Trusting God in Chronic Pain - Grant Hoffecker
Studies suggest that up to 40% of American workers experience chronic pain - pain that persists for more than 3 months - sometimes unbeknownst to managers and co-workers. For workers, chronic pain can be debilitating and discouraging. If you’re a follower of Jesus suffering from chronic pain, you may find yourself asking, where is God when I’m in pain? Guest Grant Hoffecker has lived and worked with chronic pain for the past 3 years, seeking God in the midst of pain.
- Psalm 42
- Job 23:8-10
- Lamentations 3:16-23
- Grant the Yeti (Grant's Blog)
- The Grape-Nuts Podcast
- When Someone on Your Team Has Chronic Pain (Harvard Business Review)
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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts.
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.
MR: According to the Harvard Business Review, a study suggested that up to 40% of American workers experience chronic pain, that is serious pain that persists for more than three months, and sometimes this is completely unknown to managers and co-workers. For workers who have chronic pain, it can be debilitating, discouraging, really a heavy load. And if you're a follower of Jesus suffering in this way, you may very well find yourself asking, where is God when I'm in this pain? Why isn't the Lord helping me or healing me? Today, we talk with our guest, Grant Hoffecker, and Grant has worked for LinkedIn as a Senior Software Engineer, and he's worked for Google as a developer relations engineer.
At LinkedIn, he was the leader of LinkedIn's In Christ workplace fellowship group. He's an advisory board member For Faith and Work Movement. His passions in life include reconciliation in the workplace, basketball and adventuring outdoors. He writes about faith and tech at granttheyeti.medium.com, and co-hosts the Grape-Nuts podcast, where he has lighthearted conversations about the small things that stir up our passions and bring joy to the new day.
Grant has lived and worked with chronic pain for the last three years, seeking God in the midst of great difficulty, and that's a lot of what we're gonna talk about today. So just first off, Grant, thank you so much for being with us. We're really glad to have you on our podcast today.
Grant Hoffecker: Thank you, Mark, I appreciate you having me on.
MR: Okay, so Grant, the question everybody wants to ask, first of all, why Grant the Yeti?
GH: Yeah. It's a little silly. I'm not the tallest person in the world, but I'm pretty tall, I'm 6 ft 5 or 198 cm, if you're in metric, and I was at a friend's bachelor party and someone who I hadn't met described me as a Yeti, and I thought that was pretty neat, so I thought when I was creating my online personality to be Grant the Yeti.
MR: That's so great. So for our listeners sake, just to be clear, you're not Grant the Yeti 'cause you're like those tumblers that are really awesome that everybody uses, you're like the big beast that lives in the Himalayas, and so you're the Abominable Snowman. Okay, Grant the Yeti, anyway, I love that. It just made me laugh but I also thought to myself like, I bet you there are a whole lot of people out there who don't know what a yeti is other than that really cool... You know?
GH: Yes. 100%.
MR: Anyway, alright, so I started light-hearted, but we're gonna change pretty quickly here. I mentioned that you have had some really difficult years and some chronic debilitating injuries and pain. Will you tell us about that?
GH: Yeah. I can share my story. So in the summer of 2019, my parents began the process of getting divorced, shortly thereafter, I sustained a foot injury, which really restricted my ability to exercise and play. And I mention those things because those created... Or primarily because of those, my mind went into a very unhealthy state, very fearful. And I believe that largely contributed to my chronic pain, and I believe it directly caused my foot... I had multiple debilitating, chronic multi-year injuries including another foot injury and knee injury, a back injury, a shoulder injury, and then the injury on both of my wrists. And yeah, that was... It didn't all happen at once, but one would pop up after the other, it felt like I could never escape.
It was very difficult for me because I felt like I was losing the things that I love the most. Losing my family at the beginning of it, or at least it felt like that. Then losing the ability to play. That's really important to me. You mentioned basketball, that's big, and it's an outlet, losing that was difficult. And then there are so many beautiful moments in life, but pain could be so distracting. And so having the inability to sit comfortably or the ability to open doors without it hurting my wrists or... I have a son that's almost 1 years old, and so being able to pick him up without having pain in my knee, back and shoulder, or having that pain is distracting and it's very discouraging to me, so it's easily the most difficult season in my life, these past three, four years.
MR: Wow. There's so much there, Grant. And partly folks who may not know who you are may not know you're fairly young, so it's not like you're a 90-year-old man who might anticipate things. So that's that , but you also really point out the chronic pain, it's not just about the physical. Right? It's about the physical and the mental, emotional, spiritual, it's about what's going on inside, right?
