When the Pain Doesn't Go Away

Today's guest blogger is Emily Duffey. Emily has been the Administrative Assistant for Reigning Grace Counseling Center since January 2011. Emily is a counselor-in-training in RGCC’s training program and is working toward her ACBC and IABC certifications. 

I listened to a podcast of Joni Eareckson Tada from John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference held this past year. As a person with a disability I pay close attention when this woman teaches and imparts wisdom she has learned from her life of quadriplegia. I often reflect on the grace of God in this woman’s life, and pray for the same grace to endure if I ever end up losing my ability to walk and other bodily abilities (which is a real and viable option in the progression of Multiple Sclerosis). Right now I am blessed with the ability to walk unencumbered (most of the time); I have the ability to take care of myself. In these ways, my disability differs greatly from hers. However, the more I listen to Joni teach, the more I realize she and I are not so different at all in our limitations. You see, we share one thing in common, and it is something we both share with everyone who reads these words as well. We all have a disability, so to speak—we all struggle with sin. We all need healing in our hearts from the deceitfulness of sin, from the idol of self.

It is very easy when living with any kind of illness—wheelchair bound, chronic and crippling pain, vision distortion to blindness, hands that are unable to remain steady or grasp objects, the inability to bathe or clothe self, extreme fatigue to the point of remaining in bed (the list here is endless)—to focus on wanting relief from the symptoms, a relief from the cause (a disease, an injury). It can become consuming. Many people jump from one doctor to another looking for another pill to help, a new treatment to try, something, anything to get some relief from the constant pain or problem they are enduring. Insurmountable amounts of money are often spent on these endeavors. Some have literally driven their families into bankruptcy searching for a solution, a cure. The symptoms, the disease, the dis-ease/discomfort—it becomes all consuming, and after a while, Christ no longer seems to be a part of the process, let alone the solution.

In Joni’s message delivered to the conference she brought out an excellent point from Mark 1 that I had never thought about. The crowds came to Jesus in the evening, seeking to be healed, and He healed many! When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. (Mark 1:32–34)

The next morning, the crowds started looking for Jesus again. I imagine there were still many left seeking to be healed, and I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to hear that crowd had grown overnight! When they started searching for Jesus, though, He wasn’t there.  

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”Mark 1:35–36

Jesus’ response to His disciples, though, is what stood out to me: He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Mark 1:38

The contrast in focus startled me as I reread this passage. The focus of the people was on physical healing—relief, comfort, to be free from the pain. This wasn’t Jesus’ focus, though. He came to do the will of His Father, to set the captives free, to heal us from our greatest plague—to remove the sin that separates us from the Father. He came to save our souls, to heal our hearts—not simply our physical bodies. How often do you turn to Jesus before you reach for a pill to ease the discomfort, or reach for the phone to make that next doctor appointment? Where’s your focus? I don’t ask this glibly, or speak harshly—these are questions I have to ask myself frequently. Is my greatest desire to glorify God, or to be free of pain and discomfort? Is my greatest need to be free from pain while on this Earth, or is my greatest need to be free from the sin that separates me from eternal life with my Lord? No, I do not think it’s wrong to take a pill for pain. I believe it is a problem, though, when the discomfort from the pain becomes your idol—when you are willing to sin (which takes many forms and are too varied to list them all here) to get what you want (relief).

Do you struggle with this? Do you find yourself focusing more on relief from the pain more than seeking to understand how the Lord is working in your life through the pain? Spend some time thinking and praying through Philippians 2 today—with joy and thanksgiving for even this point in life where the Lord has lovingly placed you.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

Oh soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness to see
There's a light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free

His words shall not fail you, He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell