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I Don’t Want to Die, I Just Want the Pain to Stop

pain to stop

Yet another visit to the doctor’s office, visit number twelve for the year — primary care doctor, dermatologist, cardiologist, podiatrist, neurosurgeon, general surgeon, and orthopedic doctor. No major surgeries this year, but I have had a benign tumor removed from my abdomen and a large cyst removed from my upper back (which is already coming back).

My main health problems remain the same: gastroparesis (an incurable stomach disease), fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, degenerative spine disease, and eight herniated discs in my spine and neck. I am also being treated for high blood pressure and diabetes. Both are well-managed. My latest A1c was 5.8. Diabetic readers know that anything below 7.0 is good. 5.8? Awesome.

Thanks to gastroparesis, I am chronically anemic and my B-12 levels are all over the place. I have blood work done every three months to monitor a host of issues. Gastroparesis has also affected my eyes. I was nearsighted for almost fifty years. I am now farsighted.

Taken together, these issues create a real challenge for me. Pain, of course, from head to toe, dominates my life. The pain is so severe that I have a hard time sleeping. I typically sleep in two-hour increments, readjusting my body so I can fall back asleep. Last night, I finally fell asleep at 5:30 am. I woke up five times during the night — hip pain, back pain, and peripheral nerve pain in my legs on this night. I woke up for the last time at 2:30 pm. Throw in a lack of bladder and bowel control, along with profuse — and I mean profuse — sweating, going to bed is a nightmare. Thanks to my therapist, I have come to accept that this is just how things are for me. Sure, I take narcotic pain medications, high-powered muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, and sleep drugs. They help, but these drugs do not make all my pain go away, nor do they bring deep, peaceful sleep.

I am now forced to use mobility aids wherever I go: cane, wheelchair, walker, or motorized cart. Not that I get out of the house much these days. Come March, it will be three years since I have driven a car. On a typical month, I get out of the house 4-8 times a month, usually to go grocery shopping, to medical appointments, or out to eat with Polly. I am not well enough to do any of these things, but I can’t bear being cooped up 24-7. So I endure, much as I do when my rambunctious grandchildren come over to visit.

My declining muscle strength and balance have made walking an existential threat to my survival. Falls are increasing, some severe. If I had to put money on how I will die, I would put it on tripping and falling. I am careful, but it takes very little to find myself flat on my ass/back, swearing profusely. Readers may remember that last Christmas I fell into our tree, breaking several branches and damaging the train below the tree. We have an artificial tree this year. 🙂

There are days when I just want to put an end to it all. People who suffer from chronic illnesses and endure unrelenting pain often have thoughts about suicide. Well-meaning people tell me that they are praying for me, or that I need to “put mind over matter.” I love it when someone tells me, you know, there are people who are worse off than you. And this helps how, exactly? There will always be people who are sicker than I am or have more pain than I do. And there are countless people who are in good health, and their biggest pain is a zit on the end of their nose or a backache from too much headboard banging. Each of us lives in a contained world unto ourselves. My health problems and my pain are mine alone to bear. Just think of Jesus’ suffering, Bruce. He did it all for you, Christians tell me. What, a day or so of pain, a long weekend, and then a pain-free body? Jesus had it easy. I would trade places with him in a heartbeat. Let Jesus walk in my shoes for a while — not that he can, he’s dead. Conjuring up an imaginary suffering deity as a way to “encourage” those who are in real pain is not any more helpful than that same God spitting on dirt, making some mud, and using it to restore a blind man’s sight. Forget the theatrics. If Jesus is really the Great Physician, what’s he been up to for the past two thousand years? I know a lot of people who sure could use his help. His inattention makes me wonder if he is actually dead, and what’s really going on here is that the Christian church has been playing a con game for the past twenty centuries. Just keep praying. Jesus will heal you — someday.

suffering and pain

People with chronic pain have often suffered for years. Their lives are an endless repeating of the movie Groundhog Day. In my case, I have suffered chronic pain for twenty-five years. I worked my last full-time job in 2005. Their lives are an endless repeating of the movie Groundhog Day. I endure the day, collapse in bed, spending several hours getting to sleep, only to start the process all over again the next day. And pain is just one of the plethora of issues I must deal with every day. I am not complaining. I accept life as it is, doing what I can to lessen my suffering. I don’t expect my doctors to work miracles, nor do I anticipate waking up one day and finding myself miraculously healed. That’s not how things work in the real world. Thousands and thousands of prayers have been offered on my behalf, and I spent the better part of twenty years daily asking God for healing. As the mythical Christian God is wont to do, he remained silent.

When I write about suicide, people immediately worry that I am about to pull a David Foster Wallace. Not today, my friend, not today. All I am saying here is that chronic illness and pain drive people to ponder ending their lives. In fact, it is totally normal to have such thoughts. It’s not that I want to die — I don’t. I want to live. I want to watch more sunsets over Lake Michigan with the love of my life. I want to eat Polly’s food and enjoy her company. I want to hear Bethany laugh while watching a stupid movie. I want to go to stock car races and baseball games with my sons. I want share Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. I want to watch my grandchildren come of age, go off to college, and perhaps have families of their own. I want to watch the trees, bushes, and plants Polly and I have planted grow to maturity, covering our yard with summer beauty and shade. I want to watch the raccoons, possums, squirrels, and feral cats as they stop by to eat and provide us with a bit of entertainment. (Recently watching a raccoon run off on his back feet with an old bagel in his front paws — priceless.) There are so many things I want to do, yet when my body is wracked with pain, all I can think is this: PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

You see, that’s what healthy people don’t understand. It’s not that people such as myself want to die, we just want the pain to stop. Oh, how I yearn for a day — just one day — of waking up in the morning pain-free. Some of you reading this post know what I am talking about. You understand longing for a day without pain, yet you know such hope doth fantasies make. For the present, we live between the one certain cure — death — and a life of finding meaning and purpose. For me personally, writing, family, and hoping the Cincinnati Reds will, one more time in my lifetime, win the World Series, are some of things that give me meaning and purpose. When I devote my energies to those things. thoughts of suicide diminish. That said, suicidal thoughts will never, ever go away, and I have, through anguish and tears, thought on more than one occasion this year, ENOUGH! But today I say to myself, LIVE. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? For now, I focus on the things that matter, hoping they continue to provide reasons for living.

