Acute pain can cloud your thinking, and chronic pain can scour your soul. I should know after 22 years of some of the most dreadful pain known to humanity. Pancreatitis is a notoriously painful condition, causing sufferers to bend double with agony, unable to draw a breath. I remember being carried from my home to an ambulance in the foetal position through excruciating discomfort on more than one occasion. Admitted to hospital more than 100 times, sometimes for many long weeks and often including stays in Intensive Care Units and High Dependency, I learned a lot about pain.
This disease usually requires powerful opiates to control the agony, and over two decades I was, for most of the time, taking up to a thousand milligrams of morphine equivalent per day. When you consider that we send our troops into battle with 10 mg of morphine in case they get shot, you have some idea of the power of this painkilling regime. Sadly, in my case the killing of pain very rarely lived up to its potential. It simply failed to do all that I desperately needed it to achieve for me.
Just a few Easters ago I lay in a hospital bed right beside the nurses’ station hooked up to an intravenous solution containing powerful opiates and ketamine – more commonly known as a horse tranquilizer in veterinary care – plus antibiotics powerful enough to cause side effects such as deafness and inflammation of both my achilles tendons at the same time. It was scary, and continued for more than a fortnight, but my biggest regret, as a pastor and preacher, was being laid up in hospital at Easter time. I believe in divine healing and in the power of God to raise even the dead, so how come I was cooped up in care when I should have been leading the church in celebration? I recalled the words God spoke to the prophet Elijah, “what are you doing here Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9) and berated myself with guilt, regret, and shame.
(Rev. Dr. Eric Gaudion MTh PhD)
But I should not have done so. Being in pain did not reduce God’s love, his presence nor his calling on my life one bit. In fact, if the Bible is to be believed, he is drawn to people in pain like a moth to a lamp. We see this in the life of Jesus who is the perfect image of Almighty God. He looked for the company of people in pain. Some due to their physical illnesses, others to the pain of social exclusion like lepers, and some in the grip of the agony of grief like the widow of Nain. Drawing near to a man who had been seeking relief through a form of hydrotherapy beside the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem after 38 years of invalidity, but still without benefit, Jesus ended his chronic condition for good, miraculously (John 5:1-9).
But you may wonder how it is possible to keep trusting God through long-lasting adversity of all kinds. One well-meaning Christian friend declared to me about my situation “I would not treat a sick dog this way!” This was a challenge to my faith in a loving God like the one hurled at ancient Job by his wife, who in a fit of impatience with his worsening condition yelled “why don’t you curse God and die!”. Well, I nearly did die many times over those years, but by the grace of God, my life has not ended, and though I struggled to understand his ways and cried out for his mercy many times, neither did I curse him nor deny my faith in him. Today I am pain-free, and thanks to the wonders of space-age transplant surgery, I can look back and learn from the storms I have passed through, and pass on some helpful tips to others.
Through the storms
My latest book is the third in my ‘Storm’ series, ‘Through the Storms: a manual for when life hurts’. It is published by Instant Apostle, and is available from me (Eric) at firstname.lastname@example.org, or from online booksellers like https://www.eden.co.uk/christian-books/personal-life/through-the-storms/ who also sell large print versions, or in Kindle and paperback versions from Amazon UK https://amzn.to/3tAvK1k.
In it I try to offer insight into how a committed Christian, who believes in God’s gracious power and will to heal in response to believing prayer, can cope with decades of frustrating failure and painful experiences.
Speaking of the book, author and columnist Jeff Lucas said: “Eric tells the truth about pain. There’s no gloss, fluff, hyper-spirituality or clichés. The absence of them all makes me grateful, for slogans sting like salt on an already deep wound when you’re suffering. You won’t find slick answers in this book, or a satisfying, ‘they all lived happily ever after’ ending. What you will find are words that are written in blood, sweat and tears rather than just ink. You’ll look into the heart of a fellow traveller, who must have been tempted to slam the door once and for all in the face of a God who calls Himself good. Here is warm hope, honest empathy, faith that is gritty and authentic”.
If you are trying to ‘hang in there’ through chronic trials and difficulties, or maybe in the grip of pain today, there are so many great resources available to help you. If you are into books, and cope with reading despite your discomfort, then I would love to share my experiences with you. But whether you do or not, I pray that your faith will not fail, and that you will receive hope and encouragement today. If faith is a new idea for you, or you need to find out more, check out the Alpha course at Alpha online www.alpha.org.uk.