Chronic pain is one of those symptoms that is invisible to the naked eye yet the inescapably reality of every moment and every breathe of the suffering. Until chronic pain became my reality I could only imagine the agony of a life of constant discomfort and distress. Now I don't have to imagine. I live it every day and, these days, no where more acutely than in my skeletal back.
Years of spastic muscles have taken a toll on my back. The pulling and tugging of spasms in my left side have succeeded in yanking my back into a state of utter imbalance. My discs, ligaments, muscles and joints are all a mess that I've tried desperately to clean up. From castor oil to chiropractic, stability balls to Aleve, nothing has worked. The pain has only worsened.
The most severe pain occurs when I sit down so I try not to sit as much as possible. But sometimes sitting is inescapable, like when riding in the car. Pre-pain I loved car trips. I was a real road warrior. At one point in my life, Mom and I traveled thirteen hours with no more
than five stops for gas and food fill-ups. We drove late into the night while belting out our favorite Train ballads to keep us amused and entertained. The trip was long and my legs were thankful to stretch and move when the journey was over but I never experienced pain. Now I can't drive across town without counting down the minutes until I am released from my sitting position.
In these past seven years of chronic illness I have had to come to terms with the reality of chronic pain. I am not telling you this for pity's sake or to gain a collective, sympathetic "aw" from readers. I'd by lying if I said that I don't mind the pain. Of course I mind. But I also know that this pain is nothing compared to plenty of other crosses I could have to bear. I could be in a country where I was persecuted for my faith. I could bear a cross that paralyzed my body or served me with a short life. But this illness and the pain that results from it is the cross God has given me.
After all of these years of pain the question I face is not will I bear the cross God has given me. At the end of the day, no matter how painful, the answer is always "yes." The real question that stings at my heart and rips at my muscles is not of will but of how. How will I handle this pain? Will I bear it like a heavy burden or wear this pain like a beautiful crown?
Yesterday I stepped out of the car after eight hours stuck in that upright, painful position wearing something new. I exited the car with a crown. Was there pain in my back? Without a doubt. Were there tears forming in the corners of my eyes as I stretched my stiff, spastic muscles? Absolutely. But on my head was a crown of glory. In my pain I found unity and communion with Christ. By enduring discomfort and distress I shared in a tiny taste of the suffering of Christ. Trapped in pain, I was given the opportunity to travel on the journey that lead to Jesus' victory over death and His, heavenly, glorious crown.
Every moment of pain that I endure is real and so is the crown I wear. I have been given this cross to wear as a crown, not to bear as a burden, so that, in the wearing of it, I will become intimately united with my Savior and Lord. On this journey, wearing a crown fashioned by the hand of God and perfected in the cross of Christ, I am being prepared for Heaven to spend eternity in the presence of my God and King, the conqueror of death and the everlasting keeper of the crown.