Learning the unforced rhythms of grace


Freedom to Crumple . . .

If you've ever sprained or twisted your ankle you understand acute pain.

It is sharp and sudden. It takes your breath away and leaves you crumpled on the floor as you call out for help or wait until the sharpness of the pain subsides and you're able to stand up. Your mind races to what is on the calendar and how this accident will affect your schedule. You quickly determine what is important, what can be cancelled and what needs your attention right away. Then, you assess the damage and figure out how you can care for this injury and whether or not you need medical attention. Adrenaline can speed this process and you can quickly develop a plan within a minute or two of the accident. 

For chronic pain sufferers, the reaction is much different. There may be sharp pain but because we are used to it and it is not new, we simply take more medication or lay down for a rest or call our doctor. There is no panic or surprise, it is something we are used to but still needs attention. We constantly assess our schedules and simplify activities so that they include time for rest and recovery. We engage our mind in distracting and interesting activities so that we focus on something other than the pain.

However, just like the sprained ankle moment when one crumples to the floor and cries out in agony . . . chronic pain sufferers need to do that too once in awhile. It is normal and healthy to feel the pain and react to it. This is difficult for family members at times because they want to fix it. It is hard to see people cry or feel sad but it is really okay for the release of tears and sadness and grief to let go once in awhile. 

It doesn't mean the person is giving up. They are simply letting down their endurance and patience and steady work of managing it, for a simple release of stress and pain. That's all. It builds up and needs to be let go.

In those moments for me, my husband will say, "What can I do for you?" and I usually say, "just hug me and tell me it's going to be okay!" And he will. And I'll say "thanks!" and the crumpling to the ground moment does its work and soon, I'm able to stand back up again and apply the muscles that I've built in knowing how to take care of myself. Sometimes it is triggered by a new diagnosis or treatment or doctor appointment and other times . . .  it just happens.

We can't crumple every day . . . that is not healthy. We need to build routines and healthy distractions and incorporate beauty and joy and fun and interesting things for our minds to engage in instead of focussing on the pain. But . . . when the pain never really goes away, in contrast to a sprained ankle that heals, we must understand the rhythms of strength and weakness and accept them both as part of our coping strategies. 

I often say that the pain is easier to manage if my heart, soul and mind are calm and at peace. And it's true. All these parts work together and the heart becomes discouraged sometimes and needs care. That's all. 

So give yourself permission to crumple once in awhile and release some of the hard work that you've done in daily enduring and daily socializing with others while in pain. For all those times when you didn't complain or draw attention to yourself and worked hard at managing your own symptoms in order to love and care for others, then be gracious to yourself when you feel worn out.

Let's not become complainers or whiners or people who always talk about their troubles. Let's be people who bravely accept our circumstances, and carry our own load, and build a network of people and resources so that we don't do it alone . . . but let's be kind to ourselves if the pain causes us to crumple once in awhile. It's really okay.

A prayer for you today: 

"Lord, you understand weariness and you invite us to come to you as we are, not pretending to be something else, but just as we are. Thank you. You yourself endured pain and suffering and so you understand what its like. You see the expectations we put on ourselves to be perfect and useful and productive . . . and yet you know the toll that pain has on our lives. Thank you that you don't prescribe a formula. You know each one of us, personally and have a purpose for each of our lives as we come to know you more and know your heart for us and the world. Give us patience to live well, gently, daily and moment by moment. Help us to know what really matters. Give us skills to manage pain well. Give us humilty to ask for help. And most importantly, help us to accept the love that you give, unconditionally, so that it transforms our interior lives regardless of what our bodies are doing. May Your peace, love and joy fills us and sustain us so that we have hope! amen."