Chronic Pain & the Church: Can I Go to the Doctor?

Start talking about a Christian, or “biblical”, view of chronic pain and suffering and it won’t be too long before someone will ask about the use of medications or even your stance on doctor visits.  And they are valid questions.  How does one suffering from chronic pain view their doctors appointments?  Perhaps it would be best put: how can I bring God glory going to see my doctor while suffering with chronic pain?  Much of what I will post here comes from notes taken from a session with James Halla, MD (Rheumatologist).

Do I go or do I stay?

God has graced mankind with the ability to know and understand the body in amazing ways.  He has blessed certain individuals with the ability to serve others in the medical field.  It is generally wise to see a physician if there is uncertainty about your health.  In other words, if you suspect a potential problem, or realize that something might not be right, please, see your doctor.  Ignorant suffering is not holy suffering.  Just to be very clear: doctors can help us be better stewards of our bodies and making an appointment with one is not sin.

As a sufferer of chronic pain, what is my motivation to see my doctor?

Realize first that stewarding your body well is not your choice, it is a command given to you by God.  It may be poor stewardship not to go to the doctor as well as going “too often“.  Ask yourself, why do I want to go to my doctor?  Am I motivated by pleasing God?  Am I motivated by seeking relief?  Am I motivated by my desire for good health?  Why do I want to go to see my doctor?

Why you should see a doctor

Realize that you must seek to please God in every area of life.  Your life is not a pie chart where pleasing God is relegated to Sunday worship and personal bible study times only.  Pleasing God must consume your every thought, motive, action and word.  (2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 10:31)  The byproduct of pleasing God by becoming more like Christ may be good health or relief, but I cannot make it my primary reason for going to my doctor. Now, let’s unpack that statement a little bit.  I may gain relief from my chronic pain as a result of going to the doctor, and I may see an improvement in my health by going to the doctor, but those reasons cannot be my primary reasons for seeing my doctor.  My primary goal in going to my doctor is to please God.  I totally understand how selfish chronic pain can make an individual.  Just ask my family or my coworkers, they’ve seen it first hand.  Chronic pain does not excuse me in my selfishness.  I don’t get a free pass here.  (I know these are harsh sentences, I must remind myself of these continually)  Making an appointment to see my pain management physician is a ministry opportunity, especially if the physician is an unbeliever.  Remember, we are to please God in our interaction with others, this means I am salt and light to unbelievers and an encourager to believers.  As I understand this, I realize that my doctor appointment just took on new meaning.

I want to please God as a patient suffering from chronic pain, how do I do that at the doctor’s office?

1. Listen to what your doctor saysListen to learn to apply what he says.  One of the most common complaints of physicians is that their patients don’t listen to what they say about them and their condition.  Don’t have selective hearing when it comes to your physician’s advice.  If he says your back pain will lessen greatly if you lose 15-20 pounds, then realize that an evaluation of eating habits, menu, diet and exercise are in order.  Most physicians would be thrilled to guide you in that process.  Receive and evaluate his information through the grid of the Bible as well as science.  This is important when it does come time to take medication and the motivation behind that medication, when it comes time to consider what lifestyle changes to make and why I should make them, etc.

2. Interact with your doctor. Realize that you do not know the body as well as he does…no matter how much time you spend on WebMD.  Realize that you do know biblical truth!  Is your physician a believer or an unbeliever?  Knowing this should shape the way we desire to interact with our physicians.  If they are an unbeliever, they may not be motivated by the same desire you have to please God in your approach to the stewardship of your body.  Understand this and interact with them accordingly.  Just to be clear, I am not suggesting we only see believing physicians.  God uses unbelievers often to benefit his children.  Is your doctor a believer in Jesus Christ?  Does he have the same goal to please God as you do as you discuss treatment options?  Have you asked your believing physician how you can best please God in the treatment process?

Are you a giver or a taker in the doctor’s office?

The physician that stands before you has a soul.  They have a life that is also crowded with personal and professional concerns.  Have you asked your doctor how you could best pray for them?  Is there something that you can do or say that would encourage your doctor in their practice?  Have you ever written a thank you note and mailed it to your physician’s office?  There are many ways to demonstrate that, as a believer in Jesus Christ, we are concerned about others in our lives – even when they are ministering to us in the medical field.

In the next post we will discuss how a sufferer of chronic pain should react when the doctor doesn’t have an answer or a solution for your condition.  Until then, please consider how your motivation for going to the doctor, and evaluate how you interact with your doctor.

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