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
Does your strength need solutions? If so, join the club – or should I say the gym? America is obsessed with strength and it seems like there are gyms on every street corner. Diet shows top television ratings, physical trainers have migrated from the west coast into Middle America, and dusty exercise equipment hides in the corners of many homes. Strength solutions are readily available. The trick is to apply them.
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and our job is temple maintenance. God gave some Cathedrals to maintain while others have simple country churches with sagging walls and peeling paint. Many spend their life grumbling about the temple they’ve been assigned or coveting the temple of others instead of loving their own precious temples and keeping them in the best condition possible.
Temple maintenance is relatively simple and scientific. We’re to eat right, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and go to specialists when necessary. There is a plethora of information available to tell us how to do that. The difficulty is having the spiritual discipline to do what is right. Add chronic pain to the mix, and we feel like resigning from our maintenance job. Here, we must remember two things – temple maintenance is always our job and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Pain Leads to Decreased Energy Leads to Depression
Chronic pain drains energy like a thirsty bath tub drain sucks circling water into its wide mouth. We respond by slowing down, which lowers energy even more and weakens our body. Low energy mimics depression, causing us to seek medical remedies that have frustrating side effects and possibly might not be necessary. Synonyms for energy are vigor, force, or zeal. When we lose our zeal for life, we stop living. When we stop living, we stop moving. When we stop moving, our body weakens as our strength follows our energy right down that preverbal greedy drain. Resulting depression ensures that we stay in that lifeless state of misery and inactivity.
In my twenties, body aches from obesity, fibromyalgia, and other related chronic medical conditions lied by whispering I’d improve it I went to bed. I stayed in bed, believing I was doing the right thing, and the result was I grew weaker instead of stronger. The resulting weakness lessoned my chances of getting better. I wanted to live and felt sorry for myself because I was stuck in bed. Clinical depression followed, making it seem impossible to break the cycle. In 1979, I stomped my foot at pain, got out of bed, developed a close relationship with God, and did what He said. The results were that I begin living again.
This article is about loving God with your entire strength. The secret to building strength is to love God with the amount of strength you currently have and allow Him to replace your strength with His. As you serve Him, your ability to serve Him improves and you become stronger. When we stop focusing on our weakness and begin focusing on loving God with the strength we do have, we stop serving our poor battered body by giving in to the pain, and instead use what puny strength we have to live. We listen to God’s voice along with the voices of the medical community and are obedient to both because our motives are to serve God. We accept the pain we cannot change, gain the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Below are some strength solutions I’ve found to work in my life.
Strength Solution #1: Daily, rate you pain between 1-10, with 10 being the highest, and react accordingly.
A nurse taught me to rate my pain level every day on a scale between 1-10. She asked me to think of a minor pain and make it my 1. I immediately thought of a paper cut. She then asked me what the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I struggled briefly, trying to decide between gall bladder attacks and child birth and finally made child birth a 9 and gall bladder attacks a 10. I’m told kidney stones are worse, but thankfully, I have not experienced them - yet.
I react to increasing pain levels by paying attention to what I did the day before and try to avoid it in the future. Now, most days, I stay somewhere between a 2-3, which is manageable. At a 4, I respond with alarm because I know that a 6 makes me what to go to bed.
Strength Solution #2: Seek legitimate medical help and do what they say.
Pain is actually our friend because it indicates that something needs attention. Studies show that 50% of Americans have experienced chronic pain. When our body is annoyed, it screams. Hopefully, those screams drive us to solutions. The advice of the medical community comes in various forms:
Before taking medicine, I ask if the medicine heals or masks the symptoms. Years ago, I was willing to take both but found pain relievers addictive and dangerous. They masked my symptoms and made it easier to do nothing. They made me sleepy, which drove me to more inactivity and increased pain levels. Today, I only accept medicine for pain relief, if my pain level is at 8 or higher.
For some reason, surgery frightens me. I kept a gall bladder way longer than safety demanded due to fear and the inevitable surgery was brutal because of the delay. I learned my lesson. When I injured my knee, I was quick to accept the doctor’s surgical advice and only suffered a few weeks. If I trust my doctor and he or she says surgery is my best option, I stomp my foot at the demon fear and run (if I can) not walk to the surgeon. If I don’t trust my doctor, I find a doctor I do trust. The Bible repeatedly combines strength and courage and I refuse to be in pain due to fear.
