Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Together Through Pain {chronic pain}

I am nothing short of thrilled to start this series called "Together Through Pain".  I've read many articles written by people who have encounter major trials, but not so many on how to be a good friend to them in the midst of it all. You can read more about the premises for this set of posts HERE. My prayer is that you and I learning from the difficult experiences of these eloquent, godly women will be nothing short of powerful. 

We'll start this series hearing from Molly Mullery who has dealt with a chronic pain almost her entire life. She graduated from George Mason University with an English degree that concentrated on Creative Writing. Molly is currently a freelance writer and working on a series of young adult novels. She resides in Northern Virginia with her husband Colin and their pooch River. You can enjoy more of Molly's gift of writing on her personal blog HERE.

How To When Your Friend Can't
When I consider writing about chronic illness, I can come up with many different places to start. I could start with my own story, a sort of list of credentials I have to even write this in the first place. Then, I think maybe I ought to write a list of the do's and don't's of caring for the chronically ill, or maybe I should stuff the whole thing and just write a poem. But, when I finally sat down to write, all I could think about were days.

Today, it rained. I felt like curling under a blanket with a cup of tea and a book. I'm sure a lot of you feel the same way on rainy days. Those blankets and mugs  get even more enticing when you've got a cold, don't they? Your nose is stuffy, your head feels the size of Texas, your joints ache, and you just want to take a sick day. 

For those of us with chronic pain, every morning feels like a rainy one, our heads never seem to shrink down to normal head-sized heads, our noses run like faucets, and our joints never stop that awful throbbing. Replace those symptoms with those of arthritis, or fibromyalgia, or crohns disease and you get a picture of what chronic illness is like. That sick day, when you call your boss and say, "Sorry, I can't come in today", that's our everyday. 

It's monotonous. It's exhausting. Despite our best efforts it can determine our decisions, our activities, even dictate our interests to a certain extent. It can seem virtually impossible to avoid letting our health issues shape our identities. Other people inadvertently make it worse. When your defining characteristic is a chronic illness, people ask you about your knees, your head, or your stomach before they ask you about anything else. It can feel all-consuming.

So here you are, reader, friend to a person with chronic illness. You don't want to reinforce the life-consuming nature of health issues, but you also want to be a supportive friend. This is a difficult balance to achieve, and it looks different in each relationship. Each person and his pain need a different sort of support and a different face of love, yet there are a few guidelines that stretch nearly across the board.

1. Beware of pat answers. Many sick people have heard verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 so many times they can see them coming up in a conversation a mile out. Ask questions. Find out what truths are helpful to your friend and which ones are salt in the wounds. This will be different for each person, so be sensitive to that.

2. Don't fixate on the problem. Ask your friend about work, about movies, about colors, about music. Focus on interests, dreams, and goals. Treat them as you would any healthy person, while leaving the door open for them to bring up their trials. 

3. Reach out. Sometimes it's all a chronically ill person can do to get up in the morning, let alone set up time for fellowship with friends. Be the one who goes to her house, the one who picks up Starbucks. Wash dishes if you see them in her sink, casually de-clutter his living room between rounds of video games, offer to swing by the store on your way over. Small gestures like these, given without fanfare, show your friend love without drawing attention to his weakness.

4. Remember your shared identity. You are not a "healthy person" reaching out to a poor "sick person." You are a brother in Christ, caring for a fellow Christian who would do the same for you were the tables turned. Focus on what makes you equal as children of God, not what makes you different in this temporary world. Pursue fellowship, find ways that your friend can return care to you through prayer or Bible study. Enjoy life in community together.

Chronic illness is isolating, life-defining, mind-consuming. It is exhausting, embittering, depressing. We fight every day to live well and fully in light of the Gospel, just like you do. Help us by not focusing on the difference, but rather rejoicing in our shared heritage in Christ. 


  1. simply beautiful and enlightening. after reading this post, i am doing some soul searching about which of these guidelines i have and have not put into action with my dear friend who struggles with a chronic illness. thank you for writing this and sharing your heart so well.

  2. wow...thank you for this Molly!


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