GH: 100%. Yeah, and we could really dive into that, but I do believe there were some physical realities which created the pain in the different parts of my body, like I shared, and I had a long journey of trying to discover what would be helpful to me. I tried different medicines that I could chronicle, different therapies I could chronicle. But what ultimately made a trick or made an impact for me was the mental. I read a book called The Way Out by, I think, Alan Gordon, and it talks about this fear pain cycle, and so yeah You mentioned physical versus mental, to me, yeah, so intertwined.
MR: Well, I really wanna hear it, I'm sure listeners wanna hear more about kind of what has helped you, but before we get there, when the pain was bad, now you're working in an industry that requires a tremendous amount of investment. Personally, time, right? You're not working 40 easy hours a week, and then clocking out. How did the pain affect your work life?
GH: Dramatically, fundamentally, only all of the different injuries that I mentioned, distracting, I think anyone with chronic pain of whatever type can say it really is consuming in terms of your mind space that you just tend to think about it 'cause it's distracting, but for me, my wrists, that was... It felt like a career ending injury. We talk about athletes having those. I'm a software engineer, at least I was at the time, and we code and we need to use the keyboard, and we need to interact with the computer. And so I couldn't. I got to a point where I couldn't type without intense wrist pain in both my wrists, and so I needed to stop working. I took significant time off of work and I started brainstorming what careers could I potentially switch to that are less keyboard dependent? And I was kind of in a state of despair, if I'm honest, because most careers now require interaction with the computer and so that was very difficult for me. So it really fundamentally changed the way I interact with computers, which is how my profession operates. And yeah, it was very difficult.
MR: That makes sense. Now, as you're going through this, were you able to share what you were going through with your colleagues or with your bosses? Did you feel free to be able to do that?
GH: That's a great question. I'm actually very thankful. My boss at the time also had chronic pain in the wrists. Once I had this injury, it was surprising the number of stories I would hear at work of other software engineers who had it. And so he was very receptive and supportive for me seeking care as well as taking time off. And so I felt like I was able to talk about it. I know maybe not everyone is able to do that in their jobs, but I did feel supported by people, like I said before, I felt still in a state of despair, 'cause nothing seemed to be helping or working, no, so it was a little bit of both.
MR: Well, so good you were able to share that with someone who understood and was supportive. So as you're in this then, and you're a Christian and you know the Lord and you want to serve the Lord. What's going on with your relationship with God as you're going through all this?
GH: Yeah, I appreciate you asking. I don't think I... How would I say this? It was a season of loss for me. The loss of my parents' marriage was extremely difficult on me, that was... The foot injury was the first time I had broken a bone and like I said, losing so much that I loved. I remember so many days and nights just crying and how the Lord met me oftentimes was just in song, and I would listen to... John Mark McMillan is one of my favorites, and he talks about, I don't have an answer for heartbreaks or cancer, but a savior who suffers them with me and singing and thinking about that God knows my pain. I don't know where he is right now, but I know he knows my pain, and I'm fighting to believe that He can restore me eventually, and that was kind of my hope.
MR: Wow, I appreciate your honesty. Those things can be very challenging to faith and I'm glad you found, for example, the music could be helpful. Now I happen... I have an idea, and you and I haven't talked about this, but I have an idea, you also found the Psalms to be helpful, and the reason is... I checked out your blog basically, the Yeti, you have these amazing paraphrases of the Psalms in there, and I've checked out many of them and read them, I thought, these are amazing. Were you basically... It's not like you're Eugene Peterson, and I don't think... Do you know Hebrew? I don't think you know Hebrew.
GH: No, no. I was going off of the English.
MR: Right, so you're not saying these are meant to be accurate or paraphrased actual translations in Hebrew, but what you're doing is you're taking the Psalm and really putting it in your words, in a really gutsy way. So my first question would be, did that make a difference for you when you were in the pain to be able... 'Cause the Psalms are so full of people crying out in pain and agony to God. Was that a helpful thing to you?
GH: It was. I started doing that about two years ago, and it was a point, like I said, most difficult time in my life, and to be honest, I was having difficulty connecting with the Scriptures, and I don't know how I got the idea, but I tried it out once and for me, it helped me connect with the emotions, the intent, where the author was coming from, and I was able to relate in a way that I hadn't before. And so, yeah, a lot of the times, yeah, it was surprising, it was emotional to connect with them in that way. And so I would absolutely say it's been helpful, it's been the primary way that I've stayed connected to the Scriptures in this difficult season.
MR: I love that. And I think that is so true. And for those who haven't really worked with the Psalms, it can be shocking how honest they are. So many years ago, I took a sabbatical from my work and I had almost 150 days, I'm like, I'm gonna do a Psalm a day, just for my devotions, and I'm like into the second week, I'm thinking this is just all complaining. I knew the Psalms, but I knew the more uplifting ones. And in that season of my life, I wasn't in the same place you were, but I now having lived a lot more know that sometimes the Psalms give us language. So one of the ones I... You did an amazing translation of this before, it's not a translation, that's not the right word, it's really like almost an embodiment of it. It's a poetic embodiment of this. Psalm 42.
