“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained.”

Malcolm Muggeridge[1]

In our previous meditation, we looked at the loneliness experienced by people with significant pain.  We discussed how many people feel uncomfortable with those who are suffering. Now, we will look at how can we respond meaningfully to our situation of not only managing our pain, but also managing the responses of others?

In terms of living with persistent pain, there are no easy answers. Besides the importance being under the care of health care professionals, as well as taking the time we need to rest (coping with pain is incredibly exhausting), we have a few thoughts. First, it is very helpful to have trusted others with whom to share our emotional pain; the emotional pain is in part our grief about how physical or mental pain has invaded our lives. Sharing this pain is cathartic and we may find that the trusted other we share with can understand or at least bear witness to our affliction. For some, support groups can be helpful, as others share stories similar to ours and this lessens our sense of being alone. Others prefer working with a counsellor. “A burden shared is a burden halved,” said T.A. Webb.[2]

Second, although it isn’t helpful to “sit” in the mire of despair, sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack and acknowledge that we feel lousy and afraid and that this is okay. We should, however, be careful of how long we “sit” in this place and attend to looking forward. This can be done by looking for grace within the pain. Are there actions of others, such as unexpected kindnesses, that reassure us of some joy in living and God’s grace in our lives? Can we turn our gaze towards good things as a way of not focusing only upon pain? Third, and related to looking for graces in our lives, can we look for ways in which our lives still have meaning, and invest in meaning making activities? And as the Muggeridge quote stresses, it is the difficulties of life – and coming through them – that brings satisfaction.  An easy, sanitary life brings little meaning![3]

Living with chronic pain also involves managing the responses of others. As noted in this posting and the last, while some responses can be so helpful that they move us to tears, others are not and unfortunately, these unhelpful reactions can move us to a different kind of tears – those of exasperation, even anger. Managing these responses is important so that we don’t feel that our pain is minimized, and in the process of pain being minimized, that our lives are diminished. Also, managing the responses of others will allow us to feel more control. When someone proceeds to give unwanted advice, we should have a reply that is gracious, but clearly lets the individual know that their “help” is not warranted, nor welcome. For instance, if someone suggests that they want to pray for us, we can thank them for their prayers that are offered in private, rather than in a public place. 

Living with chronic pain is lonely, even if we have wonderful support. Learning to recalibrate our lives to accommodate pain, but also find meaning, is not easy. This journey to balance pain with purpose may need tweaking at various times to allow for changes in health. However, it provides the hope of even greater meaning for the future – a hope that can be diminished if our focus is stuck only on our pain.


[1] Malcolm Muggeridge Quotes.  AZQuotes. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from https://www.azquotes.com/quote/798530

[2] Goodreads. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/852570-a-burden-shared-is-a-burden-halved

[3] This was the theme of our book The Meaning is in the Dirt:  Meditations on Life’s Richness.


© Marlette Reed 2020

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