I’ve sat in some difficult places in my life: doctor’s offices, gambling costs of tests being worth the debt if they brought answers to help me recover; darkened offices during lunch break, fighting off migraines, praying I could finish my shift; courtrooms, wondering if the disability benefits would be approved because I’d run out of options. Perhaps the most uncomfortable was a place most turn for comfort.
I sat there, a metal folding chair in Sunday School class. Prayer requests being taken, but I was silent. Jobs, marriages, births, deaths, cancer… those are met with a common attitude of concern. Regardless of the outcome, results were forthcoming. Chronic pain and depression that have gone on for ages with no change in sight receive a different reaction. Some have questioned my relationship with God. Do I really trust Him if He hasn’t healed me? Some have felt guilty, as though their prayers weren’t good enough and they’d let me down. So, I stopped telling people how I was doing.
I sat there, a hardbacked pew, looking longingly at the choir loft behind the preacher. I used to sit up there, but too many missed rehearsals meant I no longer knew the music. I eventually quit going to church. It is remarkably easy to stay in bed when you are hurting and exhausted. It is even easier when you feel isolated and misunderstood.
I sat there, home alone. I had God. I won’t claim He always felt close, but I always felt able to be completely honest with Him. There may not have been room elsewhere for my tears and suffering, doubts and fears; but, I never doubted that God loved me and fully saw me.
I have learned a great deal through years of pain. I’m trying to unlearn anger and isolation. I’m trying to use compassion and empathy to help others avoid some of that anger and isolation. I still do not often request prayer, but I’m learning to be more open about my struggles in the hope that others will see they aren’t alone. In the song “Nature Boy”, Eden Ahbez wrote, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Showing people who we really are and what we are dealing with, giving them a chance to be seen and accepted as well, is a gift. It is love.
I have learned how to be a warrior. I fight for my good days. I rest to avoid more bad days. I have to remember that a warrior knows resting is part of the process, part of the healing, that allows them to fight the next battle.
I have learned that suffering teaches us more about ourselves than anything else can. It takes away some of the possibilities in our path, but it will also bring to light different possibilities we’d never have seen otherwise. I can’t say I’m successful at counting suffering as joy, but I cannot deny it is a blessing. God has answered some of my prayers. I can’t explain how or why He resolved those and not others. Yet, I see in a new light the things that haven’t been healed, and I sit in the mystery of a plan bigger than mine.
We want to help those who are hurting; but how can we help when it comes to chronic illness, depression, or pain even doctors may be unable to name? I’d like to see us start by opening up the dialogue on behalf of the silent. Can we make room for the unspoken burdens they carry? Can we bring these issues into the light, offering prayers of comfort for those suffering? In prayer groups and church services, can we lift up in prayer, even generically, those with longterm, unresolved issues? I’m going to be bold and suggest instead of asking only for healing, perhaps we ask for the opportunity to sit with them in the valleys of their journeys, to sit with them in darkness even when there is no sign of a coming dawn. If we let it be known we can accompany them as they are, where they are, they may open up. Even if they don’t, perhaps they’ll carry away less shame and less sense of isolation. God may heal them. God may, instead, use their long lasting trials to move mountains that others would never have seen needed moving. It is uncomfortable when someone is in pain and we’re not able to do anything about it; but as uncomfortable as that is, consider them sitting in that pain alone. They can’t do anything about it either and isolation may be compounding their pain. Though we can’t fix it, can we sit there with them?
Rhiannon Hall is 38 and lives in the US. She has struggled with fibromyalgia for over 15 years, and chronic migraines and depression since childhood. She is an aspiring writer, songwriter, and voice over actor who dreams of seeing England. She has since returned to church.