I took this picture nearly one year ago. It’s an ebenezer of sorts–you know what I mean? Something to look back on and remember the faithfulness of God.
We all fight our own battles. Small battles. Big battles. Battles nonetheless. Since 2011, mine has been to be able to move my thumb without pain. Quite some time passed before this picture was possible. In a span of three years I had two surgeries, countless doctor’s appointments, physical therapy sessions, and tears of course. No one ever told me how frustrating it is to deal with chronic pain. Of course I knew it hurt. But all the emotions that come along with gut-deep frustration from pain tainting the simplest of tasks–sheesh.
Well, I was sitting in Ireland last September, and it dawned on me that I didn’t hurt that badly–really at all. So I snapped this picture to remember.
In an irony only life could provide, I woke up about a month later with the same condition that had been in my left wrist now in my right wrist. I’m not able to do simple things, like recreate the position in this photo. This time around also seems to cut a little deeper because I’m right-handed. Engaging in one of my favorite pastimes–writing–is becoming increasingly difficult. I’ve done all that I can and am gearing up for yet another surgery. “Some people have brown eyes, some people have blue eyes,” my doctor said. “Some people just have small tendon sheaths. You’re one of them. There’s really nothing you can do about it.”
Isn’t that just how it is? Each of us are born with little quirks that make us susceptible to all sorts of strange pains. The only truth that applies to all of us is that pain is an unwelcome but effective teacher. It holds up a mirror to our hearts so we can see deeper than we ever wanted to.
I learned that I really feel the need to prove my pain. Dealing with an unseen hurt is difficult to communicate with others. It’s not as straightforward as a leg in a cast or arm in a sling.
“No, I promise I am not lazy! I want to help you with _____, but I know it will only make it worse…” My thoughts often trail in this direction while I nervously smile and pace as some activity unfolds I know I shouldn’t participate in but feel an obligation and/or desire to. In exercise classes I obediently modify positions I can’t physically do, all the while mulling over the fact that it doesn’t look like I’m trying as hard as others. Really, Beth? Who cares.
Having a scar on my left wrist eases some of that anxiety for me sometimes. “Look! My mark of approval! My ticket to enter! I have a scar to prove it hurts!” But it’s exhausting being in that place, constantly worrying if someone is misjudging me. I don’t want to feel the need to have a scar that proves I’m hurting. I want to stop assuming perceptions about me, and just be. Pain doesn’t deserve to take up that much of my identity.
All that to say, have grace with others. You don’t know the daily pains they endure. Their hearts and minds may ache, or their joints stiff and backs throbbing. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it any less real.
And have grace with yourself. You don’t need to act out to prove you are hurting–in your heart, mind, or body. Please, be honest with yourself and others. Share your hurts. How hard it gets. But everyone doesn’t need to understand; you don’t need some big disclaimer trailing behind you “Please note: This person would normally be able to do ____, but they can’t because they are injured.” How silly would that be. Don’t let pain steal away who you are.
You don’t need to prove yourself. You don’t need to have scars to hurt.