I know the goodness in you will urge you to try to encourage me in the comment section, or with a text or an email. There’s no need, friends. This is just me talking out loud and being brutally honest about life. I may die today, but it will not be by my own hands. My sister has a project she needs her wise, aged, technologically savvy smart-ass of a brother to take care of (she reads my blog, so I just had to say that).  I can’t leave her in the lurch. And besides, the Bengals are likely headed for the playoffs. Maybe, just maybe this will be the year the Bungles become world champions.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

A Plea From a Chronic Pain Sufferer: Please Be Aware of Others

not all disabilities are visible

I have spent the past three decades battling fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and degenerative spine disease. I say battling, but perhaps I should say, being BATTERED, by people who are often unaware of their surroundings. Not a day goes by for me that I don’t have never-ending, unrelenting pain. Even with being on narcotics and NSAIDS, along with steroids and muscle relaxers, I find that the pain remains. Without the drugs, the pain is unbearable. With the drugs, I can have what my doctor calls “quality of life” — quality, of course, being loosely defined, and I suspect meaning something different to my doctor from what it means to me. I could take enough drugs that they would make me oblivious to the pain, but there’s no “quality” in such a life — at least for me. If I want to drive — scratch that, I lost ability to drive in 2020 — attend my grandchildren’s school events, and photograph high school sporting events — scratch that, I lost the ability to use my professional camera equipment in 2021 — I must accept a certain level of managed pain; pain that is not so severe that doing most anything is impossible.

In the eyes of many people, I look quite normal. Yes, I walk haltingly with a cane and walker, and probably should have a “slow-moving vehicle” sign attached to my ass. Aside from this, I hide my pain well. Family and friends, of course, are well acquainted with my suffering, and they usually (not always) go out of their way to make things easier and less painful for me. It is when I come in contact with the public that I often find myself beaten and battered by people who seem clueless about how their behavior affects others around them, especially someone such as myself, who doesn’t need any more pain added to his plate.

Several years ago, I went to a high school basketball game. I arrive at games early so I can secure a front-row seat. This allows me to have a court-level view of games. My daughter with Down syndrome — we are quite a pair, she and I — usually sits in the row in back of me, slightly to the left or right of my back. By doing so, she typically wards off people from sitting in back of me. Not this night. Ten minutes prior to the start of the junior varsity game, a middle-aged couple and their early-20s daughter planted themselves directly in back of me. For the next three hours, I was subjected to knees, feet, and purses being pushed into my back. After being battered during the first game, I decided to sit on the edge of my seat, hoping that this would place me beyond their reach. Unfortunately, the unaware batterers saw my move as an opportunity to increase their real estate, and the thumps, bangs, and jabs continued.

If I were a cranky curmudgeon, perhaps I would have asked them to stop, but instead, just as I have done for years, I endured their cluelessness. I don’t expect people to innately know that a chronic pain sufferer is sitting in front of them. That said, it perplexes me that so many people never learned to be aware of their surroundings, nor did they learn to pay attention to how their behavior affects others. My children were taught at an early age to pay attention to who is around them. Respect the space of others, and don’t do anything that could cause harm to someone else. I have been kicked half to death by more booted five-year-olds than I can count. Kids are kids, and I don’t expect them to necessarily understand respecting the person of others. However, these little kickers should, at their advanced stage of development, have parents that understand their children beating on a man who looks like Santa Claus is not respectful and can, if Santa is so inclined, result in Little Johnny getting coal in his stocking on Christmas. 🙂

Polly and our children will tell you that I was and am hyper-aware of my surroundings, never wanting to do anything that would inconvenience or harm others. I passed this awareness on to them, and I see it in the behavior of my grandchildren. Learning simple things such as not standing in the middle of the grocery aisle blocking the lane or running up and down bleachers causing them to bounce — both of which can and do affect others — should be part of standard child training. My grandchildren have had to learn that, yes, I want to hug each of them, but they mustn’t launch themselves into my lap, causing me pain, or, in some instances, sending my testicles into my eye sockets. My grandchildren know that they must be gentle with Grampa or Bapaw, as my four-year-old grandson calls me, not because I will yell at them if they don’t, but because the fact of their doing so means they understand, at some level, my physical struggles.

I realize there will be times when people inadvertently run into me. Such is life. But what bothers me is people who seem to have no awareness of anyone but themselves. I feel, at times, when such people physically assault me, that they are saying to me, Hey old man, get out of my way. Move it, I have got places to go and people to see. (I do all I can to stay out of the way, knowing that other people are busy and have things to do. I consciously try to make it easy for people to avoid contact with me.) Smartphones have made such behavior worse. People zoned out on their phones careen through stores and public places with nary a thought about the people around them. This is one of the reasons that I avoid department stores during the holidays. After being repeatedly banged into with shopping carts and oversize purses as women pass by, I find my anger increasing, and I begin to have thoughts of clobbering someone with my cane. I know having such thoughts is normal, but I find it better to avoid supermarket Mike Tysons if at all possible. Before the Pandemic, when grocery stores were open 24-7, Polly would arrive home from work at 2:30 am and I would say to her, Hey, let’s go to the grocery! Why? you ask. Simple, there are very few people shopping at the local Meijer or Walmart at 3:00 am. I don’t have to worry about cart kamikazes running me over or “important” people rushing through the store, binging and banging into people like a steel ball in a pinball machine.

Chronic pain sufferers, along with people with chronic diseases, will likely say AMEN to this post. They, unfortunately, understand exactly what I am talking about. My plea to healthy bipeds is that they be aware of the people around them and pay attention to how their behavior affects others. Kindness, compassion, and respect go a long way toward helping people such as myself to have public forays without coming home feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck. No one can cure me or make my pain go away. All that I ask is that they lift up their eyes and survey their surroundings. See the man walking with a cane? Don’t push your shopping cart quickly around him and then stop on a dime, forcing him to tense up his entire body to avoid running into you. See the man haltingly walking down the bleacher aisle. Wait. Let him get down the steps and on solid footing before you hop on the autobahn and swiftly pass him by. And above all, respect his personal space, as he most certainly does yours. Someday, you might be cursed to walk in his skin, and I guarantee you that you will then want people to pay attention and not do things that further hurt you.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Evangelicals Romanticize Suffering and Pain by Focusing on Jesus’ Crucifixion

jesus is love 2

The other day I read an article from an Evangelical writer that romanticized suffering and pain by focusing on Jesus’ crucifixion. According to this person, our suffering is nothing compared to what Jesus went through on the cross. When you are in pain, think of the pain Jesus suffered when they put a crown of thorns upon his head or nailed his feet and hands to a wooden Roman cross. OMG! Such suffering. Your pain is nothing compared to his. In other words, suck it up, buttercup. Jesus is on the way. Some day, not today, not for 2,000 years, but maybe today, probably not.

