I came across an interesting chapter on coping with pain and suffering recently. Philip Yancey, in his Where is God When it Hurts? addresses why there is such a thing as pain, whether it is a message from God, how people respond to suffering, how to cope with pain and how faith helps.
The work on coping with pain got me thinking. Yancey identifies four areas that suffering people face, which can be addressed with some help from genuinely available people. The four areas are: Fear, Helplessness, Meaning and Hope.
How do we help people through these difficult emotions? There is no magic formula, but Yancey has a lot of wise things to say. Fear can make pain feel worse. Being available to be with a suffering person can help reduce their fear. Fear can be disarmed when seen from God’s perspective: perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4.18). Finding the right words is not important – there are normally no right words. Being prepared to do something matters more, and shows real love. Continuing friendships and relationships as they were before is vital.
Helplessness can come about through losing a sense of place in the world. Even Get Well cards carry a message that being ill is not ok and reinforce the person’s sense of futility. Suffering people who can grasp a way to control their lives (e.g. about who visits them and when, where they can live, taking many of their own choices) can beat the helplessness. A tool which can be used is to negotiate a contract, once someone has articulated their personal goals, assigning tasks stage by stage in order to reach the goal. Encouragement and praise can go a long way to help a person progress forward, and then help others. Yancey says ‘a wise sufferer will look not inward but outward. There is no more effective healer than a wounded healer’.
Pain with meaning (sports injuries, childbirth, inoculations) is far more bearable than pain without. Yet we so often see the negative meanings of pain and ignore the significance of the experience. So we should acknowledge the pain is valid, comforting where we can, then look forward to the results of the suffering rather than backward at the causes.
Hope has the power to sustain. It cannot be taught, but sometimes it can be caught. It is not wishful thinking, but a belief in a good thing coming. In reality. It also saves the sufferer from pessimism and permits a person to accept reality while giving strength to go on living. It can be hard for people with long-term suffering to feel the availability of their friends when things aren’t new, but long-term availability fosters real hope. The Christian believes, with hope, that the best is always yet to come.
So what are my personal resolutions in reading this?
1) To love dad, to continue to be his daughter and make him proud, to fight the fear;
2) To come up with my own list of goals, and help dad reach his;
3) Not to look backward, when I can help mum and dad look forward;
4) To be there in the long term for dad. He has said that he wants to write a blog about me when I turn 60. That’s the kind of thinking! To be a real catalyst for hope.