In Appreciation of Pain, Part Three

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:2-5

(Earlier, I wrote about two other lessons I learned that make me thankful for the decade I spent struggling through chronic migraine. If you would like to read them, you can find them here and here.)

The third,  but perhaps the most purely delightful, lesson I took away from those years of suffering was in learning to praise my God even when shrouded in pain. While those words are easy to write now, it is critical to note that my gratitude for the suffering did not begin after I  had exited the dark valley of daily pain– I began to express thanksgiving and praise aloud to God even while striving to function through the throes of migraines.

Those years were truly dark ones in all senses of the word, some points of which I have already outlined in my previous posts. Implacable pain was only one of the reasons for the gloom, but it was a pushy, domineering one. I could not escape the grip of pain for long. Medications would work for a few weeks, but they had their own side effects besides losing efficacy over fairly short periods of time.  I began to dread waking, knowing that all that waited for me was an awareness of pain.  My mind also seemed to be failing as I struggled to recall familiar words like “toaster” and “laundry” or my children’s names. I was perpetually, relentlessly tired, almost a zombie trudging mindlessly through each day. Because of the intensity and long-term quality of the affliction, I found myself frequently succumbing depression.

I remember clearly the first time when, in the clutches of a migraine so fierce that I dared not twitch a finger for fear of the repercussions, I was compelled to whisper oh, so quietly my adoration of God and praise that He was allowing me to be broken and reshaped by such pain, allowing me to participate in some minute way in the sufferings of my Lord Yeshua. It was the first toddling steps of a shaky practice that I began to form, a routine of murmuring blessing or praise even. or rather, especially in the depth of affliction or when despair constricted and stifled my heart. It was some time and many stops and starts before the practice began to be a habit.  It is still not a solid habit, I am sorry to say, but I now remember more often than I forget.

Slowly, strangely, the leaden fog of despair was rent and began to dissipate as surely as mist in the sun.  I began to understand the truth behind yet another quote from Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “True joy is not the absence of pain but the sanctifying, sustaining presence of the Lord Jesus in the midst of the pain.” I understood because I had begun to learn to recognize His Presence always, even when veiled by my own pain.

Through this moment and countless others like it, I learned to acknowledge the glory and worthiness of my King despite what I may be feeling. Though my body was wracked with exhaustion and tormented by ruthless headaches, I learned to be thankful that He was greater than my pain.

What’s more, I learned that He is worth praising no matter what my circumstances are. Even the worst of my pain can never amount to the humiliation and rejection my Lord experienced when He literally became sin on that cross as ransom for billions of undeserving, debauched human lives like my own. Even the temptation to despair can be overcome when I focus less on myself and more on the majesty and undeserved compassion of my Lord and my God.

So all in all, I am thankful for the trials God has sent my way. I am thankful for pain so persistent and intense that I was forced to the end of myself… and most gloriously of all, I am thankful that I found Him waiting for me there.

It is my sincere prayer that you will know that He is there with you in your dark valleys as well, and knowing that, you will unabashedly sing His praises into the cold and uncaring darkness. Hang in there, my dear, no matter how long it takes. He is there, even when you do not see Him. And His grace truly is sufficient for whatever trial you face.

In Appreciation of Pain, Part One

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
James 1:2-3

Today I am thankful for the relatively recent freedom from chronic migraine and associated headache pain I have experienced. I am grateful beyond words that my days are no longer bookended by varying degrees of that miserable pain which was both my first and last awareness for so many years.  As appreciative as I am for the fact that the number of headaches has drastically reduced, I feel the need to stress that I am also thankful for the many years I spent in the ruthless, dense fog of chronic migraine.

Strange though it may be,  I now consider those months of  incessant pain a blessing. There was absolutely nothing about it that was pleasant, nor would I wish to repeat even a week of the experience. Still,  it was during those interminable, torturous days marked most heavily by fatigue borne of perpetual pain that I learned such a great deal about the goodness of my Creator.

I have always been the type to plow on through an illness or injury to the point of utter collapse. Even that trait, however, proved a poor prop under the onslaught of nearly a decade of being both awakened and lulled to sleep by the pitiless ache in my head. For a while, my own strength sufficed. . .  for a while. But there came a day when I simply had nothing left. Even the most mundane tasks were overwhelming and the job of educating my children with patience and love seemed hopelessly out of reach.

Up to this time, I had sporadically called upon God for help when I found myself quite over my head. Now, however, I was in a perplexing state of trouble where my tremendous need was not covered by occasional pleas for mercy.  This was the time when I began to understand that a commonly spoken platitude was horribly flawed: God does give us more than we can handle. Often. Repeatedly. Even tenaciously for those of us who, like myself, are stubbornly proud and unwilling to even recognize our own weakness.

Finally desperate to break the cycle, I began to pray for help and confess my ineptitude continually throughout each day. I asked for His Spirit to expose and give me strength to repent of every act of self-sufficiency and for the grace to remember to call upon Him for mercy and for help in time of need — not only when troubled waters had swelled and I was drowning, but at the very moment those waters began to rise around me. I began to call upon Him sometimes hourly, sometimes every minute, and He willingly provided far above what my feeble efforts were worth. Slowly, the darkness of the valley did not bear down so intensely and though I still was too benumbed by pain to see far ahead, at least He provided the light to my feet for the step that was imminent.  I could see enough to walk forward. I could see that I needed to lean completely on the limitless sufficiency of His great grace.

But God had still more to show me…

 Lord, thank You that Your grace is truly sufficient! Thank You for not allowing me to move forward in self-sufficient pride; that You care enough to humble me and cause me to see my need to abide utterly in You.