Four years ago, I wrote a post titled I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend. What follows is excerpted from this article.

Kirsten Ryken, a writer for the Fundamentalist website The Gospel Coalition, wrote a post titled, Why I Thank God for Chronic Pain. Ryken’s article was part personal story and part justification for God allowing her to painfully suffer. Ryken concluded her post with this:

With the eye of faith, I saw Christ on the cross. God, in a human body, taking on physical pain far greater than my own. Thorns in his head, blood dripping down his face, nails in his hands and feet, love in his face. I felt his pain in my own body, the fire in my spine intensifying as I looked at him. But I also felt him holding me like a child.

I knew in my heart in that moment that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). I was completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that my God not only knows what’s wrong with my body even when no human doctor does, he also knows my physical pain more intimately than anyone else ever could. The loneliness of suffering and the frustration of not having answers were taken away in an instant. I felt a physical burden lifted from my body and my heart.

Until that moment, I had never understood the relevance of Christ’s death on the cross to the details of my daily life, my pains and my joys. It was only in the light of the cross that I could make sense of my own suffering. This reminder is the positive result of my pain. In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Calvary. I thank God for the precious gift of my salvation, because on some (very small!) level I have begun to understand the cost of my salvation.

Chronic pain is a constant reminder that my life is not my own; it has been bought with a price.

The narrative Ryken spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact, Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.

Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell, hung out with its inhabitants, and then resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third-degree burns over most of their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?

Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant that come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.

I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?” Why me, indeed.

Christians invoke the suffering Jesus because it covers up the fact they suffer just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, and that their God, much like the cosmos, yawns with indifference. Jesus, then, becomes the hospice nurse who holds their hands as they face cruelties, indignities, and sufferings beyond imagination. Jesus has promised Christians that he will never leave or forsake them, and he will never allow them to suffer more than they are able. Thus, whatever pain and suffering comes their way, God means it for their good, either to chastise them or teach them a lesson. If Christians will but endure what comes their way, words in an ancient religious text promise that they will be given pain-free bodies after death. Better to think this, many Evangelicals say, than to believe we live in a cold, heartless universe. Why, such a belief leads to despair! Christians say. To that, I reply, maybe for you it does, but it doesn’t have to.

I find comfort in the fact that shit happens, and chronic illness and intractable pain afflict rich and poor, young and old, religious or not. I know that I am not special, and that countless other people are going through pain and suffering as bad as mine and worse. I am not owed a pain-free existence. I have been given life — just one — and it is incumbent upon me to live life to its fullest. I embrace my suffering, not looking to a mythical deity for inspiration or help. I find comfort in the fact that my wife, children, and friends deeply care about me and do what they can to lessen my pain. And I try to do the same when dealing with others who are facing troubles and trials, physical or not. Is there any more any of us can do for each other?  A kind word, a thoughtful action, a tender embrace — these are enough. It is humanism, with its goal of lessening suffering, that shines the brightest. Christianity says endure, promising a divine payoff in the sweet by-and-by. Humanism says we only have one life, so let’s do all we can to lessen pain and suffering. Christianity says pain and suffering have a higher purpose, be it correction or testing. Humanism says alleviating pain allows people to live happy lives, and in this cold universe of ours, that’s the best any of us can expect. Despite my pain, or perhaps because of it, I choose humanism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Is Pain God’s Instrument to Draw People to Himself?

pain cs lewis

Guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus

Does the Christian God use pain to draw people to himself? Assuming for a moment that such a God exists, does he use human suffering to make followers for himself?

There is no evidence in the Bible to suggest he does. To be sure, the Bible has a fair amount to say about pain. It claims that suffering is a means by which God either chastens Christians (Hebrews 12.7) or strengthens them (Romans 5.3-5), but this is exclusively for people who already believe. The Bible does not say non-believers are afflicted as a means of drawing them closer to God; the idea is unbiblical.

Let’s assume then that while this notion finds no support in the bible, Christians have learnt over the centuries, perhaps though extra-biblical revelation, that God does use pain in this way. What does this tell us about God? That he’s a being whose principal way of making human beings pay attention to him is by causing (or allowing) them to suffer frequently unbearable pain and anguish.

What sort of God is this? Not one who loves the world and cares for humans far more than he does mere sparrows (Matthew 6.26). He’s more an unpleasant, sadistic bully: the jock who backs you up against the wall, grips your balls and squeezes hard.

Maybe that’s how it is. The God who created the universe is just such a being; a moral monster, as Richard Dawkins described him. It’s easy to see how he might be: human beings suffer, yet there’s (supposedly) a God who loves them; therefore, pain and suffering must at the very least be sanctioned by God, or, more likely, delivered by him. This, after all, is the story of the Old Testament. The God so arrived at, though, is a thoroughly human creation, a means of minimising cognitive dissonance by reconciling human suffering and a God who supposedly cares.

One more assumption is needed. Let’s assume this time that despite the odds, this character really exists. Does his strategy work? Does inflicting pain and anguish on people make them, as Lewis suggests, cry out to the One doing (or allowing) the inflicting and compel them to love him? It seems unlikely; I can’t find any evidence online of anyone claiming that pain or anguish brought them to God. From a personal perspective, I can honestly say that in times of distress or suffering I have never, post-deconversion, called out to God or any supernatural entity for help. I’ve never interpreted my suffering as his calling me closer and have never, since escaping Christianity, succumbed to his malicious charms. (What I did do occasionally, following my deconversion, was to convince myself that my suffering was a punishment from God – for leaving him behind, being gay or something I’d done. These feelings disappeared when I embraced fully the fact that the Christian God isn’t real.)

Where does this leave the Christian with, as Lewis puts it, ‘the problem of pain’? How do they reconcile a loving God who allows or even causes human beings to suffer? They can’t. Instead, they spout empty platitudes that they think let their indifferent, imaginary God off the hook. Just look at the meaningless theo-babble religious leaders came up with in 2004 after a tsunami hit Indonesia, killing 227,898 people.

