This post is part of an ongoing series on ministering to people in pain. Click here to see all the posts in this series.
“In a practical sense, this is a book of good news about bad news. The bad news is no surprise: We know that life inevitably brings times of loss and pain, often unfairly, often without warning. We know, at least in part, the good news as well. We understand that it is possible to live through these times of pain and disorientation in ways that result in wisdom, maturity, and prosperity for our souls. What we are less clear about, however, is how to make this happen…”
Thus begins Gay Hubbard in her book More Than an Aspirin. In the book, Hubbard takes on the task of answering this quandary and explores thought patterns and practical actions that enable us to manage pain well. It’s the best book I know of on the subject of pain management and suffering from a Christian perspective.
Hubbard calls us to see effective pain management as a part of good stewardship and discipleship. This note is part of what makes it unique - and gives it a pervading undercurrent of hope. We can’t eliminate pain in most cases, but we can choose to live through it in a way that helps us to choose life, hold ourselves open to joy, and nurture strength.
It is this form of pain management Hubbard lays out in her book. I have found she gracefully walks the line between being a comforter and a challenger, the line between a hug and a good kick-in-the-pants. She will not offer platitudes or empty promises, and she acknowledges walking through pain in this way is challenging. But she holds to the bed-rock surety that God can bring good from our pain. So she encourages us to “commit to managing our pain in ways that helps to bring this about.”
I will exercise great self-restraint and outline only one helpful snippet of Hubbard’s wisdom for you today. I encourage you to get a copy of the book because there’s a lot more where this came from.
MEDDSS Model for Self-Care
Hubbard uses the acronym MEDDSS for her model for self-care. This model, she says, allows us “to choose life one step at a time as an act of discipleship.” Self-care in this sense is essential to redemptively managing our pain in the way Hubbard describes.
Take the next right step and do what you can, no matter how small
Mastery is refusing to surrender to our painful circumstances by accepting the role of victim. It says we always have the power to act and choose, even if it’s something as simple as getting out of bed in the morning. But mastery also remembers the true source of our strength to act: God’s enabling power. Mastery asks, “What can I do?” and then does it, even if it’s in the smallest of things.
Allow your body to strengthen your soul
Exercise doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as a 10 minute walk. Studies have found exercise to be as effective as medication for some forms of depression. Exercise values our bodies as God’s creation. And it acknowledges the complex connection between our bodies and souls.
Not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of healthful foods
The Diet/Food part of MEDDSS encourages good nutrition. It also frees us to choose food as a part of our pain management (like traditional comfort food or a good cup of tea). The key is for the food to be a thoughtful choice, not an unconscious, uncontrolled means to handle our pain. The Goldilocks principle is key here: not too much, not too little, but just the right amount.
Take the drugs prescribed to me in a way that enables me to function more effectively
Medication (or things like vitamins) can be a tool that enables us to function more effectively and strengthens our discipleship. But we must pay attention not just to what we take, but why and how we take it. We must not misplace our hope and expect a pill alone to solve our problems, but rather see it as a part of the whole.
Not too much, not too little, but the right amount for effective functioning
Sleep is a practice of restraining ourselves to rest. Most adults require 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep is often linked to our emotional stability, and the choice to sleep may enable us to better receive God’s grace: “behaviors demonstrating love, kindness, patience, and self-control are not the fruit of sleep deprivation.” We must make sleep a priority, not something that’s optional. We may have to implement behaviors, routines, and practices to encourage good sleep habits.
Invest time and energy in your spiritual growth
We acknowledge that all of our life—including struggles and failures—plays a significant role in our relationship with God, and we look for how the choices we make in each area of life can deepen that relationship. We embrace forms of worship, communities, books, music, and other materials that feed and challenge our spiritual growth in this particular place and time in our journey.
What Do I Do With This?
- Get a copy of More Than an Aspirin on your shelf. It’s an excellent resource both for your own reference and to be able to lend to others when they might be struggling.
- Encourage others to take their MEDDSS as you're supporting them through a season of pain. Begin with Mastery, emphasizing their ability to choose and act. Encourage them in healthy self-care using this model. Remember it’s based on small steps in the right direction and small choices made each day.
- Model healthy discipleship-oriented self-care in your own life. The model for self-care as described here isn’t about self-indulgence—it’s about putting yourself in a place to live as a more effective disciple of Jesus, and it will position you to minister more effectively to others.