In 2011, I was planting a small perennial in our garden. As I finished, I stood up, and a pain shot through my back that nearly knocked me down. I thought I had pulled a muscle. What I would find out was that I had a ruptured disk. For the next seven to eight months, pain became my constant companion.
Simple things – taking a shower, putting on socks, tying shoelaces, getting into a car – became tests of “how to do it without yelling in pain.” Walking at a 30-degree angle, I used a cane, which helped. To walk from handicapped parking, carrying my laptop case was a challenge. Rainy days, requiring an umbrella, made the walk a struggle.
I was prescribed opiods, which helped. But the pain never really went away. I knew there must be a point to all of this – something to learn or understand. I kept telling myself there had to be a point. The pain was changing my personality (ask my wife). It didn’t help to hear a senior executive tell me I would never really be healed.
My experience was seven years too early for Finding Purpose: Rediscovering Meaning in a Life with Chronic Illness by Cindee Snifer Re. She knows what it is to live with chronic illness; she has Ehlers-Danlos, a genetic connective tissue disorder accompanied by a host of co-existing conditions. Four of Re’s five children also have Ehlers-Danlos.
Re could have slipped permanently into despair and depression, and there likely have been times when she’s experienced both. But she made a choice to find purpose in what was happening to her and her family, and to go on to help found Chronic Joy, a ministry aimed squarely at people who live with chronic illness.
Finding Purpose is the second of four books/workbooks addressing chronic illness. The first was Discovering Hope: Beginning the Journey Toward Hope in Chronic Illness, published in 2016, and the third, Embracing Worth, will be published later this year. The fourth, Encountering Joy, will be published next year.
The book contains 10 chapters. Each is structured roughly the same: a short introduction, often a story or anecdote; questions to answer and a Bible verse to consider; an assignment or two for the week; and pages available for journal entries. The 10 topics covered are presence, lectio divina, willingness, surrender, love, purpose, refining, attitude, contentment, and choice. The book also contains an appendix of resources, including pointers for creating discussion groups, how to build a local ministry, and other helpful tools.
|Cindee Snider Re|
Re knows of what she speaks. She’s lived this. And she’s lived each of the entries in this book. Finding Purpose is a great resource for anyone living with chronic pain – and anyone living with a person who deals daily with chronic pain.
In my own case, two things happened. Elders and pastors at my church prayed over me and my back. And my ruptured disk eventually did what happens 70 percent of the time – it dissolved. It took a few months for my brain to understand that the cause of the pain was removed. But I was susceptible to reinjuring my back, and it was through the help of physical therapists and a personal trainer that I learned how to do things differently. I still had to be careful; my back went out when we were in London in 2014, and the pain was excruciating.
But Re is right. It is possible to fund purpose with chronic illness. It doesn’t make the pain or the severity of the illness better. But it does allow you to understand and deal with it.
Top photograph by Jonatan Pie via Unsplash. Used with permission.