Leave God out of the equation, however, and there are far better explanations for why humans suffer. ‘Shit happens’ is far more convincing than anything the religious have to offer. Physical pain is the body’s reaction to damage. It is an imperfect system that frequently overreacts or fires up even after damage is repaired (I know this, having fibromyalgia). That’s what it is to have, to be, a physical body. Anguish comes from random acts of nature, the violence and cruelty we inflict on each other and the death of loved ones, much of which is beyond human control. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are useless in ameliorating this kind of suffering. Measures to restrict people’s access to weapons undoubtedly helps, as it has in countries with politicians with sufficient strength and intelligence to enact gun-control legislation. Without it, as in Uvalde recently, more children will die, more parents will experience terrible anguish and another massacre is inevitable. God won’t stop it.

Suffering is not symbolic of something else; it is not ‘God’s megaphone’ or an opportunity for others to point those afflicted to Christ’s light (or any other bullshit that involves the supernatural.) Pain simply is. It is our lot as physical bodies to endure or alleviate it as best we can.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Please Do Not Offer or Send Me Unsolicited Medical Advice

chronic illness

My health is very much a part of my story. It is impossible for readers to understand where I have come from and where I am today without me telling them about my struggles with chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis. Over the past decade, I’ve not been shy about sharing with readers my health history. Unfortunately, in doing so, I have opened myself up to unsolicited medical advice from people who have diagnosed me from afar. In recent years, I have received emails, letters, telephone calls, texts, packages, and personal visits from people who are certain they know the cure for what ails me.

One woman — a former church member — would stop by my house every few weeks hoping to sell me super-duper, cure-all shakes that she was certain would return me to perfect health. I had to hide in my bedroom and have Polly lie to her about my availability. After months of attempts to evangelize me, the woman finally took the hint and stopped. At the time, she was on the shakes. Today? She has abandoned this miracle cure and continues to face debilitating health problems.

Well-meaning people have told me that this or that drug, this or that supplement, reiki, spinal adjustment, surgery, acupuncture, iridology, yoga, chakra alignment, mindfulness, homeopathic concoctions, essential oils, Native American rituals, magnets, diets — need I go on? — would infallibly cure me. Today, I received in the mail a list of books from a blog reader — some of which I have read — that, if followed, would supposedly put an end to my chronic pain. The gist of the books is this: your pain is all in your head.

I go out of my way to avoid interaction with readers when they put on lab coats and play doctors. I either ignore them altogether or I quickly say “thank you” and change the conversation. Yet, it seems no matter how many times I say, PLEASE DO NOT OFFER OR SEND ME UNSOLICITED MEDICAL ADVICE, people continue to ignore my request and offer advice anyway. What is it that says to some readers that they are free to disrespect me as a person? Is there anything ambiguous or unclear in PLEASE DO NOT OFFER OR SEND ME UNSOLICITED MEDICAL ADVICE? Do some readers think I am stupid or ignorant or lacking competent medical care?

I get it. I am the kind of writer who has swung open the door of his life, inviting such advice. However, I have politely asked that people not give me unsolicited medical advice. How hard can it be for readers (and family members) to respect my wishes and leave me alone? Can they not see that their tactics are no different from those used by Jehovah’s Witnesses or evangelizers from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches? “Sir, we are here today to offer you something that will change and transform your life!” Never mind the fact, that I am not ignorant about what they are peddling, be it Jesus or a “cure” for Fibromyalgia.

Let me be clear. I am under the care of a team of competent medical professionals. I am well-educated concerning my afflictions. Unless researchers come up with new treatments, I am going to die “Just as I am.” I have resigned myself to the fact that a combination of what ails me will eventually lead to my demise. And I am okay with that. I do what I can to manage my symptoms. If I read of something that “might” be helpful, I bring it up to my primary care doctor. In the twenty-three years he has cared for me, he has NEVER said no to me; never refused an off-label drug or treatment that “might” alleviate my pain and suffering. “Let’s try it and see if it works.”  My orthopedic doctor treats me in a similar manner. He knows, based on x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, that I have arthritis from head to toe. He knows that surgery is not a good option for me, so he does what he can to alleviate my pain. The scans tell him that the pain is not in my head.

unsolicited medical adviceI know that writing this post and making it prominently available will do little to stop certain readers offering unsolicited medical advice. It is not like I can ban them or anything. As long as I have a widely read blog and make it easy for people to contact me, I am going to receive emails, letters, telephone calls, texts, packages, and personal visits from pretend doctors. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t bitch about it. Praise Loki for the power of bitching, amen? Amen!

Let me conclude this post with several excerpts from articles that address the issue of unsolicited medical advice. The first article is titled, Your Unsolicited Health Advice Isn’t Just Irritating. It’s Damaging. Sarah Blahovec writes:

You may be thinking, “These people [people who offer unsolicited medical advice] sound irritating, sure, but why are you making such a big fuss? They’re just trying to help!”

Of course, I get that they’re trying to help, and in some cases, it really is just a pet peeve that I’ll politely accept or decline and move on. But the thing is that constant unsolicited advice, questioning, and imploring to try something different becomes very invalidating. You don’t just hear a helpful tip to try, you hear that you aren’t trying hard enough, that using medication to treat your condition means that you’re giving up or aren’t willing to seek out a non-medicinal alternative. You hear that all of the work that you and your doctors have done, the tests, the procedures, the trial and error of different combinations of medications and treatments aren’t enough, and that you need to try a different path. You hear that if you did give these suggestions a shot in the past, you didn’t try long or hard enough, you weren’t following it correctly, or you bailed and took “the easy way out.”

It is frustrating to constantly hear the message that not only are you not trying hard enough to improve your own health, but that you and your doctors are not the most knowledgeable about your medical and lifestyle needs. A stranger or acquaintance took it upon themselves to say that they know more about your condition from a bit of Googling and a few books than your doctor with their experience and education, and you with your everyday, lived experience of actually having the medical condition. It is emotionally damaging to not only hear that you aren’t living with your disease correctly, but to always have to educate others on why their unsolicited advice is unwanted and harmful. Unfortunately, they usually just they reply that you’re overreacting and become offended that you won’t take their suggestion. This only adds to the emotional pain, and very often, the physical pain of a medical condition that can be triggered by stressful situations.

My message is this: please, please do not give advice when it is not specifically requested. If someone wants information about your lifestyle, your choice, or your product, they will ask you and they will do the research. If you do give advice and somebody says that they aren’t interested or asks you to stop, just respect their wishes. Nobody should be coerced into trying something they don’t want to try, and if you push forward with your advice, not only would they not listen, but they may become stressed, hurt, and invalidated by your inability to respect their wishes.

