This morning I could hardly walk around the Pond as we affectionately call the the creek in the park because of my pain levels. As I sat down to encourage someone else who was newly dealing with chronic pain, I searched for an article I wrote many years ago, only to find it was no longer accessible. So here's looking back....at something I have learned, am learning, and continue to learn about choosing contentment along this journey I would never have chosen.
Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy. God has given us such immense freedom that He will allow us to be as miserable as we want to be.” (You Gotta Keep Dancin’, by Tim Hansel)
“Your neck is unstable. It has begun to heal but the damage is done. I suggest that you make the necessary changes in your lifestyle.”
The doctor’s words sent my mind off racing. What would that mean for me? I listened as he continued his monologue.
“I suggest that you give up downhill skiing, sky diving, anything that would put your neck at risk…” I heard little else said that day. I was only 19, a university student with a desire to live each day to the fullest.
But now a car accident had left me in indescribable pain. As a result of the permanent soft tissue damage from the accident, I was unable to take as many courses as I usually did per semester. Nor did I have the strength to complete my performance degree in piano. There was little hope of life ever returning to normal.
Pain, misery, joy
We rarely think of those three words in the same context. Yet in my lifelong journey of living with pain, I have learned to do just that. It is really easy for me to focus on the negative circumstances of my life and complain about them. I can even justify why I complain about them. After all, I have a right to complain – I’m in pain everyday. But God instructs us in His word to “consider it all joy.” No exceptions.
I call it my journey of joy, and it wasn’t traveled overnight. Instead it has been a lifetime of learning through the various trials, disappointments and sufferings that my Heavenly Father has allowed to come into my life. Choosing joy, and in turn being content, is a discipline that we learn in our lives one step at a time. In the front of my daily planner, I wrote this statement: “God chooses what we go through. We choose how we go through it.” The choice is mine to make and it is true that I can be just as miserable as I choose to be!
Choices. That’s what joy and contentment is all about. We cannot change the circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them. We choose whether we will be miserable because of them, or joyful in spite of them. The choice is always ours to make.
Here are four choices we can make that are the keys to living with contentment.
1. Choose your focus – Charles Swindoll once said, “Your outlook on life is not determined by your circumstances, but by your focus.” Instead of looking at the circumstances, choose instead to look beyond those circumstances to God. I had to daily choose whether I would focus on the circumstance of living with chronic pain, or focus on God who has promised that His grace is all-sufficient. By choosing to keep your eyes on the Lord, you will get to know Him better and it will become easier to trust Him in every situation.
2. Choose joy – Again, I have a daily choice to make of whether or not I will “consider it all joy.” And although I cannot choose for a lifetime, I can choose to rejoice in the Lord and His faithfulness one moment at a time. I can ask God to restore to me the joy of my salvation (Psalm 51:12).
3. Choose to laugh – It has been said that he who laughs, lasts. Don’t take yourself too seriously and whenever possible, laugh at yourself! There is a reason why Proverbs says that a cheerful heart is truly good medicine (Proverbs 17:22).
4. Choose to cultivate a thankful heart – Never doubt the goodness of God toward you. Begin to daily look for those things that you can be thankful for. Start with looking for one thing every day, and then increase the number of things. This is a discipline that requires diligence. Even in difficult circumstances, look first for something for which to be thankful. Remember, that God is never surprised about anything that happens in our lives.
For those who struggle with chronic pain, having an attitude of gratitude is difficult because the first thing that hits you every morning is how much you hurt. You’re not even sure you can get out of bed if you wanted to get out of bed. There is a deprivation of energy. But you can learn in the midst of the chronic pain to choose joy and to be thankful. Focus more on what you can do than what you can’t. Although physical pain is part of my everyday life, I have a choice to make. I choose to celebrate life, to be joyful and to be thankful for each new day!
Without Christ in me I could never choose joy. It would only be a feeble attempt at positive thinking. The source of my joy comes from my right relationship with Him and it is He who gives me the power to make that choice even in the most difficult circumstances. As I trust Him with every detail my life I’m learning the secret of being content in any and every situation.
What about you? Is chronic pain keeping you from living a life of contentment and gratitude? It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have peace and fulfillment by being filled with the Holy Spirit. The first step is to make sure that Christ is really on the driver’s seat in your life and that you are allowing His Spirit to fill you and empower you.
Pray this simple prayer and by faith invite Him to fill you with His Spirit:
Dear Father, I need You. I acknowledge that I have sinned against You by directing my own life. I thank You that You have forgiven my sins through Christ’s death on the cross for me. I now invite Christ to again take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with the Holy Spirit as You commanded me to be filled, and as You promised in Your Word that You would do if I asked in faith. I pray this in the name of Jesus. As an expression of my faith, I thank You for directing my life and for filling me with the