Conversation With Esther Smith
Esther has been a friend of our ministry for several years. She even contributed a chapter to our Leader’s Guide (session guide for support groups). Esther battles chronic pain and is an LPC, who uses her professional expertise and personal experience to minister to others who are hurting. She is a published author on chronic illness and other subjects. Please check out Esther’s website for information about her books and other chronic pain/illness resources. It will be well worth your visit.
- When did you first begin to experience chronic pain/illness?
My experience with chronic pain and illness began in fits and starts. Without going into the whole saga, I can think of symptoms that I now connect to my current illness that started as far back as middle school and reappeared at different points in high school and college. More significant symptoms started for me in my early twenties and it was also around this time that a chiropractor injured my back. It took about ten years or so of significant symptoms before I was finally diagnosed with lupus and hypermobility syndrome.
- How would you characterize your faith at the beginning of your struggle, and how has your faith changed as a result of chronic illness? How has God walked with you on this journey?
My chronic illness has impacted my faith in different ways at different times. There was a time after my back was injured when I was struggling with severe pain and significant limitations. I remember thinking to myself, “Something needs to change. I need something to help me through.” And this led me to really reexamine my faith and what Scripture had to say about my suffering. I started to do a lot of writing that centered around trying to understand what God was doing and this was a time when my faith really grew. I strongly felt my need for God and experienced a dependence on him I had never felt before.
In more recent years, I’ve had new symptoms flare up that have been less physically difficult, but more difficult on me spiritually. Instead of feeling a desire to run towards God, I’ve experienced more sadness, confusion, and weariness. The struggle feels long at this point. When old symptoms flare or new symptoms pop up, I start to think, “Ok God, how long is this going to last? Haven’t I learned everything you need to teach me?” I still trust that God is working, but I feel physically and spiritually tired.
What encourages me is knowing that God’s closeness to me has never depended on me. I know that he walks with me no matter how I feel. No matter the season I am going through. No matter the strength of my faith. No matter the amount of my doubt. His nearness has never rested on my spiritual highs and lows. It has always rested on who he is and what he has promised me. That is something I hold on to lately.
- How did your training and career as an LPC (licensed professional counselor) assist you in dealing with this difficult challenge? How did that become a catalyst for helping others?
I went through the process of becoming a licensed counselor at the height of my symptoms. The years I was going to school and training to become licensed were my worst years of chronic pain. Driving to work and counseling for a few afternoons each week was extremely difficult for me physically, but also so beneficial to my mental and spiritual health.
At that time, there was no way around the fact that most of my energy needed to go to my own self-care and my own upkeep of my body. But I also needed a place where I could serve others. For just a few hours each week, I would mentally set aside my own struggles and focus on other people. I think this really helped me avoid the potential trap of becoming too inwardly focused. Counseling was and continues to be a way I experienced what Proverbs 11:25 describes—“Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
- Tell us a little about resources and points of emphasis in your ministry to those dealing with chronic illness/pain?
When I first started struggling with my health, I found a lack of resources that really seemed to get what I was going through. This has led me to direct much of my ministry towards helping people cope with the physical, spiritual, and emotional impact of living with chronic illness.
Over the years, I have done a lot of writing on this topic. I have written two self-published booklets and a devotional that address topics such as grief, work, rest, self-care, shame, guilt, and faith within the context of struggling with physical health problems.
Recently, I also started an online Christian meditation class for people who struggle with stress, anxiety, and chronic pain/illness. This eight-week class helps people learn meditation and other skills to help them cope with their struggle in a way that aligns with their faith.
I also serve people through online counseling. I use EMDR therapy and biblical counseling and have seen that combination be very helpful for people who live with chronic health struggles.
- Share a little bit about your new book coming out. What is it about and can it have any application to those with chronic pain and illness?
I am so excited about my new book coming out this May! It’s called A Still and Quiet Mind: 12 Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts, and it definitely has application for people who struggle with chronic illness. Chronic illness doesn’t just impact our bodies. It impacts our emotions, our faith, and also the way we think. Often, it leads to unwanted thoughts about ourselves, God, and our circumstances. My goal in this book is to help people practically know how to deal with a wide range of unwanted thoughts that come up for various reasons. Anxious and depressed thoughts. Intrusive thoughts. Sinful thoughts. Thoughts connected to past trauma. These are all categories of thoughts that commonly occur within the context of chronic illness, and my goal is to help people know what to do with them.
Thank you, Esther, for sharing your story and perspective with us! We pray that God will continue to bless you in all the ways that you serve Him!
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