Trust that disabled and chronically ill people and their medical teams are the most knowledgeable about their own health and their medical and lifestyle needs. Trust that they will seek out you or the proper sources if they’re interested in what you have to offer. And out of respect for disabled and chronically ill people everywhere, please stop forcing your unsolicited advice upon those who don’t want it.

In an article titled, Please Give Me Your Support, Not Unsolicited Medical Advice, Megan Klenke writes:

I would rather spend the rest of my days banging my head against a wall than to continue trying to explain to people that their essential oils and kale will not cure me. OK, I’m being dramatic, but not as much as you might think!

If you’re anything like me, when you first became chronically ill (if you’re reading this as someone who’s sick), you possibly went through a naive stage early on in your illness. The stage where you believed the random person in an elevator who’s known you for two whole minutes who said that snake oil was God’s gift to the ill, or your aunt’s cousin’s brother’s half-sister who swears by this new detox where you only eat eggs for a month and every illness ever will be reversed, or some crap like that.

But seriously, there was a period of time at the beginning of me being sick that I desperately held onto the belief that I had control and would get better, so I tried anything and everything anyone presented to me. The worst was this “joint juice” concoction my dad ordered off an infomercial that tasted worse than words can describe. Yuck.

After awhile, it became something I did out of spite. Eventually there were few things left that I hadn’t tried, but when someone offered me something new, I would try it to prove to them how wrong they were.

When people constantly offer up these things, especially after I’ve spent time telling them my story, it doesn’t come off as helpful. I know, I know. People generally mean well. Sure. I’d like to say I believe that. But there’s condescension there almost always. And disbelief. And disrespect. It’s a smack in the face. It’s basically people saying to me that I just must not be doing enough or else I’d be better.

We as humans don’t like to lose control. We don’t. I certainly don’t. It’s not fun. We try to control every aspect of our lives. We love to plan out how every minute of everyday is meant to be spent and we think we can control that.

But the truth is, we can’t control everything. We cannot always control our bodies and our health. I know it’s scary to realize this, but it’s true. And I think that’s a big reason why one of the most common reactions people have to finding out that I’m chronically ill is to give me advice (that I didn’t ask for) on how to get better (from my incurable diseases). They want to help, but they want even more to keep up the illusion of control in their world. They’d rather believe that it’s essentially my fault that I’m not better because I’m not doing something right, because I don’t have the proper self-control, than to acknowledge the lack of control we have over our lives.

So what all of this unsolicited advice says to me is, “I didn’t listen to anything you just said because I’m scared of facing our lack of control and my mortality. I think you just don’t know what you’re talking about. I know better.”

That’s the truth of it. So the next time you’re thinking about offering up unsolicited advice to someone who’s chronically ill, it’s probably best to just…not.

Thank you for your love, kindness, and support. Many of you have come alongside me and brought understanding and encouragement during difficult times. It is enough for me to know that people care.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise

pain-looks-good-on-other-people

I begin each day with pain. No matter how much medication I take, pain, from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head, is ever with me. There’s never a day when pain is not front and center, demanding attention. Afternoon turns to evening. Hopefully, I have felt strong enough to sit down in my office and write a few words for this blog. As I type this post, my hands remind me that osteoarthritis is my ever-present “friend.” Someday, I will push the keyboard away and say to the pain, “you win.” Not today, but no promise that tomorrow won’t be the end of my run. I fear what happens to me when I quit; when I say, “I have had enough.”

By the time the clock says 10:00 pm in the eastern time zone, my body says, “enough! I shan’t go any farther!” Two decades of struggling with fibromyalgia have taught me to recognize when it’s time to surrender for the day. “Wave the white flag, Bruce, and live for another day,” I tell myself. As I slump into my recliner, turn on Pardon the Interruption, and adjust the sound, tears come to my eyes. “Why live another day, knowing that tomorrow will be no different from today?” No matter how much I try to think happy thoughts and “put mind over matter,” reality reminds me that it is a bitch, a taskmaster with no concern for my suffering and pain. “Tough shit, Bruce. This is your life, deal with it.”

I hear the front door open. It’s Polly coming home from work. The clock strikes 2:30 am. We trade pleasantries, ask questions of one another, eat a snack, and finish the day off with The Daily Show. Now it’s time for the final act of the day, bedtime. I drag my pained, fatigued body to my side of the bed, plug my iPad into the wall charger, put on my Bluetooth headphones, and run one of the video streaming apps — usually Hulu. Of late, I am re-watching the Los Angeles police drama Southland. Polly touches me gently on my back and says, “good night.” I reply, “I love you.” Polly will quickly fall to sleep, but not me. Sleep for me will not come until pain and sleep medications do their work — that is, IF they do their work. Some nights, this process takes an hour. Other nights, it takes two, maybe three hours for sleep to win the victory.

And then, I do this all over again. There’s never a day without pain and fatigue. Never. I am not sure my family and friends understand this. Oh, they try, but for people who have not lived with never-ending, unrelenting chronic pain, there’s no frame of reference for them. How can someone “understand” that which they have not experienced? I photographed a local high school basketball game tonight — the first game of the season. As I entered the building, a school official said to me (and Bethany), “how are you folks doing tonight?” His voice rang with happiness and enthusiasm. He was what I call “chipper.” Before I could “think” of how I wanted to answer him, I blurted out, “do you really want to know?” His face told me that he was not expecting THAT answer. I quickly rescued him from the uncomfortableness of the moment. “Let me give you the standard human answer, “I’m fine. I am always fine!” And with that, I made my way to the gymnasium. Of course, I am not “fine.” I am sure some of you might be thinking, “Bruce, if you are not “fine,” why did you shoot the basketball game? “Why not stay home, rest, and take it easy?” Truth be told, it doesn’t matter where I am or what I do, I can’t escape the pain. Might as well try to do something I love to do than sit around and lose a few more brain cells watching TV. I know of only two “solutions” for my pain: death or pharmaceutical fog, neither of which I am willing to entertain. At least not today, anyway.

