The Ministry of Chronic Pain

“I don’t know if I can take this pain for two more years . . .” desperation and bone-dead weariness surrounded my friend’s confession. Some of you may have met my travel buddy, Jeanne. If I’ve spoken at your church or a conference you’ve attended, most likely you’ve seen her close by my side. She’s served as pretty much my “right arm” for almost twenty years. And now her right arm lies almost dormant.

When I first got the call that she was on her way to the ER with a broken arm, we were finishing up a pleasant Mother’s Day with a houseful of family. As soon as we could exit, we headed to the hospital. A broken arm is no fun, but it’s not uncommon or life-threatening . . . at least that’s what you would assume. When we arrived, Jeanne’s face was marked with intense pain and the ER doctor loaded her up with pain meds before releasing her. He said the surgery would have to be put on hold for four days to allow the swelling to go down.

That night began a long series of doctor’s visits, two surgeries, a diagnostic test to determine nerve damage, and several physical therapy sessions. The pain has not grown less, in fact it’s increased. The nerve medication doesn’t seem to faze it, and the doctors told her it may take two years or more before the nerve heals from the trauma.

She’s a retired Air Force Major, an RN for more than forty years, known for her tough resilience and never-give-up work ethic . . . but at the moment, she’s chair-bound and in almost constant pain. She, who has cared for so many, lived on-call twenty-four-seven for family members, her church body, and anyone in need, is now consigned to being cared for, and it’s really hard to comprehend.

On more than one occasion in these weeks of suffering she’s said, “I know God has a purpose . . . I want to learn what He wants to teach me . . .” She’s not raised her fist with an angry “Why?” but has accepted this as part of His plan, even though she can’t see what lies ahead or how this makes sense. From a pragmatic view, it doesn’t make sense, it would seem she was much more profitable to the Kingdom when she was functioning at full capacity. She lives to serve. She delights in being used by God, so how does she do that while in a chair . . . at some points even unable to carry on a phone conversation?

Of course, I’m not the one that can provide those answers, but one thing I’ve observed is how this faithful servant is learning to receive help from others. Those she’s served are now stepping up to serve her. She’s on the other side of ministry now: receiving.

And although she doesn’t realize it, she is still ministering. She’s a living example of one who is clinging to Christ through suffering, one who is seeking to glorify Him, even when she can barely raise her head.

In the School of Suffering

Although she’s nursed others all of her adult life and is very familiar with physical trauma, she’s learning new lessons through this season of suffering.  She told me this has given her a greater compassion for those who live with ceaseless pain. This “ministry of chronic pain” is teaching her patience, stripping her of independence, and placing her in the humbling position to receive help. As I watch her, she’s teaching me to have a greater appreciation for the ability to function with all limbs. As she doesn’t give in to self-pity or anger toward our sovereign God, she is demonstrating to all who watch her that He is trustworthy; that He is worthy of glory and honor whether life is cushioned in velvet pillows or spent in a stony desert.

[box]“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).[/box]

Have you experienced the ministry of chronic pain? If you’ve learned some things while in the school of suffering, I hope you’ll share with us!


  • Myra Wright

    I enjoyed reading this for I live day by day with chronic pain. My six words would be,
    God’s timing this to shall pass !

  • Brenda Kinsman Ontario Canada

    This is where I live every day too, with chronic nerve pain. But it’s been through this suffering that I’ve come to know my Suffering Saviour in a much deeper way. I’m coming to know myself also & how much I need to die daily to the flesh so that Christ can be exalted in my life.
    I have become much more compassionate to those who are suffering so I can say this trial is a blessing.It has & continues to make me desperate for God.