Three Helps for Ministering to Women with Chronic Pain

I’m a wife, mother, and member of our church, and I’m involved in women’s ministry—

I’m also a woman struggling with chronic pain, which affects all of these roles.

At least 100 million Americans have chronic pain. This means that one in three people at your church fights a daily battle with physical issues ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating affliction. Some struggle to exercise and clean their homes; some find it difficult to work jobs; some can’t pick up their children or carry groceries; others are laid up in bed and can hardly function.

The reality? Most of the time, you won’t know about these pains and their emotional and spiritual implications—many people with chronic issues don’t look sick or weak, and we struggle to ask for help. So what can you do, as a leader, to minister to the hurting women in your congregation? How can you support us, both spiritually and physically?

Three Helps for Ministering to Women with Chronic Pain

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but because I have chronic pain, I’m familiar with what we strugglers often desire and need (even if we won’t admit it). Three helps come to mind:

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On Mothering with Chronic Pain

Since being diagnosed with Lyme disease about four years ago, my body has been in a daily wrestling match with chronic pain. Some days are easier than others, but my pains are usually present in some degree. Though we have every reason to believe the Lyme is gone (praise God for modern medicine!), as my husband and I often say, “The war is won, but the city is ravaged.”

The disease left me weak, and my body has rebuilding to do.

Two years ago, my Lyme doctor gave us clearance to try to conceive. This clearance came after years of strong warnings against conception because the risks were too high. We rejoiced at this good news: My immune system was strong enough, and my body was healed enough, to try to have a child!

Yet—  

I didn’t know if I could be a mom. In fact, I shrunk back at the possibility. When we were contemplating our newfound freedom to pursue children, the thought struck fear in my heart: There’s no way I can be a mom. I can hardly manage our home or do my job without pain, let alone care for another human life.

How would I carry a baby, or hoist a car seat? How would I be able to keep up with an active child? Although the thought of growing our family biologically was incredibly exciting—the idea of motherhood paralyzed me.

Since that season two years ago, we’ve welcomed our daughter into our family. God, in his kindness, has provided all that I’ve needed to carry her, deliver her, and mother her in these early months. My health is significantly improved and I’ve found ways to manage my pain, but it hasn’t gone away; the addition of the literal, physical load of a baby has only presented new challenges and with them, new opportunities to trust God and mother in his strength.

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God’s Grace in the Face of Lyme

Today is World Lyme Day and marks the beginning of Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Friends at Revive Our Hearts asked me, along with Sarah Walton, Leanna Shepard, and Katie Laitkep, to share our stories related to Lyme, some practical tips for ministering to those with the disease, and some of our favorite resources on suffering and hope:


Q: Would you be willing to share a brief testimony about how God is working His grace in you through fighting Lyme?

Sarah Walton

Fourteen years ago, I said “I do” with stars in my eyes and great expectations for what was to come. Little did I know that those rose-colored glasses would soon shatter and the painful road of chronic illness, special needs, and long-suffering would become my reality. From a young age, our eldest son began displaying behavior that was defiant and destructive and has caused a decade of confusion and chaos in our home. Countless doctors, tests, and evaluations seemed to leave doctors shaking their heads.

Along with that, my own health grew worse, and after I finally received a diagnosis of Lyme Disease, it became increasingly clear that all four of my children’s symptoms were the result of Lyme Disease being passed down from me. This was no longer just my battle—it was a family battle. As my son’s disorder continued to overwhelm our family, confusion and hurt began to grow in our other children, and our marriage began to suffer under the weight of it all.

I was on a scary journey that it seemed no one else could relate to. As the struggles intensified, I found myself pulling away from those I cared about, staying home, and pushing down the stress and emotional turmoil building within me. In the confusion, fear, and uncertain future, I felt utterly alone.

But over these lonely and painful years I have discovered within me a thankfulness for the hard road I have been given to travel. Walking it has brought me a greater understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to know Him not only as my Savior, but my comfort, sustainer, hope, and strength. There’s something about having our worldly comforts stripped away that allows us to begin to experience the true depth, length, and height of His love for us. Christ has walked the road to Calvary so that I would never have to walk any road apart from Him.

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It Is Well With My Soul

In the middle of suffering, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”

While sick on the couch one week, I read the Shunammite woman’s story in 2 Kings and was immediately helped. I’d been fighting fear because I was terrified that our infant daughter would catch my sickness, and because I had no idea how I would care for her in such a depleted state.

I’m not proud of the fruit I bore that week: frustration, unkindness, negativity, and even more fear and doubt. But God, in his mercy, convicted and helped me through his Word, through the story of the Shunammite woman’s suffering.

The Shunammite Woman’s Suffering

Here’s the short version (see 2 Kings 4:8-37):

A wealthy woman (our Shunammite) knew that Elisha was God’s prophet; so she convinced her husband to make him a small room on their roof, where he could rest when he passed by. Elisha figured she’d want something done for her in return (which she didn’t), so he promised her a son the following year. She conceived according to his word and despite her doubts.