Knowing that the pain will never go away does give me a sense of certainty. I can’t escape the pain. All I can do is to choose what to do and where to go. Well-meaning people will say to me, “Bruce, I saw you at the store today. You must be feeling better!” “No, I am not feeling better. I feel like shit. My body feels like it has been hit by a truck — twice,” I have said to no one, ever. Instead, I pretend the well-wisher is oh-so perceptive. That’s the nature of the chronic pain game. Better to live a lie than burden (and bore) people with the truth. Rare is the person who really wants to know and understand how you are feeling. And that’s okay. I really don’t want to know about your hemorrhoids either.

Tomorrow begins the holiday season for the Gerencser family. Polly, along with our daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters, will gather at our home to make pies — pumpkin, cherry, apple, and pecan — for Thanksgiving. If anything can temper my pain, it’s food, family, and football. If anything can give me a reason to punch the time clock for another day, it’s Polly, my children, and grandchildren. For them, I’m thankful.

Addendum:

The girls popped the first four pumpkins pies in the oven today and started cooking them. Fifteen minutes into the process, the power went out! We were without electricity for eight hours. We’ve had high winds today, and this led to an outage. Pie day was moved to our youngest daughter’s home. Just another story to add to Gerencser family Thanksgiving lore.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

“It Must be a Miserable Thing to be an Atheist,” Says an Evangelical Christian

spaniardviii victor

Recently, a Christian Fundamentalist man who hides behind the SpaniardVIII moniker wrote his latest post in a series on atheism. (I responded, writing a post titled Do Atheists Really Love to Wallow in Sin?) One of SpaniardVIII’s readers, Victor, commented:

It must really be a miserable thing to be an atheist. It is true that they have made themselves willing tools in the hands of Satan to antagonise God and His followers. What a pity!

So much wrong in three little sentences. How is it possible that atheists have made themselves “willing tools in the hands of Satan?” Atheists don’t believe in the existence of deities or devils — Satan included. Making ourselves such would be akin to standing in the yard next to a shovel and asking it to make us spades. Silly, right? So is the suggestion that atheists have made themselves tools in the hands of Satan. Have Victor or SpaniardVIII ever seen Satan? Of course not. He is little more than a fairytale character used by Evangelicals in their attempts to scare people. Watch out Christians! Satan-filled atheists wander to and fro seeking whom they may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) Watch out Christians. Satan-filled atheists present themselves as angels of light, but they are, in fact, wicked, vile, evil people. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) Why, did you know atheists pickle fetuses and eat them once a year on Halloween; that atheists secretly desire to molest children; that atheists are reprobates, and you know what that means, they are p-e-r-v-e-r-t-s. (Romans 1) And so it goes. Shameless Christians, forgetting the Good Book condemns bearing false witness (Romans 13:9), lie about atheists and defame their character.

Why do Evangelicals act this way towards atheists? The short answer is that for Evangelicalism to have value, there must a clear distinction between good and evil; Christian and atheist. Evangelicals present themselves as pillars of moral virtue — that is until they are caught with their pants down, and then they are just like the rest of us, they say — so it necessary for atheists and other non-believers to be portrayed as people lacking morally and ethically. The Christian life is presented as the most awesome experience ever — all praise be to J-E-S-U-S — so it is necessary for atheists and other non-believers to be portrayed as having empty lives lacking meaning, purpose, and direction. Thus, to Victor and his sidekick SpaniardVIII, atheists are miserable people. I assume the focus of the word miserable is on how atheists live their lives; or how Evangelical zealots THINK atheists live their lives, anyway.

I hate to break it to Victor, but I have lived on both sides of the fence. I knew plenty of miserable Christians. I witnessed countless followers of Jesus living miserable lives, either by choice or due to the circumstances of life. I see nothing in Christianity that inculcates people from misery. Perhaps what Victor means is that compared to the life he has with Jesus, atheists have miserable lives. How can he know that? By what standard does he determine someone is miserable or is living a worthless life?

I am sure Victor, as an Evangelical Christian, measures the lives of others — especially atheists — according to his peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Christian Bible. Throw in a large dose of projection, and it is easy to see how Victor comes to the conclusion atheists are miserable. When Jesus is your end-all, it’s no wonder non-Christians are viewed as being lacking in some way or the other. Atheists, in particular, aren’t shy about telling Victor and other zealots like him that their beliefs are rooted in fantasy; that the Jesus they love, adore, and worship, lies dead somewhere on a Judean hillside; that the only thing awaiting Christians after death is darkness, silence, and decay. Is it no wonder, then, that the Victors of the world view atheists the way they do?

atheists sad

Here’s the problem with Victor’s Bible-blurred view of atheists. We are not, in general, miserable or unhappy. We daily strive to live happy, fulfilled lives, knowing that this life is the only one we have. Sure, we have problems, just like Christians do. We have days when we are asses and other days when we are saints (as in Saint Hitchens, Saint Gupton, Saint Hawking). Often, our lives are admixtures of good, bad, and indifferent deeds. We are, above all else, human. What atheists know that Evangelicals seemingly don’t, is that we are not “better” (or worse) than anyone else. We are, in every way, fellow travelers on the road of life, each of us walking the path set before us.

Victor pities atheists, not because of shared humanity, but because they don’t believe as he does. For Victor, life starts and ends with Jesus and the Bible. If anyone deserves pity, it is him. He has chosen a life of paucity, a life reduced to endlessly masturbating before the throne of Jesus; a life reduced to worshipping a mythical deity; a life where only one book matters, the Bible. Why would anyone in his or her right mind what to live this way? Remove threats of judgments and Hell and promises of Heaven and eternal bliss, and I guarantee you Victor’s life would be very different.

As long as fear and judgment are motivators, the Victors of the world will continue to say atheists are miserable. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing their own misery, Christian zealots jump up and down, holler, and point at atheists, saying LOOK AT HOW MISERABLE THEY ARE! Classic misdirection. I hate to break it to Victor, but with or without Jesus, misery can and does come our way. Live long enough, and Mr. Misery and Ms. Heartache are going to make an appearance in your life. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Should atheists say to the Christian man dying from cancer, “it must be a miserable thing to be a Christian, to have given your whole life to a lie and now you are dying!” The atheists I know would never be so heartless, cruel, and indifferent. Yet, Victor thinks it’s okay — not knowing anything about the people he condemns — to say to atheists, such miserable people you are. 

