The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady
The Sh’ma: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27 NIV
Do you know what your neighbor needs? Do you care? Pain has a way of stealing our energy for anything or anyone else but ourselves, causing us to become so self absorbed and needy that people close to us feel trapped. Instead of taking the world “by storm,” we take the world one hostage at a time, as our own needs demand the care of those who are unfortunate enough to care for us. Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we need and demand more than most of our neighbors are willing to give. We sense their resentment, and our own resentments grow as self-pity drives us further into a needy nightmare.
I lost the 1970’s. Seriously, I have little memory of them. They passed in a pain and pain medication induced fog. I married in 1971, began compulsively binge eating, and stopped living. Eventually, weight gain destroyed my health as my body cried foul to the continual abuse. By 1975, health problems were in full swing and my mother and husband despaired over the amount of care I needed. I slipped on the ice and nursed an injured knee. I had a breast biopsy, a difficult pregnancy, gall bladder surgery, and a radical hysterectomy. I couldn’t take hormones so I was 26, had a small baby, and in full menopause. I hurt everywhere from the atrophy of inactivity and the damage to my body. Need I say more? I was the needy neighbor everyone first tried to help and eventually avoided. In the end, I was left with a resentful husband and a mother committed to nursing me back to health while making sure I understood how to avoid this problem in the future.
In 1979, I took stock of my life, put unnecessary food and any pain medication down, joined a support group for food addiction, and got out of bed. It was over a year before anyone even realized I was better. When family members grew ill in 1980, and I began helping, people were naturally dubious. I had to insist they let me help. It startled me to realize how self absorbed I’d become and what a drain I’d been on those who loved me. I vowed to spend the rest of life making amends. I did much damage to my body during that time and still have lingering difficulties, but I fully realize that if I’d continued on the path I was on, I wouldn’t be here. Today, when I hurt, I use it as a reminder of how I was, count my blessings, try not to whine, and focus on someone else. It works. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He told us that the most important thing we could do is to love God and others.
Neighbor Need #1: Resist the urge to give into others constantly taking care of you.
For people who occasionally have health problems, accepting help can be hard. They have to learn how to let others help them. For people with chronic pain, being taken care of can be a trap that we relax into and never return from. I must confess to finding relief in shutting my door, taking a pill, and letting Mama take care of everything else. Being constantly cared for is eerily similar to an addiction and even today, years later, my instinct is to flee from it. Now, miracle of miracles, when I grow temporarily sick, I have to make myself let others care for me. No more “needy neighbor” for me.
Neighbor Need #2: Do what you can for yourself.
No matter how ill we are, there are always things we can do for ourselves. My husband has the spiritual gift of service and knows when I’m in pain. Now that he is not feeling hostage to my pain, he naturally volunteers to do things for me when I’m in pain.
When someone offers me help, I apply a spiritual exercise of asking myself a couple of questions.
Question 1: Could I do this myself?
If the answer is yes, I ask a second question.
Question 2: Would it damage my body to do it myself?
If the answer is no, I do it for myself. I want to save my husband’s generous nature for when I really need it and keep my body moving as much as possible.
Neighbor Need #3: Do a small secret service for someone every day.
There is nothing like doing something secretly for someone else to get me out of myself and my own problems. It can be as simple as picking up a sock and putting it away without complaining or as elaborate as sending money anonymous to someone in need. It doesn’t matter what we do. It only matters that we do it.
Someone assigned me that task in 1979 and I was surprised to learn that I’d stopped doing things for others simply for the sake of doing it. When I did something for others, I demanded credit. I may have gathered a few rewards for my actions on earth but there were surely none stored up for me in heaven. Through the years, Bob and I have made a game of doing secret things for each other without getting caught. It is quite the trick to get away with it when the other person is expecting it.
Neighbor Need #4: Pray for the needs of others
There are so many ways to pray for others. We can seek out prayer lists and use our seasons of pain to pray for others. We can offer to assist with a prayer hot line from our home or be a part of our church’s prayer committee. God will hear and answer our prayers and we avoid the trap of self-pity.
During that time I was so sickly, my prayers were all about healing for myself. I felt sorry for myself and my prayers reflected it. Again, I was surprised to learn how self absorbed my prayers had become. Now, it is one of the greatest delights of my life to have the privilege of praying for others. I take intercessory prayer seriously, constantly seeking and giving it.
Neighbor Need #5: Constantly speak your faith aloud to others.
Speaking our faith aloud, reminds us of it and suddenly we have more of it. By speaking our faith aloud, we become inspiration to others and that will encourages us. Speaking faith aloud beats being the Neighborhood Whiner King or Queen and people around us become more willing to help when we really need it.
In high school, I often spoke my faith aloud. I led my then boyfriend and now husband, Bob, to Christ. Somewhere along the line, I stopped speaking my faith aloud. When I started again, I was timid but the results gave me confidence. Now, I’m often introduced as an evangelist and people tell me I have the gift of evangelism. I always laugh because I know that without God, I’m just a poor sick person, stuck in bed, and draining the energy out of everyone around me. For me, speaking my faith aloud is as essential as breathing because it keeps me healthy.
Neighbor Need #6: Forgive others for not taking care of you the way you expected or needed.
People are not perfect and sometimes we just have to pray, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” They grow tired of taking care of us and that weariness turns into understandable resentment. I can remember being so angry with my husband when he left me alone with my mother to go on what I considered an unnecessary business trip. It felt like he didn’t care. I later realized that he cared but he had to find a way to keep living. When I forgave him and loved him unconditionally, he turned into the kind loving caring husband I craved. Resentment poisons us and keeps us sick. We must forgive if we want to get well.
The trick to loving our neighbor as ourselves is to love God with our entire minds, hearts, souls, and strengths. If we do that, our bodies begin healing and instead of being the needy neighbor, we become the person who meets neighbor needs. It is worth the trouble it takes to stop working on anything in life except loving God and others.
This is the final part in the 6 part series on dealing with chronic pain and related depression. I sincerely hope these words have helped you. Below is a summary of the tips offered in this series:
- Mind Matters: Focus your mind on what is lovely about your life. Educate your mind about your condition and follow medical directions.
- Heart Helps: Fire self pity and decide to be happy.
- Soul Soothers: Deal with addictions or strongholds that are coming between God and you. Spend time every day in meditation, prayer, and Bible Study.
- Strength Solutions: Get out of bed and start moving. Eat right, exercise to the level possible for your condition, and get the help you need.
- Neighbor Needs: Stop thinking so much about your needs and begin meeting the needs of others. Do what you can for yourself and share your faith aloud.