Chronic pain changes everything. So does chronic love

After a recent service, members of the congregation had a long conversation about chronic pain, sharing resources, techniques and encouragement. In response, I invited people to reflect on the intersection of faith and pain in their lives. Here is Ollie’s story. Thanks, Ollie!

I only had a short time of suffering chronic pain. A few years ago, when I went part time at work and became primary carer part time, I would get these episodes where my ankle would become extremely painful for a few hours at a time. At the start it would just go away after a while or with mild medication.

I had broken my ankle as a nine-year-old but hadn’t had ankle issues generally. As this thing developed, we were investigating all kinds of things to explain and treat it and the pain was getting worse. I can’t remember the timeline exactly but it came to the point where I was getting scans and possible surgery on a degraded ankle, I had a diagnosis of a psychosomatic pain disorder called CRPS and was having therapy for that, and I was getting counselling focused on my anxiety around the attacks and why they might be happening.

I think I didn’t have great recognition and communication of my emotions and needs, and a lot was going on. The chronic pain was horrible and becoming unbearable. The episodes were becoming more frequent and having a bigger effect on our whole family and relationships. Like a black hole, this pain was warping all my experiences and sucking in me, my specialists, my family and our friends to deal with this unnerving unknown. I hated having to explain it and give my third hand understanding of this syndrome to kind and interested people who asked, ‘How’s your ankle?’, or even just, ‘How are you going?’ I couldn’t even explain it to myself.

Chronic pain manipulated my sense of time, perspective, happiness, true pain, memory, everything. I am so grateful it didn’t last very long, just isolated episodes over 12-18 months at most.

Through a combination of all the things – surgery, CRPS therapy, counselling and a whole lot of love – I hardly remember the ankle now. I think Lucy remembers it a lot more, and a fair few of our friends. I think I remember the episodes but she remembers the time period. Now Lucy’s experiencing chronic pain in her back and hip and I can see the similar warping of a person and our world going on now. There’s been horribly low moments.

I’m not even sure how I explain my ankle now, but I think it probably was a combination of anxiety about role changes with parenthood, and a bit of ankle degradation that was there too. It wasn’t really conscious!

When Alison reached out in this conversation, she mentioned the ankle, and I almost do need to be reminded of it; it’s not part of my daily life any more. How could it be that having been so close to the black hole I am just in ‘normal’ space again? Well, I think those therapies and relationships are all part of it, but I also got a deeper sense of being exposed to ‘chronic love’. I would probably even say that a lot of the specialised treatment was an extension of that love. Every day I have a sense of being loved. I nearly said ‘unshakeable’ sense, but then I did remember being significantly shaken in the worst of the pain.

That sense of Chronic Love, when I acknowledge it, helps me to remember the reality of a love that warps all those senses of ‘time, perspective, happiness, true pain, memory, [and] everything’ that pain did. Chronic Love warps those senses into a place of fullness and wholeness. Chronic Love connects, ministers and waits.

God has loved this world over deep time and warped it accordingly. Jesus, on countless occasions, warped small realities for the sake of fullness and wholeness. Lucy warps my daily existence towards love and connection. My mum and dad’s and other family member’s daily prayers remind me of my whole self, connecting the nine-year-old with a happy smile, the nine-year-old with the broken ankle, the new dad with CRPS, to the full Ollie. The kids are a bit too complicated to explain in words, but yeah, we chronically love each other! This community says that we can have all those things with two or three gathered. That’s an idea of community and human relationship that can only have sprung out of some deep hope and been birthed by Chronic Love.

I have also seen Chronic Love be a part of Lucy’s recovery too.  She is getting better.

I hope that this formulation of Chronic Love doesn’t come off as glib. I know that I forget the worst of things and I move on. I find it hard to connect with some things I’ve moved on from a bit, but I hope this reflection gives a bit of hope and attests to a truth for you, too. I’d love to hear how others have connected with this idea of Chronic Love,  with or without chronic pain.

