What do you do with pain? I think the natural reaction to pain is turn away from it. When something causes us pain, emotionally or physically, we tend to shy away, run away, or do everything we can to avoid the situation or position that is causing the pain. What if I told you that sometimes the best way to heal is to turn into the pain?
Pain Grows and Distorts
I battled chronic neck pain for most of my adult life. It began with a neck strain and became compounded over the years by stress, bad sleeping positions with a sick baby in a hospital, improper techniques when exercising, and the plague of desk and computer work that encourages too much looking down and strain on the neck. The pain and inflammation increased in such intensity that I had unbearable pain radiating into my shoulder blades, down my arm, and wrapping around my head into my face (this also caused daily headaches and contributed to migraines). When my fingers started to go numb and I was in tears most days, I realized I had to do something – I just could not continue to function in this manner.
Thankfully, my husband had just started seeing a physical therapist for his back issues (another story for another day!) and I quickly jumped on board when I saw that he was receiving immediate relief from the pain. To this day I credit this woman with saving my husband’s life and restoring mine!
This was not your typical physical therapy (which I had already been through with minimal results) involving stretching, massaging, and weights. This concept was based on healing. And in order to heal, the impacted area needs rest, proper alignment, and techniques to alleviate the inflammation and pain. We are motivated by avoidance of pain, remember, so any technique that causes more pain is bound to fail.
Get The Pain Under Control
The first thing my therapist taught me was to turn toward the pain. Instinctively I had been doing the opposite. When the right side of my neck hurt I turned it left and tried stretching it, thinking I was helping. But, this was the exact opposite of what I should have been doing, and by avoiding the pain I was actually making it much worse and compounding the situation. The first instructions she gave me were to turn to the right – into the side with the pain, and the more intense the pain, the farther I was to turn my head…. until I felt relief.
Almost immediately, with the proper alignment and rotation, I felt the pain lessen. For days I was not allowed to turn my neck to the left unless I turned my entire body with it! Within days my pain was greatly reduced and was receding from my shoulder blades, head, face, and arm, until it was only at the point of the injury: my neck.
Now we were getting back to the original source of the pain and the healing could begin!
It took several months to get to a place where I could live freely without chronic pain, and begin to strengthen and stretch my neck in order to prevent any future occurrence of pain or injury.
I began to think about this therapy in relation to our emotional and spiritual lives. How often do we run from pain or refuse to look our problems and personal issues head on?
Ignoring emotional injuries or spiritual misalignment will only increase our pain over time, until the original source of our discomfort becomes blurry and unclear.
Like the pain radiating down my arm and into my head, I became overwhelmed with pain, I hurt over half of my upper body when my injury was really only located in my neck. Allowing an injury to fester over time only increases the damage it can do to our lives as it radiates out and causes harm far beyond the source of the original impact. Emotional pain radiates much farther in that it eventually hurts those we love even though we never intended for this to happen.
Aim for ZERO
Even as believers in God’s grace and love, we sometimes avoid God, our Healer, because we don’t want to turn into that pain; we don’t want to engage in the thoughts, memories, and emotions that are the source of so much hurt. We refuse to face our deepest pains and miss the opportunity for Him to heal us fully.
My therapist insisted on a pain level of ZERO. I told her I would be happy with a 1 or 2 – after all that was a better quality of life I had and, hey, we all have our burdens to bear, right? Nope, she would not tolerate any pain in my body. Her goal for me was 100% pain relief and restoring me back to a fully functioning body. (Do you see why I love her so much?)
Our Jesus is like that too…you know you’ve been okay with limping along, accepting a level of healing but stopping short of total, complete restoration. Maybe the pain or fear stopped you, or the healing was taking too much time and you became impatient and aborted the process. I get it, I was tempted more than a few times to accept the 1 or 2 and walk away from treatment. I didn’t though because I was completely committed to full pain relief.
I was so darn tired of not being able to do ordinary things because of my neck or feared hurting it again that I clung to my therapist’s promise that I could be completely restored. Seeing that I could put this much faith into a person, surely you are with me on this one: We can trust God with all our hearts and minds to heal, restore, and grant us complete recovery from our wounds and injuries.
If we are serious about living and serving God, we don’t have time for the pain!
A Word Picture May Be Helpful
If you are familiar with my writing, you’ll know that I often think in terms of word pictures. This picture of turning into the pain is extremely helpful to me now as I battle situations that would have once made me run and hide.
Once, when I was going through a brutal financial crisis and carrying a burden I thought was going to crush me, a friend wisely offered no pat answers but said something that stuck with me and gave me a word picture to get through that crisis. She said, “I know this is hard, but you have to lean into Jesus harder.” I took those words and created a word picture of being so tired and weary and just letting myself fall into Jesus’ side the way an exhausted child would to a parent. (Matthew 11:28)
Satan would have us turn away from God in times of crisis or suffering, or urge us to deal with our distress by looking away, but Jesus says “come to Me all who are weary.” (Matthew 11:28)
But God urges and coaxes us to go through the pain, through the fire, through the waters…to the healing and peace on the other side.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
The complete context of this verse is the prophecy of our Savior and His sacrifice for us – the sacrifice that would make us whole and restored. This verse is worded in the Amplified Bible as: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing]; The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him, And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.”
Jesus suffered so we could be healed from sin and if the effects of sin (either our own or someone who harmed us) is still hurting us then we are not well. And sometimes our well-being depends on our willingness to lean into that pain in order for God to bring us through to wholeness.
No Shortcuts to Complete Healing
I found out that there are no shortcuts to healing neck pain. Recovery meant that I had to spend months in physical therapy, diligently doing everything my therapist told me to do at home, which included NOT doing some things. There were ups and downs, and a setback or two, but she never wavered in her prescription to me, which always brought me a huge measure of comfort. Sometimes I had to back up and start at step one (which was discouraging – trust me) but the good news is each time I progressed faster than the time before because I was healing, and I knew how to lean into the pain to stop it.
Once the pain stopped my hope returned.
Like my therapist, Jesus knows the prescription each one of us needs and He is unwavering in His commitment to our wholeness. He waits for you to lean into Him, to face the pain so it no longer has control over you, to allow Jehovah Rapha – The Lord who Heals – to get to the root of the injury so you can be pain-free, whole, and at peace in mind and body.
Don’t be afraid to lean into your pain today – be more fearful of living a life in pain, a life just beyond God’s best for you. ~ Mary
This therapy delivered me from chronic neck pain and helped reduce daily tension headaches, but did not significantly reduce the migraines. For more on how I found relief from a 30 year battle with migraines, read here
If you or someone you know and love is suffering from chronic neck and back pain, please continue to seek answers. Pain management can help to some degree and surgery has its risks so please do your research and due diligence before going under the knife. For the type of therapy that my husband and I found, you can go to American Back Pain Center and look for practitioners in your area.
For spiritual healing, it may also help to seek counsel from professionals who can help you talk things out and help you pinpoint the source of the pain. Also, remember that Jesus knows our hearts better than we do and as David discovered, He can be an amazing counselor.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.