient, even if He doesn’t decide to totally remove it. He loved Paul, so much, and He left his in place but met him in his weakness. It’s an honor to have God show His great love in our great pain.