I have Fibromyalgia.
Or so they tell me.
“They” includes my primary care physician and a handful of specialists. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dealt with strange, wide-spread muscle pain. After the birth of my son, Justus, the pain intensified and my body didn’t recover nearly as quickly following a flare-up. When Justus was about two-years-old, I thought it was high-time for some answers.
Only, there really aren’t any.
It took a while for any diagnosis to be given. After x-rays and blood tests, chiropractors and physical therapists, came Dr. Thelen: The expert. He ran his own tests, of course, eventually attributing my pain to the disorder known as “Fibromyalgia.” For months I’d been looking for some sort of peace, some answer to the riddle, some name to put to the ugly face of my pain. When, finally it was given, I felt no peace, no weight being lifted. Instead, I felt only frustration.
Fibromyalgia doesn’t really have a treatment. There are pills that may help. May. There are anti-depressants I can take. I won’t even get into my discomfort with that. I’ve done pressure point injections and a variety of muscle relaxers which don’t do a thing. In fact, there are tons and tons of doctors who don’t even believe it’s a real disorder. I don’t have an opinion on this assertion. I just know that it hurts. Oh, it won’t kill me. It’s not that kind of thorn. If I really do have Fibromyalgia, it’s most likely due to an over-active nervous system sending pain signals to my muscles. Fun.
Now I know there are lots and lots of people who suffer more severely than I do–some within the Fibromyalgia population and some without. Though, if I am being quite honest, there are days when it’s hard to imagine. Not because I can’t believe it, but because when I’m in the throes of a particularly viscous cycle, it’s all I can do to focus on the day to day, much less consider the pain of others. I am lucky–those days are few and far between. But, Saturday was one of them. For the longest time, I felt horribly sorry for myself when I’d have a flare up like the one I had on Saturday–when some muscle, usually in my neck or back, would seize up. I’d lay with ice or a heating pad and sob while others helped me with menial tasks, while my friends and family carried on with life, while my husband took care of the kids.
Now, both resting and sobbing are part and parcel of the whole Fibromyalgia experience, but it was the deep, dark state of my heart that came to concern me.
I hate weakness. I hate the feel of it, the smell of it, the rumor of it. I hate the idea of someone focusing on the “disorder” of my life instead of the good stuff, the God stuff. That’s what I want to shine. Good, excited, wonderful, happy, God things. Noble, pure things. Not sweaty, grunty, heating pad, ice-pack, balling-my-eyes-out-whenever-I-adjust-my-pillow kind of things.
But this is my reality. Sometimes those things are mine too. I could lie to you. I could tell you that, in Jesus’ name, I’ve been healed. But, I haven’t. And that’s not a lack of faith. That’s reality.
Let me clarify. I absolutely believe God heals. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He can. I’ve seen it. And to be real, it sometimes makes dealing with the pain quite difficult. To know that God has healed others, is healing others, but hasn’t chosen to heal me. That’s a tough one. But, for me and for Job, and for many, many others, it is a truth. It is reality.
It was also a reality for the Apostle Paul. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, he says this (verses 7-10):
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul knew, just as you and I know, that God can and does heal. How hard it must have been, being one of the Apostles, to have to deal with such a thorn! But Paul came to a good place, an inspiring place. I don’t know what Paul’s thorn was. He never specifies. Different opinions have been thrown about: an illness, an injury, even a person (don’t over-think that one, friends). But, whatever it was, he begged and pleaded with God, asking Him to remove it. Still, God refused. We don’t fully understand this either. We don’t know to what purpose God allowed the thorn to remain, but we get a glimpse of God’s nature here: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Let me just say that I have no idea how power is perfected in weakness, but like Paul I know it’s not perfected when I’m exalting myself and boasting. Something I probably do far more than sobbing in weakness. My guess is that it has something to do with our utter dependence on God during that time, during our weak moments. I know how humbling it is to depend on my family and friends for help when I’m in pain. It is even more humbling to throw my sinful self at God’s feet and say, “Help, please. I hurt and I need relief. I need you, here and now. I’ll take you however you come. Will you take me? Will you take this sinful, selfish, boastful, disorder of a person and strengthen me?”
It’s been said that God will never give you more than you can handle. I disagree. He constantly gives us more than we can handle. If He didn’t, would we ever run to Him? I’m learning, as Paul did, that the thorn in my flesh keeps me from thinking too highly of myself. More importantly it reminds me that it’s His grace that is sufficient for me. Not my successes, not my visions, my writing, my prophecies. Not my goodness and my purity. Not my religious piety. It’s His grace and His grace alone that leads me through the dark times.
Does it lead you?