Dealing with Chronic Pain as a Pastor

July 2, 2013 — 1 Comment

Living with chronic pain as a Christian is a bit different than your average person who suffers from chronic pain. I’ve been wanting to share a bit about my experience as a pastor who suffers, but I wasn’t really sure what to say. Lately though I’ve been feeling like it’s important to share my experience, because many people have this perception that following God means life is perfect.. but thats not true.. and I want to share that it’s ok to struggle with some of the feelings you may struggle with as a Christian, who goes through chronic pain.. more on that later.

A quick catch up for those who hare just dropping in for the first time, and haven’t been following me for the past 6 years. I suffer from serious back pain issues. About 6 years ago it was discovered that I have 7 herniated disks in my back, at the age of 22. The reason.. no one knows? Doctors have run more tests on me than you can possibly imagine. More MRI’s and scans and X-rays than the average person has throughout their whole life.. but still no clue as to why my back is in the shape its in. You see I’ve never had a big accident, I’ve never done anything crazy to hurt myself. All they can narrow it down to is, between grade 9 and 10 I took a huge growth spurt, and that maybe my spine didn’t grow as quick as everything else.

So heres the thing.. as a pastor suffering as much as I am (trust me, this isn’t “ow, my back hurts” this is 24/7 pain, can’t walk most days, sometimes I spend months in bed (yes months)).. I get a lot of people who say to me all the time (and to Jen as well) “you guys are so strong, you are so faithful”.. This is the thing I want to write about today, because the truth is, I’m not strong, and I’m not faithful.

I’ve been suffering now for just over 6 years. I’ve been to more doctors and specialists than you could imagine. I’ve had some of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the world examine me, and am on more medications and narcotics than I care to list.. not to fix me.. all just to numb the pain.. and as of 3 months ago I have a computer in my stomach (called a spinal stimulator) to help with pain management as well.. and still 6 years later, at the age of 28, no one can tell me why I’m not allowed to pick up my boys when they cry, no one can tell me why I’m not allowed to run around with my kids and my dog on the beach.. Because if I do these things, I end up either in bed for weeks/months, or even in the hospital.. which means off work for that period of time too.. These are things that a 28 year old should be able to do.. heck someone 3x my age should be able to do them. I actually remember 4 years ago, when we were getting ready to go to the hospital, as Jen was going to give birth to Seth, SHE (9 months pregnant, and literally ready to pop) had to help me put my shoes on.

So, I get to points where I feel like Job.. and I feel like my whole life is just everything crashing down on me. Thankfully everyone around me isn’t telling me to “curse God and get it over with”.. in fact they are all saying the opposite.. but the thing is.. I get to a point where I’m saying to myself.. “is all this prayer even worth it” or “whats the point”?? I have days and weeks where I fall into total depression because I don’t understand what God is doing.. I’ve given my whole life to Him, and helping further His kingdom, and I just think “why on earth can’t he just give me this one thing, is it really that much to ask?”

At the beginning I thought it was one of those “teaching you compassion” sort of deals.. you know.. put you in a crappy situation so you have to learn how to be compassionate.. (because I never use to be a compassionate guy)… but I’ve learned that lesson.. trust me.. I’ve got compassion now.. so why now? Why am I still bed ridden? Why do I still not get to play with my children, or my wife for that matter (sorry.. I had to.. its a reality.. and in such a depressing post, I thought some form of comic relief was necessary..but it is a reality sometimes)? Why do some people seem to get to have that perfect life, and then others seem to have everything crash down around them?

My wife has been amazing through it all. Not only is she taking care of our kids, cleaning the house, making meals etc.. she’s also taking care of me (because I can barely move some days) AND she works full time.. I do what I can on my good days, but sadly, they are few and far between lately. That’s not a reality most wives would put up with.. many couples split up very quickly over the very reality that we are living.. thats not to say we don’t fight..because we do.. often. She will forget that if I have a good day and we decide to go shopping (for example), chances are when we get home, I have to lay down for the next 2-3 days.. those fights are getting fewer in between.. but they do happen. But she has been amazing. I’ve talked to other people on forums whose wives or husbands left them, because they couldn’t cope with having to take care of literally everything. My wife is my super hero.

So does being a christian make living with chronic pain easier? Some days.. but it also makes it hard too.. because everyone around you assumes that you are a rock. The assumption is that your relationship with God is solid, and that it can’t be shaken, and that you and God don’t fight..heck David and God fought… and he was given a pretty good chunk of the bible, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s ok to freak out at God every now and then in frustration. It’s important to have people who you can be honest with.. and when those people say “how are you” it’s important to be honest, don’t just give a shallow “fine”.. tell them the truth, be straight.

Chronic Pain and depression tend to go hand in hand also.. partially because you are alone for a big chunk of the day, and thats just depressing, even for an introvert like me.. partially because of the mass amount of meds you are on (some of the side effects are things like depression) but also because you can get to a place where you are helpless.. theres nothing YOU can do to fix the situation. For the longest time I thought “maybe if I just lose weight, my back will get better, because I was overweight, so I lost 70lbs, but that did absolutely NOTHING for my pain. When you are at a place where you can’t FIX the situation (especially as a man, who naturally wants to fix the problem) that gets depressing . The key (and I forget this often, like daily) is to remember that God does have His hand on you in these times.. just like He was with Job, He IS with you.. and while it may not make sense, refining fire hurts. Sometimes for longer than others. The hope is that, like anything being refined, we are going to come out better on the other side. I’ve been so much better since my spinal stimulator surgery back in March.. I did have this small set back this past week, but I’ll get through it..I’m using the time to pray, read, play guitar and just relax, then I’ll be back at it again!

So, are you dealing with chronic pain.. whats it like for you? Share your experience.. how do you get through the really low times?

Chris Burke

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I'm a love of Christ. Husband to @JenLBurke, co-creator of Seth and Micah, Musician and Worship Pastor, Geek and lover of all things Apple, Urban Photographer and Canadian!

I love you more than you know, you Chris Burke are my hero!