This post leaves me wondering what is it in Evangelical Christianity that causes followers of Jesus to lose all connection with their fellow humans? There will come a day when I will draw my last breath. I can only imagine how Evangelical pastors and bloggers will respond upon hearing of the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser’s death. Look at how Christopher Hitchens and Steven Hawking were savaged after their deaths. Not long ago, Rachel Held Evans, a devout Christian, suddenly died at age 37. Her death was viewed by some within the Evangelical community as being some sort of divine retribution from the Evangelical God for Evans’ supposed heresy: Evans decapitated, her head placed on a pike for all to see, a reminder of what happens to those who stray from the narrow confines of the Evangelical box. Why can’t Evangelicals just act like decent, thoughtful human beings, even towards those who believe differently from them? See misery in the lives of others? Embrace their pain and lift them up, even if they worship your God, a different God, or no God at all. Surely, the fleshly, frail bond we have with one another transcends our tribes and teams, no? It should, but unfortunately, the Victors of the world refuse to remove their Bible-glasses long enough to see themselves and their fellow primates as they are.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Vicodin is Better Than Jesus

jesus heals

There’s a masochistic vein that runs deep in the bedrock of Christianity. Believing that suffering and pain have higher purposes, many Christians will refuse narcotic pain medications even though taking them would provide immediate relief from many kinds of pain. Lurking in the shadows of this thinking is the notion that since Jesus — the sinless Son of God and redeemer of mankind — suffered unimaginable horrors on the cross, Christians should be willing to patiently and serenely face the just consequences for their sin: pain, suffering, and death. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.) And if they are willing to follow in the steps of the Suffering Servant, then God promises to reward them with eternal life in Heaven; a life free of pain, suffering, and death. Thus, many Christians believe that suffering in the here and now is required if they expect to gain eternal life.

Pain is considered one of the consequences of the curse. Women, for example, have painful childbirth because Adam and Eve ate fruit from a forbidden tree. Genesis 3:16-19 says:

Unto the woman [Eve] he [God] said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Countless Christian women refuse epidurals — my wife included — and other means of reducing pain because they believe that suffering in childbirth is their just desserts for being sinners.

While much is made about Jesus healing people in the Bible, he actually healed very few people. Consider Lazarus:

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Lazarus suffered untold pain and agony — what the Bible calls “evil things” — yet Jesus didn’t lift a finger to feed him or relieve him of his suffering. Instead, Jesus uses Lazarus as a sermon illustration, a poignant reminder to everyone that pain relief awaits in the next life for those who passively suffer in this life. What’s a little bit of starving homelessness compared to a feast-filled lifetime living in a mansion (or room) in God’s Heaven?

Recently, a Fundamentalist Christian family member had surgery that left her in a good bit of pain. Thanks to the current war on opioids, the doctor prescribed her six days of Tramadol for her pain. While this drug certainly can help with light/moderate pain, it is not very effective for severe post-surgical pain (at least not at a one-tablet-every-six-hours level). One person sitting with us — also a devout Fundamentalist — encouraged the family member to take as little of the drug as possible. Whywhen I had a similar surgery, she said, all I took was Tylenol. After a few hours in post-op, the family member was sent home. As she settled in, she mentioned that she was in a lot of pain. How soon can I can another pain pill? she asked. Not for another three hours, my wife replied. I said, you don’t have to wait until six hours are up to take another one. It’s okay to take it every four hours if need be, and you can take Tylenol tooBoth? she incredulously replied. I said, yes, both. Dr. Bruce, on the job.

Many Christians Fundamentalists fear getting addicted to pain medications, so they won’t take them. They would rather suffer than risk addiction or dependence. Many of them have been taught that taking drugs is akin to sorcery. Seriously, Bruce? Yes, seriously. Let me give you an example of this thinking from the True Discernment blog:

The Greek word “pharmakia” literally means “drugs”, and appears five times in the New Testament: in Gal 5:20, Rev 9:21, 18:23, 21:8, and 22:15.

“Pharmakia” is translated into our English Bible as either “witchcraft” or “sorceries”. We also get our English word “pharmacy” from the Greek word “pharmakia”.

In each of the above five passages, “pharmakia”, or “drugs” is listed as a work of the flesh of man as opposed to the Spirit of God working in us.

….

The King James Bible translators translated “pharmakia” as “witchcraft”, because almost no one but witches and sorcerers used drugs 400 years ago. Drugs were most commonly used in pagan worship to hallucinate and to try to get in touch with evil spirits.

This can be serious stuff! In Rev. 21:8, God says that people who are continually characterized by drug use will have no part in the Kingdom of God.

Now many people think that when the New Testament speaks of drug use that it is only talking about Illegal drug use, but I believe it is also speaking of those people who call themselves Christians but are relying on Legal Prescription drugs.  Now I am not saying that everyone who has to take prescription drugs are [sic] part of the people that the New Testament is talking about here, but I have noticed the prevalent and growing disturbing trend within the church of “Christians using on a regular and continuing basis: mind altering prescription pain killers, anti-depressants, nerve pills , and also other strong prescription drugs that if the taker wanted to could not reduce or eliminate the use of  them via their own self control or a life style change.

I have even seen a person who was supposed to be heading up an addictive habit deliverance ministry who had Type 2 diabetes but refused to alter their eating habits but instead chose to rely on an insulin pump to control their sugar levels so the person could eat what they wanted and admittedly said so!  Yes there are people who have Type 1 diabetes and it wouldn’t matter if they altered their eating habits, they would still need to take insulin. But if you can control your eating habits but refuse to and have to rely on a drug because of your refusal then that is a sin. Not to mention the damage that too much unnecessary insulin dependence can do to your body over a long period of time.  How can you teach others how to be delivered of sinful addictive habits if you refuse to give up one yourself? Many people have the mistaken idea today that they need not bring their flesh under control where they are able to.

….

When you mix, prescription drugs, a heavy emphasis on revelation and experiential and emotion driven religion over Biblical Doctrine and obedience to the word then you wind up with a church ripe for deception and lying spirits. The gateways to satanic influences have been thrown wide open. And that is what we are seeing in churches today.

The husband of the aforementioned family member has lived with horrific pain for years — made worse by a botched hip replacement. He should be on narcotic pain management, but because he fears becoming a drug addict, he refuses to ask for help. Instead, he takes Naproxen and suffers. Years ago, when Darvon was still on the market, he would take half a tablet two or three times a day, but only when his pain was really bad. Mustn’t take more than that lest he enter the gateway that leads to addiction to heroin or some other feared street drug, the thinking goes. Taking pain medications would give him quality of life, but thanks to deeply embedded religious beliefs, he will endure needless suffering and pain until he dies.

