Monday, July 27, 2015

Living with the Chronically Pained, Part 1: There's No Getting Over It

I have chronic pain. It's something I live with but try not to complain about much. As a result, you may not know that I suffer; or if you do know, you may never give this aspect of my life much thought. 

You might want to think about this, though: I'm probably not the only Chronically Pained person you know. Recent studies indicate that 100 million Americans currently suffer some form of chronic pain. That's approximately one third of our current population.

Simply put: we're everywhere.

If your life overlaps with someone who is Chronically Pained, there are a few things you may want to take into consideration. 

First, the Chronically Pained don't have the luxury of forgetting that they suffer. 

Depending on the physical problem causing the pain, it may come and go in waves; there might be better days and worse days--that's true. But it's generally not something to "get over." For the most part, the pain is just there--an ever-present companion. 

People who suffer chronic pain know, however, that their friends and family (even when fully loving and supportive) really only want to hear so much about their situation. After that, they mentally "get over" it, even though the situation hasn't actually changed for the Chronically Pained. I'm not saying this is wrong. I'm just saying that it is. People are people, and they have their own problems. Unless the Chronically Pained remind everyone that they're suffering, people are likely to forget. That's just human nature. But if people are reminded all the time, they're going to get tired of hearing about it really fast.

So it just seems best that we keep our issues to ourselves. Except if we do, people expect us to carry on normal lives, and that's not always possible. So it becomes a bit of a balancing act. 

Even if the pain is low-level and doesn't totally incapacitate, it still operates as a constant drain on the emotional and physical batteries. I'm not saying that this gives the Chronically Pained an excuse to be vicious cranks--as, indeed, some of them are--but I am encouraging you to have patience and understanding with them, since their situation dictates that they never actually start the day at 100%. 

If your Chronically Pained friends seem to have a shorter fuse than the rest of your peers, remember that there could be a reason. Much of their patience and fortitude is already directed toward getting through the day without groaning audibly. 

They don't always have much left over in their emotional tanks to put up with nonsense.

Monday, July 20, 2015

All of This Has Not Been Enough

Sometimes we feel unhappy with life.

Whether because of choices we have made or because of events beyond our control, we find ourselves increasingly dissatisfied.

When this happens, we really only have two choices.

First, we can wallow. By looking primarily inward; by focusing on our own wishes, hopes, and desires; by looking outward only to make comparisons with others and catalog where our lives seem to have fallen short of expectation--in this way we can hold on to (and perhaps even relish) our feelings of injury.

But when we find that wallowing hasn't made us happy (which of course it won't), the quickest way out of the pit is to ask this question:

How can I look at God and say, "All of this has not been enough"?

The beauty of this world has not been enough.

The warm love of family and friends has not been enough.

The comfort and wisdom of Scripture has not been enough.

The freedom of forgiveness of sin has not been enough.

Being part of the Body of Christ has not been enough.

Fellowship with You has not been enough.

All of this has not been enough.

* * *

If you can consider the benefits that have been lavished on you by grace 

and can still look at God and say, 

"All of this has not been enough," 

then there will never be an end to your dissatisfaction. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Dangers of Spiritual Self-Diagnosis

Recently, my dentist asked me to explain my tooth-brushing technique. 

He might as well have asked me to explain quantum physics. 

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't brush my teeth--I do!--it's just that I attack this task as I do all other mindless, daily chores: with my brain completely divorced from the process. 

To give him some perspective, I could have said, "You're looking at someone who had to develop an actual soap-moving process in order to get a handle on showering." Then I would have had to explain that I developed the habit of moving my line of toiletries from the left to the right side of the shower as I use them so that when I come out of a mental fog partway through the process, I know roughly what's going on and don't wind up shampooing my hair multiple times.

It's not that I despise mindless, repetitive tasks. Quite the opposite! I get some of my best thinking done during those times. It's just that I prefer easy-to-monitor ones, like washing the dishes and folding laundry. They have a clear beginning and end, giving my brain a chance to take a field trip. When the laundry basket's empty or the drying rack is full, I know I'm done. 

No so with tasks like tooth-brushing, during which a bit of concentration is required to know where I am in the process. For all I know, I could be brushing the right outside edge for five minutes and the rest of my teeth for five seconds. 

But that's seemed like a lot to explain just to help my dentist understand my problems with paying attention to the minutiae of life. In the end, I said something really intelligent, like, "I don't know. I guess I just brush them," and he proceeded to tell me that based on the evidence, he knew exactly what went down, and that there are some specific steps that I can take to improve the effectiveness of my brushing. 

I just have to be willing to pay attention to what I'm doing and to acknowledge the fact that just because my teeth feel clean at the end of the brushing process doesn't mean that they actually are clean. Or, at least, not as clean as they could be. 

We all have blind spots in life, areas in which we're incapable of self-diagnosis. Whether because we're intentionally blind or simply mentally absorbed in other things, we're in need of outside help even to recognize that there's a problem.

Fortunately, when it comes to spiritual diagnoses, we have the the ultimate outside help. One of the Holy Spirit's ministries is to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment; to help us see ourselves as we really are; to strip away the caveats and excuses, laying our souls bare to Truth. To give us the power to change. 

Without outside help, we may be convinced that we're fine--but we'd only be deceiving ourselves

Rather than avoiding opportunities for spiritual conviction, we must make a consistent effort to include them in our lives. Regular, direct applications of the Word to our souls will allow the Spirit to put his finger on each problem. It's important that we open ourselves to this process. 

Allow the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to convict, cleanse, and nourish your soul. 

Don't depend on self-diagnosis.

That would be just as foolish as me trying to be my own dentist. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Packing Problems

If you're going to travel, you're going to pack, and if you're going to pack, you're going to have problems.

Lots of them.

Packing Problems

  1. You want to pack what you're wearing.
  2. Nothing else is clean.
  3. What actually is clean doesn't fit.
  4. What actually does fit is weird. 
  5. Nothing in your entire closet makes sense.
  6. None of your socks have mates.
  7. You used up all of your mini toiletries the last time you ran out of the regular ones and were too lazy to go to the store. (You like using mini toiletries. It makes you feel like a giant.)
  8. You will need to take your shoes. All of them.
  9. After packing your Bible, your devotional, your prayer journal, your personal journal, your Writing Ideas notebook, and all of the books that you're in the process of reading (plus your e-reader as a safety) there's no room left for anything else.
  10. You never unpacked your suitcase from the last time. 

But maybe that's just me. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Ruth's Rules for a Better Life

  1. Drink your first coffee of the day while sitting down.
  2. Never run in wet flip-flops.
  3. Take life seriously, but also not seriously.
  4. Celebrate "Cheese O'clock."
  5. Pray.
  6. Watch every sunset, preferably while dressed in black tie and walking on the beach.
  7. Hire Morgan Freeman to be your chauffeur. 
  8. Never eat raw kale.
  9. Get a library card and use it.
  10. Only pine after someone worthy of your love.
  11. Cook with lots of garlic.
  12. Don't read the comments. 
  13. Infuse all conversations with a unique blend of intelligence and sass. 
  14. Love your enemies. 
  15. Eat enough fiber.
  16. Become a handwriting expert so that you can make surreptitious entries in other people's journals.
  17. Travel.
  18. Master Tuvan Throat Singing.
  19. Assemble your own 3D printer, but for feelings.
  20. Become friends with Bill Bryson. 
  21. Read, study, learn.
  22. Work out.
  23. Eat more bacon and eggs.
  24. Love the life you have.
  25. Cancel Mondays.