Diet and Weight
Diet and weight have an astounding impact on pain. A key aspect of temple maintenance is proper nutrition. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I discovered that eating white potatoes daily increased my pain. Extra weight also increases my pain. I don’t like hurting and am willing to reduce any food that increases pain. Find out what foods help or hurt and respond accordingly.
A special note– if you find out a food is increasing your pain level and you eat it anyway or if you weigh more than is healthy, you may be addicted to food and need the help of an organization like Overeaters Anonymous. It is impossible to love God with all your strength when you’re addicted to any substance.
I’m in favor of physical therapy, trainers, gyms, and any form of directed exercise. I have learned to be careful and seek the advice of the medical community before committing to an exercise plan. I’ve been to physical therapy for knee pain, fibromyalgia, and heal pain and the results were good – as long as I did what they said. A personal trainer helped me learn to move through pain and push to the level just before I do damage. I belong to a gym that has a program that works for my body. I’ve found nothing more beneficial for reducing pain than exercise. A note here is that exercise usually increases pain before it decreases it. Safely push through the pain to the results.
Talk Therapy or Other Mental Support
Stress and my reaction to stress increases my pain. Several times, I’ve used talk therapy to help through difficult situations. Those sessions were focused on single issues, were short in duration, and had good results. The trick with talk therapy is like anything else – take the medical advice offered.
Rarely has a doctor actually suggested bed rest. The times that they did were brief and usually in response to an acute injury or procedure.
Pain lies by whispering, “Go to bed.” I’ve found that my doctor usually disagrees. I trust the doctors and do what they suggest.
Strength Solution #3: Get plenty of rest but not too much.
Our bodies need 7-8 hours of sleep. My body feels better if I get sleep the same time every night. I avoid work situations that require “all nighters” and the enticing cheaper “Red-eye” flights because they are not worth the cost to my body. There was a time in my life when I used sleep to avoid feelings. Now, I get enough rest but not too much. Too much rest reduces my energy and starts the pain cycle upward so I resist the urge to give into afternoon naps - except when sick or on the Sabbath.
Strength Solution #4: Recognize the difference between low energy and depression and respond accordingly.
There was a point in my life at which I still cared about things but my energy level wouldn’t power my aching body into action. Pain, low energy, and depression feel so eerily alike that it is hard to distinguish what is going on with our bodies. I’ve found it helpful to know the difference.
- Depression and low energy make us unavailable to family, friends, and co-workers. When depressed, almost nothing matters. When energy is depleted by pain, we still care but feel powerless to respond.
- Depression and low energy steel joy. When depressed, we have little or no memory of what joy feels like. With low energy, we recognize that we should be enjoying events and miss the experience.
- Depression and low energy send us to bed. Depression makes us feel too heavy to get up and we feel stuck. With low energy, if something is a high enough priority, we may not like it but can push ourselves in the short term to do it.
- Nutrition – Years ago, I eliminated sugar, processed flour, high fat foods, and eating between meals. Recently, I have drastically reduced eating four legged animals. I average between 1400-1800 calories a day and take vitamin supplements recommended by my doctor.
- Exercise - I stretch 10 minutes every morning. I do a 30-minute low impact cardio, strengthening, and stretching workout at a gym 3 days a week and make sure I walk at least 5000 steps every day.
- Medical Advice – I get the recommended medical checkups and go to a doctor immediately when something new happens. I do what they say.
- Energy – I distinguish between low energy and depression and react accordingly. After my son died in 1995, I grew clinically depressed and needed medication for a few months. When my energy is low, I move more, even though I don’t feel like it.
- Rest – I sleep 7-8 hours a night and resist the temptation to sleep more – no matter how I feel.
- Believe you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
- Accept your temple maintenance job – eat right, exercise, get enough rest, and seek help when you need it.
- Ask God for the serenity to accept the pain you cannot change, the courage to change the pain you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.