When he’d grown, her God-given son died on her lap. Without hesitation, she saddled up her donkey and went to find Elisha for help:

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” (vv. 25-26)

All is well? What?! Didn’t her son, her unexpected gift from God, just die on her lap? How could she say this?

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Evil Predestined by God’s Hand and Plan

Today, we remember the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. We lament. We grieve. And we hope.

There is nothing new under the sun. What can be said when terror strikes? I find myself deeply disturbed and yet uncomfortably familiar with the hatred and death that is ravaging our world. Another attack, another groaning. “How long, O Lord?”

Our comfort is the cross.

In Acts 4, we read that John and Peter were praying, on behalf of all the believers, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that they might continue to speak God’s gospel with boldness. The men had just been arrested for speaking the truth in the public sphere. Here is what they pray:

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How Suffering Can Change You for the Better

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

The marathon runner perseveres in his training in order to someday finish a grueling 26.2 mile race. The hesitant child presses on through eating her vegetables because she knows there is chocolate ice cream sitting in the freezer.

Perseverance is rooted in hope. We persevere when we believe that what awaits us is worth the fight.

Paul knew this. His eyes are not only on the future, but he knows this fight of faith is accomplishing something else of great worth along the way: the renewing of our inner self, even while our outer self is wasting away. His point is this: Suffering changes us, for the better, right now.

That is hard to believe! In Romans 5:1-5, Paul helps us understand how this inner transformation happens and where it begins:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. Not only that, but 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 5:1-5)

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Home Row Episode 25: On Broadway, Providence, Suffering, and Writing

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of talking with Jeff Medders, host of the podcast Home Row: A Podcast with Writers on Writing. He started the podcast over a year ago, and it’s one of my favorites!

Writers, if you’re looking for a helpful resource on the discipline and craft of writing, you’ll want to subscribe to Home Row.

Jeff and I talk baby names, swimming, editing, Hope When It Hurts, and more. Here’s the episode…click to listen!

Eight Reasons to Cling to Scripture in Suffering

Recently, a friend and I were interviewed on a radio show about the book we’d written on suffering. One of the host’s questions struck me: In the midst of the refiner’s fire, how do we keep from going through the motions? How do we have a sense of the abundance God promises us?

I immediately thought of Psalm 119:50: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” And so I responded, “I have to be in God’s Word every day.”

Eight Reasons to Cling to Scripture in Suffering

Are you suffering right now? Would you say along with the psalmist that you’re afflicted? If your answer is no, this life guarantees that all of us will hurt in some degree before we meet the Lord. If your answer is yes, take heart; you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who’ve known suffering in all its depths…and have endured.

Whether affliction has touched or devastated you, God promises in his Word to be your help, just as he did the psalmist. See in Psalm 119:49-56 eight reasons to cling to Scripture in your suffering:

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Broken Down on Every Side

I found this in my files last week; I had started writing it a while back, but hadn’t finished. The content was incredibly timely for me, and I pray it will be useful to you:


[God] has stripped from me my glory and taken the crown from my head. He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, and my hope has he pulled up like a tree. (Job 19:10-11)

Stripped, broken, uprooted. These are difficult words to read, though they’re a strange comfort to those enduring such pains. Job’s confession resonated with me, as he put into words what I failed to speak, not by choice, but because I simply did not know how.

In the darkness of suffering, which looks different for everyone, we are faced with the uneasy, painful reality of having to die to ourselves. My confession: I still don’t fully understand what that means. Yet, day by day, God is teaching me.

Most recently, this dying-to-self has come from feeling that God is far away when I need him most, and that there is nothing I can do but keep believing that he will help me trust him.

We lean on earthly glories, and we boast in our crowns—until they are stripped from us. We then realize that they were crummy gods, unable to give us life, meaning, or joy. They couldn’t bear the weight of our soul’s greatest need, which is to be satisfied in Jesus alone, forever. They couldn’t provide what we were searching for—and it is good when they are “gone.”

God strips earthly glories from us so we will learn to treasure him.

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What the Cross Means When You’re Feeling Crushed

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed. (2 Corinthians 4:8)

Suffering can be so painful and dark that normalcy can seem like a distant memory from another life—an easier one, a happier one.

Like a dead weight bearing down upon our hearts, pain puts pressure on our faith and stirs up emotions that we find hard to confront or push back. “I don’t know how much more of this I can handle,” I’ve thought to myself. “Could my circumstances get any worse? I just want things to be normal again.”

Even if we know the hope of the gospel and believe it with all of our hearts, we still feel this pressure. Pain and suffering were never meant to be a part of our everyday experience and so they feel wrong; but, because sin entered the world, it is part of normal life to feel, from time to time or all the time, “afflicted in every way,” just as Paul described to the Corinthian church.

When Paul says “in every way,” he means it. He was one hard-pressed man:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11:24-28)

Danger. Exposure. Violence. Pressure. My guess is that you can resonate with Paul’s words, not because you’ve gone through similar struggles but because of the overwhelming pressure of the struggles you have known. What affliction is threatening to crush you right now? What suffering is testing your faith?

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