Shalom,
Ollie

Reflect: How has chronic love been shown to you? Pray about it, then take some time to simply rest in God’s love.

Emailed to Sanctuary 28 July 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.

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Here we are in lockdown again, and life is feeling small. We don’t see enough people; we don’t share enough meals; we don’t get enough exercise; the walls are beginning to close in. Even when lockdown eases, we know from previous experience that it will take time and energy to reengage with the world. We’ll have new restrictions to navigate and new fears to manage. And after all these months of infrequent socialising, some of us will decide that it’s all too hard; we’ll choose to stay home. Continue reading “Five loaves, two fishes and a pocketful of prayers make a church”

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We love the idea of a powerful God who reaches out to organise events to our satisfaction: and right now, we could really use a God like this. A God who ends world hunger, ensures justice for every situation, waves a hand to make climate change and the pandemic simply disappear, and all without us doing a thing. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of this God in Scripture. Continue reading “My soul refuses to be comforted”

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Christ breaks down the walls between all peoples, then unites them together in love. (Listen.)

Male + Female. Gay + Straight. Trans + Cis. Black + White. Neurodiverse + Neurotypical. Progressive + Conservative. Catholic + Protestant. Believer + Unbeliever. And I could go on with the binaries. We live in a world which loves to label people. Sometimes, labels can be incredibly helpful; they can provide a lens to understand ourselves and other people. But all too often, labels are used to make insiders and outsiders; they are used to exclude and condemn. Continue reading “Friends beyond any binary”

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It’s been another Sunday with a few, but not many, kids; since COVID, most Sundays have been like that. Like so many churches around the world, over the last fifteen months the number of children and families attending services has collapsed. We’ve struggled to hold kids through a long year of Zoom; and now that we are meeting in person each fortnight, families are out of the habit of piling into the car and coming to church. And there are other obstacles. Once, a kid with a sniffle would still come; now, a kid with a sniffle means a family stays home.  Continue reading “Will our kids have faith?”

Joining the sacred dance

The dance of the liturgy heals and transforms us: but to receive its gifts, we must participate. (Listen.)

One of my happiest childhood memories were church barn dances. Once or twice a year on a Saturday night, we’d gather in the hall with a dance caller and bush band; and off we’d go with a do-se-do and twirl your partner! Adults, teens and children stepped and galloped, wove and spun, stumbling and laughing and moving down the line. Towering blokes swung little kids around; teenagers dominated the Nutbush; and the oldest folk clapped along from the sidelines. Some of us were wonderful dancers; most of us were not: but the dance held us all. Continue reading “Joining the sacred dance”

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When the church operates from a position of power and wealth, it has no authority. (Listen to a much earlier version here.)

I have a confession to make. As I prepared to travel to Canberra and preach on this story, that is, a story where disciples are sent out carrying no bag and no change of clothing, I panicked. I hadn’t been to this city before, let alone this church; and I suddenly realised two things. One, my usual op shop clothes probably wouldn’t cut it; and, two, my only good pair of pants had moved to Melbourne earlier this year with my oldest daughter. So I ran out and bought myself a new pair of pants, and shoved them into my already overflowing bag. Continue reading “No authority but Christ”

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Like me, my mother was an ordained Baptist minister; but unlike me, she had endometriosis. Among other things, this meant that her menstrual periods were excruciatingly painful, and came upon her without warning, in great floods. And so my childhood is studded with high stress memories of her period suddenly starting while we were out. There’d be an intake of breath, then a quick hissed exchange between my parents, then a frantic search for a public toilet before disaster struck. Continue reading “Menstruation, miscarriage, and the multitude robed in white”

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This term, we have been reflecting more than ever on healing, wholeness and integration. Here, Lucy shares a particular terror of hers, and an experience of integration both with her body and with a wider story: that first Easter Dawn. Thanks, Lucy!

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