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I visited countless sick, dying Christians in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and their places of residence. I saw horrific suffering, often exacerbated by refusals to take pain relieving drugs. Many of them saw their suffering as a sign of their true devotion to Christ. After all, the Bible says, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. The Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to patiently endure whatever came their way, and in doing so they would reap great reward. I witnessed “loving” children refuse to let their cancer-ridden parents have morphine because it made them lethargic or caused them to sleep all the time. In their minds, they wanted their moms and dads to go unto the darkness of endless night screaming the name of Jesus.

jesus the great physician

Christians fondly call Jesus The Great Physician, rarely asking what is so “great” about his medical practice. Sure, in the Bible we see Jesus healing a few people, but most of suffering people who came into contact with him went away unchanged. In John 5, the Bible records a story about a pool of water called Bethesda. It was believed that God would periodically send Angels to Bethesda to “stir” the water; to give it healing properties. The first person in the water after the angel stirred the water would immediately be healed of his afflictions. Scores of sick, dying people would gather near the water, hoping to be the first person in when God’s whirlpool began churning.

One day, Jesus came to the pool and noticed a man who had been sick and afflicted for thirty-eight years. This man hoped to one day be the first person in the pool, but because he couldn’t walk, others always made it to the water before him.  Jesus, having oh so great compassion on the man, said to him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. Immediately, the man was made whole. He took up his bed and walked away. Amazing, right? Jesus healed someone! Woo Hoo! And what about all the other sick people lying near the Pool of Bethesda? Jesus left them as they were. The Bible says that the crowd was such that Jesus quickly got out of there.

Sick and afflicted Christians live in hope that Jesus will one day stir the water of their life and miraculously heal them. Such healing never comes, of course, because Jesus has no power to do so. He’s dead, and has remained so for two thousand years. The only Gods who can heal are doctors and other medical professionals. They hold in their hands the power to deliver people from pain and suffering, or to at the very least reduce needless grief and misery. Of course, many Christians believe God uses doctors to heal. Yes, doctors learn medical skills, but it is God who gives them the wherewithal to competently use those skills to alleviate pain and suffering. God is much like President Trump, always wanting/demanding credit for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g good that happens. If this is indeed so, why the middleman? Why not just heal people? With Jesus, The Great Physician, in the operating room, who needs a surgeon or anesthesiologist.

Despite Christian preachers saying otherwise, Jesus is not returning to earth. There is no Promised Land® awaiting his followers. Revelation 21:4 promises:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their [Christians] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Jesus’ disciples believed he would come back in their lifetime. Here we are two thousand years later — in what can best be described as a long con — and Jesus is nowhere to be found. Perhaps, it is time for Christians to admit that he ain’t coming back. He ain’t coming back to take them to their heavenly pain-free reward. He ain’t gonna deliver them from pain and suffering. If this is so, and everything we can see and know says it is, then there is no glory is needlessly suffering. There’s no value in not taking pain medications or refusing to accept other pain-relieving modalities. In this life, Vicodin is better than Jesus. Narcotic drugs (or marijuana) will not make your life free of pain, but they can and will help, often giving life quality you would not otherwise have. The less pain we have, the more we can do in life. Surely, THAT is a worthy goal.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend

pain and suffering

Kirsten Ryken, a writer for the Fundamentalist website The Gospel Coalition, recently wrote a post titled, Why I Thank God for Chronic Pain. Ryken’s article was part personal story and part justification for God allowing her to painfully suffer. Ryken concluded her post with this:

With the eye of faith, I saw Christ on the cross. God, in a human body, taking on physical pain far greater than my own. Thorns in his head, blood dripping down his face, nails in his hands and feet, love in his face. I felt his pain in my own body, the fire in my spine intensifying as I looked at him. But I also felt him holding me like a child.

I knew in my heart in that moment that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). I was completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that my God not only knows what’s wrong with my body even when no human doctor does, he also knows my physical pain more intimately than anyone else ever could. The loneliness of suffering and the frustration of not having answers were taken away in an instant. I felt a physical burden lifted from my body and my heart.

Until that moment, I had never understood the relevance of Christ’s death on the cross to the details of my daily life, my pains and my joys. It was only in the light of the cross that I could make sense of my own suffering. This reminder is the positive result of my pain. In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Calvary. I thank God for the precious gift of my salvation, because on some (very small!) level I have begun to understand the cost of my salvation.

Chronic pain is a constant reminder that my life is not my own; it has been bought with a price.

The narrative Ryken spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.

Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell and hung out with its inhabitants, and then he resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third degree burns over most their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?

Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.

I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? . . .”  Why me, indeed.

Christians invoke the suffering Jesus because it covers up the fact they suffer just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, and that their God, much like the cosmos, yawns with indifference. Jesus, then, becomes the hospice nurse who holds their hands as they face cruelties, indignities, and sufferings beyond imagination. Jesus has promised Christians that he will never leave or forsake them, and he will never allow them to suffer more than they are able. Thus, whatever pain and suffering comes their way, God means it for their good, either to chastise them or teach them a lesson. If Christians will but endure what comes their way, words in an ancient religious text promise that they will be given pain-free bodies after death. Better to think this, many Evangelicals say, than to believe we live in a cold, heartless universe. Why, such a belief leads to despair! Christians say. To that, I reply, maybe for you it does, but it doesn’t have to.

I find comfort in the fact that shit happens, and chronic illness and intractable pain afflict rich and poor, young and old, religious or not. I know that I am not special, and that countless other people are going through pain and suffering as bad as mine and worse. I am not owed a pain-free existence. I have been given life — just one — and it is incumbent upon me to live life to its fullest. I embrace my suffering, not looking to a mythical deity for inspiration or help. I find comfort in the fact that my wife, children, and friends deeply care about me and do what they can to lessen my pain. And I try to do the same when dealing with others who are facing troubles and trials, physical or not. Is there any more any of us can do for each other?  A kind word, a thoughtful action, a tender embrace, these are enough. It is humanism, with its goal of lessening suffering, that shines the brightest. Christianity says endure, promising a divine payoff in the sweet by-and-by. Humanism says we only have one life, let’s do all we can to lessen pain and suffering. Christianity says pain and suffering have a higher purpose, be it correction or testing. Humanism says alleviating pain allows people to live happy lives, and in this cold universe of ours, that’s the best any of us can expect. Despite my pain, or perhaps because of it, I choose Humanism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser