“The pain that gnaws me takes no rest …” (Job 30:17)
“Weep with those who weep…Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Romans 12:15; Galatians 6:2)
I was a 30-year-old guy minding my own business. As pastor of 100 and father of five, I had plenty of business to mind. Yet He who knows such things better than I clearly felt that I didn’t have enough. So on the day He appointed—January 11, 1989—I contracted a virus (probably viral meningitis), which pounded me with permanent nerve-damaging viral-force trauma.
The equation goes like this: 103° X 10D = N.D.P.H. X 6.5 X 365D X 30Y. I had a 103° fever for ten straight days which left me with what headache specialists term N.D.P.H.—and a constant minimum head-pain level at about 6.5 on the Richter scale. This has continued 365 days a year for the past 30+ years.
N.D.P.H. stands for New Daily Persistent Headache. The New part of that highlights that it did not exist before, and it came into being on that fateful January 11. One day no headache; next day boom. What wasn’t before, now was. And is. Daily defines the headache as an every-day condition. I wake up with it, do everything I do through it, go to bed with it, and would (if not for some Advil-PM that helps me sleep) stay awake—or be woken up—because of it. The Persistent part of my affliction doesn’t just mean that it keeps going; it means that it keeps going no matter what pain-killers or treatments we use to counter-attack it. Like the time we tried a double or triple dose of Codeine along with muscle relaxants for three days. Believe me: while most of my body was feeling nothing at all, my head was still hurting. That is the definition of persistent! And January 11, 2019 marked 30 years and 10,957 persistent days in a row (including seven leap years).
There you have it: 103° X 10D (Days) = N.D.P.H. X 6.5 X 365D (Days) X 30Y (Years).
So the question is: what does neighbor love look like when your neighbor has a 30 year-long headache or some other chronic affliction? In short, it looks like Gayline. What happened today is a good example. I woke up early this morning. It was headache-caused I’m sure, since eyes opened to a 7.5 ache. As I sat awake in my chair I knew what would happen when Gayline woke up and came downstairs. Having noticed my early rise, she would probably ask about my pain. In response I would give her that look she’s seen a thousand times, and she’d feel the pain of my pain one more time. Also, I knew that she would express her heart simply in a returning look of love, knowing well how that is all there is to do. Just care.
Without speaking for all chronic sufferers, I’d suggest there are times when the best and only thing to do is care. Not to make kind people regret good-intentions, but some are so kind that when pain is mentioned, they go looking hard for a solution (usually it’s been kindness, though sometimes it’s been opportunism: a chance to push a favorite dietary or product agenda). Friend, it may be hard to see, but when a chronic sufferer is asked, “Have you tried this?” or even worse, is told, “I know what can help you”, the help can hurt—especially when there’s expectation that the sufferer will act on the recommendation.
I call this kindness blindness. When well-meaning folks press chronic sufferers to try their approach, they seem blind to the obvious. For unless too poor or proud to try, every normal long-term chronic sufferer will have tried many potential remedies, and likely will know where to find others to try when they’re good and ready. So there’s little need to suggest another.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m nourished by people’s kindness—and it will receive Heaven’s reward. But I’ve lost count of how many healing professionals I’ve seen—and all the traditional and alternative remedies I’ve tried. I’ve been evaluated by two world-class headache centers, three other neurologists, five different chiropractors, one osteopath, multiple allergist/nutritionist-types, two acupuncturists, various therapists, assorted general practitioners, and more.
I’ve tried no caffeine and some caffeine, strange nutrition drinks and bee jelly, fewer work hours and lots of sleep, nerve blocks and deer antler pills, TMJ exercises and physical therapy, even painful pins and needles—and of course: Advil, Aleve, Excedrin, Tylenol, Percocet, two or three other prescription pain meds (with names long forgotten), and Codeine.
What people like me most need is not another thing to try. In kindness, please don’t think you need to find a fix; just find some time to pray. Let your hurting friends know you’re thinking of them. Signal them somehow that you haven’t forgotten. Offer them an appropriate reminder of your care and assurance of ongoing prayer. Follow that with heavenward praise for a grace so great that it can awaken suffering folks (like me) with hope, even after 30 years of pain. All these will do some precious good!
By the way, when Gayline came down this morning she did give me exactly the same heartfelt look that she’s given me so often before; which was enough.
A simple lesson on love for those with family and friends in the chronic affliction trenches. Their pain doesn’t need to be fixed; just felt.
Tim married Gayline in 1978 and has six grown children and over a dozen grandchildren. A pastor for 38+ years, he currently serves Risen Hope Church, a multi-ethnic congregation in Drexel Hill/Upper Darby, PA. He is the author of the recent Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing book, Respect the Image: Reflecting Human Worth in How We Listen and Talk. He also has written 30/30 Hindsight: 30 Reflections on a 30-Year Headache and Worship Worthy: Alliterative Adoration. To learn more about Tim please his website.