After years of working at a job I loved, I was anxiously looking forward to retirement. For me, retirement meant traveling to exotic places and seeing the world, sleeping in until the sun came up, having quiet, blissful mornings, and enjoying the great outdoors. These long-anticipated events were soon to come to pass, but not without some trials.
The first trip my husband and I took after my retirement was to Denver to ski. We’re not great skiers, but we enjoy the winter sport and the snowy mountain atmosphere. On our fourth and final day, as I went to lift off the chairlift, this excruciating pain shot into my lower back. I skied down the hill, which seemed to loosen it up a bit. Thinking of the spasm might have worked out, I got back on the lift. But the same thing happened when I got up from the chair the second time, only worse. We were there to ski and have a good time, and I didn’t want to disappoint my husband by telling him I couldn’t ski anymore so I tried it again. This time the pain was so unbearable that I was in tears and by the time I got down the hill and I let him know that I was done for the day.
When we got home I made an appointment with the back doctor and, thankfully, x-rays showed nothing was wrong with my spine. “It’s just weak back muscles,” he told me. Evidently, years of sitting at a desk had weakened my back, and I needed to strengthen it. Some medications and therapy were prescribed and it gradually got better over the next few weeks.
Just as I started to feel normal again, my feet started killing me. The pain was so excruciating that at times I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without holding on to the wall. I sought out a foot doctor and learned that it was plantar flagitious. A common foot ailment brought on by inflammation from overworking the muscles and tendons. All that extra walking I had been doing was causing my feet to rebel. It turned out to be a pretty easy fix with some shoe inserts, stretching, and an occasional shot of cortisone. I also backed off the walking just a bit to allow my feet to heal.
But then about mid-summer, my legs started aching. I couldn’t get comfortable anywhere and couldn’t sleep at night without pain medication and sleep aid. It was so painful in the mornings that I could barely move my legs to get out of bed. Thinking I must have something terribly wrong with my legs, I made an appointment with a leg specialist and he told me it wasn’t my legs at all, but my back again. That was weird because my back wasn’t even hurting! A strong steroid pack was prescribed and more therapy worked very well in relieving the pain. After an MRI which showed everything was good with my back and it was feeling better, I told him about another issue that just crept up.
I had woken up a few mornings prior and the tops of both my arms were hurting so badly that I couldn’t hardly move them. Even though I was an early riser, it would be around 11:00 a.m. each morning before I could move well enough to get on with my day. He referred me to the shoulder doctor where I learned that it was impingement from inflammation and overuse. I guess I shouldn’t have been lifting all those weights so soon. More steroid shots, therapy sessions, exercises, and medication were then prescribed for my shoulders.
I’m still dealing with some back and shoulder pain today, but it is manageable. I’m faithful to doing my back and shoulder exercises which the doctor said I could never stop doing and I continue to take anti-inflammatory medications. The issues are still there, but much better, and, thankfully, it’s more of a morning issue than an all-day issue. I keep doing what I now know to do and trust one day the pain will go away completely.
I’ve asked myself many times. Are these long-lasting trials an attack from Satan to steal the joy I was looking forward to in retirement or were they brought on by God who wanted to humble and strengthen me? Or was it simply a physical reaction to a shift in my lifestyle? I’m not sure. I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe it’s a combination of all three. My body was re-adjusting, Satan saw this as an opportunity to steal my joy, and God allowed it because I need to learn to depend more on Him.
Joy in trials
One thing I do know is that God intends for us to have joy amid our trials. James instructs us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:3)
There are roughly 200 verses in the Bible about joy that tell us we should have it and how to obtain it. Joy is a trait God wants for His children even while living in this fallen world.
Pain and sickness are things that can certainly steal our joy. My husband said that my personality even changed during my worst bouts of pain. I’ve always been a cheerful person, but constant, intense pain can quickly change you from a cheerful person to someone who no one wants to be around.
Despite all the pain I lived in during that first year of retirement, however, I was still able to enjoy my life and had a great year traveling, spending time with family, and doing many of the things I love. Granted, it would have been much better if it had been totally pain-free, but in reality, is life ever totally pain-free? If we’re not dealing with physical pain, we may be experiencing emotional pain.
So how do we have joy amid our trials? These three things helped me to continue living a joyful life amid the pain.
Joy is a choice
I’ve seen people battle months of horrid treatments for cancer and still retain their joy. How do they do that? They did it by drawing closer to the Lord. Joy is a fruit of the spirit and the closer we get to the Lord and allow His spirit into our lives, the more this fruit will be manifested. I’ve heard many people proclaim that they wouldn’t take anything for the hard trial they went through because it brought them so much closer to God. We always have a choice when going through trials to either wallow in self-pity and dwell solely on our misfortunes or decide to be thankful for the numerous blessings we have. The latter attitude will always produce joy no matter what circumstance we are facing.
Hope breeds joy
Sheer hope brings joy, as well. Paul mentions this in Romans 12:12 where he says “Rejoicing in hope, enduring in troubles, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” I have lots of people praying for my pain and that gives me hope that eventually, it will subside and I will move past this trial. That hope causes me to rejoice. I refuse to believe that things will not get better.
Faith ingites joy
With over 200 verses in the Word of God about joy and how to have it, we can get our joy back by simply reading and accepting those words.
There are numerous promises there, but here are just three:
Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.”Psalms 126:5
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved in various trials.1 Peter 1:6
Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance.Romans 5:3
Faith and hope are intertwined. Faith in God produces hope in our situation which brings forth joy.
Other joy stealers
Pain in our bodies isn’t the only thing the thief uses to steal our joy. Betrayal, sin, unbelief, and unforgiveness are some of the tools Satan uses against us. Each of these can also be overcome as we will explore in the coming weeks.
The Joy of the Lord is your strength.Nehemiah 8:10