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What is it like to live with chronic pain?
Darci Steiner can answer this question all too well. In the year 2000, she was an active mom enjoying her family and the prime of life when a fall down the stairs changed her life for good.
What at first seemed to be a simple injury from the fall sent Darci’s body into a debilitating spiral as a condition called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) took hold.
“CRPS develops as a result of an injury, usually to a limb. CRPS is a nerve pain disorder that sends nerve signals to your brain; it over-fires them. And so you feel this horrendous, constant pain.
The other name for this is ‘the suicide disease.’ And that’s hard to say because I don’t wish to take my life, but I have wanted to die. It gets that bad where you just beg God to take you because it’s so hard to live. It’s debilitating, it’s disappointing, and it creates dependence…. Pain dictates what I can and can’t do every day.”
As Darci put it, pain became her pulse. Pain organized and limited her activities. She got to the point where she couldn’t use her feet, so she used her hands to transfer her body into a chair or into bed. Then her hands became disabled from overuse.
“It’s a domino effect,” Darci says.
What emotions come with chronic pain?
Of course, physical suffering is only one facet of chronic pain. When asked what emotion she has felt most through her journey with chronic pain, Darci’s answer was disappointment. She shared:
“What I feel the most is disappointment, multiple times a day, day after day, every day. With this disease, you can’t make progress. It’s this mysterious disease where you can’t just get better. You have to deal with it for the rest of your life. It rarely goes into remission and there is no cure for it.
I try to walk more steps each day. But some days I can and some days I can’t. Two months ago I could walk to the end of the block. I can’t do that today.”
How does God help you when your pain feels like too much to bear?
Burdened by constant disappointment and setbacks, Darci has learned to seek God’s help in her suffering. She shared a key Scripture she revisits in the midst of her pain:
“Unless the Lord had given me help I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”
She also takes comfort from the story of Hagar. Stranded in the desert, mistreated, cast out, and seemingly forgotten, Hagar cried out. To her surprise, the Lord himself answered her. As Scripture tells us:
“[Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.”
Like Hagar realizing that God saw her and cared for her, and like the Psalmist drawing comfort and consolation from the Lord’s love, Darci has found hope as God meets her in her darkest moments and hours.
She has learned, little by little, to trust in God’s presence and inhabit each day.
“My goal is to get through today and not compare it with another day,” she says.
What small victories can you celebrate today?
Living in dependence on God, leaning on his strength one day at a time, Darci now has gratitude for the smallest of things. She says, “Your perspective changes. I would look into the yard and think, ‘God, would you allow me to pick up the dog doo?’” Then when she had the strength to pick up the dog doo, she would experience gratitude.
She likens her experience to that of the lepers who Jesus healed. Of the ten lepers healed, only one came back to express his gratitude. Darci wants to follow his example of cultivating gratitude. She says:
“We need to be grateful even when we’re hurting, and not just focus on our pain. Pain can make you so selfish, but we have to look outward. And the antidote is to give instead of just lament in our pain. And the thing that helps me the most in my pain, when I forget about my pain, is when I’m giving to someone else.”
Where have you seen God bring good or beauty out of your suffering?
Darci shared the story of the most painful night of her life. In overwhelming pain, she wanted to go to the emergency room; but opting to stay home, she decided to face her pain in solitude, seeking the Lord for help.
“I laid back in the recliner looking at the picture that I have of Jesus in our bedroom—Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. I felt these spikes in my hands and my feet. And I prayed. And the interesting thing that happened was that I would pray, and then I would say Bible verses that came to mind. It was like God answering me.
I felt like God was meeting me in my darkest night. And he was giving me answers from his Word that I was not alone. It was the worst night of my life, but it was the best night of my life because I have never experienced the Father as closely as that night.”
Living with pain while leaning on God, Darci notices the thorns that others live with, and how God brings beauty through and beyond the thorns.
Take the Apostle Paul for example; the Bible tells us that Paul had a thorn in his flesh that he asked God to remove. Despite the fact that God didn’t remove the thorn, Paul wrote more books of the New Testament than anyone.
“God has a purpose for our pain. It is not wasted. God is going to use this pain however he determines. And all I have to do is hold on for the ride,” Darci says.
Beauty Beyond the Thorns
In 2021, after decades of living with the ups and downs of chronic pain caused by CRPS, Darci released a book, Beauty Beyond the Thorns.
“I didn’t know I was writing a book at first. I was just writing because writing is cathartic. And then I saw a theme: all these gifts God has given me in my suffering and disability, like direction, purpose, courage, perseverance, and gratitude,”
In writing the book, Darci hoped to encourage others going through pain—whether it’s suffering caused by a disability, a chronic illness, or other difficulties like divorce or loss of a loved one. The book includes personal stories of suffering and biblical stories to demonstrate how God can turn unexpected curveballs into victorious home runs.
For anyone suffering today, Darci and the team at Joni and Friends pray that God will reveal himself to you as you lean into him, dig into Scripture, and pray.