Learning the unforced rhythms of grace

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Creating a Pain Plan

The best solutions come from running into problems. However, most of the time we don't want to admit we have a problem. We grit our teeth and keep going.

We say "other people have it worse than me" or "it is what it is".

But here is something to consider. If we were invited into a boardroom at the beginning of a day and asked the question, "What is the problem you are facing today?" and a room full of experts would work hard to help us discover a solution, wouldn't it be wise to vocalize the problem?  But the problem is that the main problem is not actually the problem. Let me explain. I live with a chronic disease that causes pain. But that is a minor problem. It is significant, but minor. The bigger problem is the feeling of inadequacy, anxiety or worry that comes as a result of not being able to meet my own expectations or the ones that I imagine other people have for me. I can manage the pain and take care of myself, but it is more difficult to do if I'm also trying to live an unrealistic life, doing unrealistic things to try to please people, even God, and myself. So, I would say that the problem I have is not necessarily my illness but the fact that I am not willing to live within my illness, embrace my realistic circumstances and live appropriately and graciously within it. That's my problem.

That is the ground on which I need to stand on when creating a pain plan. I must accept my illness, my circumstances, my limits, my budget, my surroundings, my abilities and lack of abilities. Yes, things can change, God can heal, circumstances can change, but today, I must face my situation realistically. So, if you're a new mom and exhausted or disoriented by the shift in lifestyle you're facing,  if you are taking care of an elderly parent, if you're starting a new career, experiencing relational pain, enduring a disease or in the middle of cancer treatment, there is a deeper problem in your soul that needs to be cared for that goes beyond the exterior circumstances. That is where we must start.

"Lord Jesus, this is my problem. It is like this ____________. I am afraid to admit it, it feels like complaining or like it’s not valid that I'm afraid, or exhausted or lost, but I am. I need You. I need your presence, your care, your mercy and your grace to love me in this weird space and these feelings I have. I want to overcome it but right now I am overwhelmed and finding it difficult to endure. Today, I admit that I need your help. I don't know what to do next. I don't know how to change things and I feel exhausted trying something new. I just need you to help me, change me, and heal me from the soul to the rest of my body and mind and heart. I will surrender my present problem to you, even though it feels vulnerable, I will trust you. Thank you Lord. Amen."

Then, after a good night's sleep (or whenever you’re ready) its time to create a pain plan. A pain plan is simply a plan to manage your pain. It is a pre-thought out strategy to address your needs and solve what can be solved. For instance, I usually wake up at night in pain. I used to get up, walk to the kitchen, put the heating bag in the microwave, and after a few beeps, climb back in bed with a heating bag that smells like burnt toast and cools off quickly. Instead, after a few days of feeling frustrated at this, I bought an electric heating pad that stays plugged in beside my bed so I can just roll over turn it on. It turns off after 1 hour.

It is a simple action, but it means that I accept my reality and am taking steps to manage it. Each time I make steps to accept my reality, I feel a little sadness and a little freedom.

I have also created an “essentials” list. For me, it is easier to fill up my schedule than guard it and build healthy structure into it. Especially if I get into a “poor me” scenario, then it is easy to think that I deserve a break or wander around a store with a restless mindset. My essentials list is made up of basic daily things that I can do that will cumulatively build into my life. (I’ll write more about this in the blog on June 23). My list looks something like this:

  • Shower/get dressed/makeup
  • medications
  • Make bed
  • Coffee and journal writing
  • Breakfast
  • Plan day/check email/calendar
  • Walk
  • Rest
  • Love my family (be attentive to them)

If, at the end of the day, none or half of these boxes on my list are unchecked, then it helps me see how I abandoned a few healthy, stable routines for something else. It is a good chance to contrast this with how my day actually went. Why did I change the plan? What came up that took priority?

It is easy to say that we want to live a carefree life, respond to the moment or the needs that come up. But, if I give up on my essentials list, I will not do well. I will cause grief to myself and those around me if I do not take care of myself. In fact, for me, it takes more faith to trust God and say no to things and take good care of myself than it does for me to fill up my days. The people-pleaser in me is very weak.

Psalm 131 is Scripture that I use to remind me of this empty space of tension that happens when we begin to make good and healthy choices for ourselves. When we say no to something and yes to having a nap because the baby kept us up all night, or because the stress in our house is high or because our body is sore and needs attention, it sometimes feels bad. It sometimes feels wrong, like something is missing. I imagine it is like we are weaning off the things that used to rule us. Here is what David wrote in Psalm 131:

“My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”

In the weaning, there is struggle. There is wanting and not being able to have. Then, there is contentment, because it means we are growing up, maturing, finding our nourishment in other ways than when we were younger.

As you realistically name your 'problem', your 'pain' to the Lord and to yourself, celebrate that you've done a good and healthy thing and that you are becoming free to face your circumstances honestly. Then, take some time to create an “essentials” list of the things that, done every day, will sustain and cumulatively build strength and stamina into your life and heart and mind. Then start living it out and watch for where it clashes with the pressures around you or the pressures you put on yourself. As you feel the tension of these two things, bring it to the Lord again, surrender it, and take a deep breath and stick to your essentials list. Watch something begin to change in your life. It is a quiet and hidden progress most of the time, but it will build an inner strength in you that will sustain you.