Would you read that for us 'cause I just would love... You can say anything you want, but if you could read it, I just think that would be very moving and fascinating.
GH: Yeah. And before I do, like I said, and I'm not going for a Pulitzer, I'm not claiming to be the best writer. But this is my journey to connect with the Scriptures, and I'm putting it out there so I could reference it in the future, as well as anyone who cares to see how I engage with the Scriptures like I did. So with that said, this is one of the first ones I rewrote almost two years ago, and I wrote this for Psalm 42. I'm desperate for you, God. I feel it deep down in my bones. I need you. Who I am needs who you are. The real and true God. When can we meet face-to-face? I'm drowning in my tears here, and all I hear is people asking me, where is your God now? But in the darkest days I remember how I used to be so happy leading others in celebration of the goodness of God.
So I ask myself, why are you so sad and anxious? Put your hope in God, and one day you will praise him again. He will get you out of this. He's your God. I'm an anxious wreck, so I must remember everything I know about you, God, but your world is too much for me. I have been hurt so many times by people and things you put in my life, but God ensures that what happens to me during the day is for my good, and at night his song of hope gives me peace. So I know you're my rock, but why does it feel like you've forgotten me, and why do I cry when others hurt me? I feel so alone when everyone says you don't exist. So I ask myself, why are you so anxious? Put your hope in God and one day you will praise him again. He will get you out of this. He's your God.
MR: I just find that so moving and if any of our listeners are saying, oh, is that a faithful representation of the Psalm? Go look, it really is, but what you've done is taking these words that sometimes can feel a little archaic, because they are, and you just made them deeply and profoundly personal and real. And I've just gotta say to me that it's been very inspirational, but it makes so much sense that it's you're in the middle of your struggle and pain to be able to use the Psalms in a very personal way to connect with God and to seek hope and to cry out to God. My tears have been my food day and night. I mean, that's... The Psalm gives us such freedom to say that. Yeah, go ahead.
GH: I really appreciate the word freedom that you just used. I felt... I don't know if vindicated is the right word, but like I validated, you know, all of these emotions of despair and frustration, and I'm a mixed bag. I've got the ups and downs, and one day I'm feeling great and the next day I can't get out of bed or I'm just laying on the ground hopeless. And so I feel so validated and free to experience those and to be raw before God.
MR: Yeah. I love that. You know, a bunch of years ago I actually wrote a book on the Psalms called No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. And had I had access to yours, [laughter] I would put some of those in there 'cause they're so great. Actually, it's really funny too, because back then Amazon thought my book was a wrestling book, [laughter] and so it literally ends up on all these ultimate fighting collections.
GH: That's hilarious. [laughter]
MR: I know. I know. It was... I just, anyway. Hey, a question for you, so I'm sure as people have known what you're going through, people at work or people at your church or whatever, they say different things to you. And I'm sure some of them have been well intentioned, but not all that helpful. Maybe others have been helpful. So if there's somebody out there who has a friend who is really dealing with chronic pain and some hard stuff, any advice for that person in terms of either here's some things you might say or do or here's some things you might not say or do?
GH: No, I appreciate that question. I was just thinking about this. Let me just gather my thoughts for a second. What I did not appreciate is when people confidently come to me with this is why you're in pain. And like you mentioned, it could be well intentioned, it could be even very biblical of, you know, God is doing great things in this time for you. I do believe that's true, and we could talk about that. But what I appreciated more is when people entered into my suffering, people felt my pain in as much as they could. That's what Jesus did, that's what my wife has done, that's what my closest friends have done, they see and understand my pain, they mourn with me, they understand and work around like, okay, I think his wrists hurt a ton, so I'm gonna drive today. Or they'll just try to lift burdens where they can. And I shared when I started thinking of how to approach this from a different mental perspective, how can I approach this pain with less fear and less pressure to get better? I asked people, I said...
Now, other people might have different experiences and have different preferences, but I said, please don't ask me how I'm doing. Don't ask me how the pain is. I will tell you if there's a change. And for me, that was how it's helpful to... I could share in my terms. That was very valuable to me. I recently broke my foot again and that was, it's been very difficult. And some people who I don't know, come up to me and say, "Wow, that must hurt a whole lot." And in those moments with my history, it's very difficult to respond authentically because I think people are just being playful and curious. They don't mean anything by it, but it's hard. It's heavy to be like, "Hey, do you remember that you're injured? Hey, do you remember that you're injured?" And so for me, people ask me like, the similar question of how can we care for you? And for me, my answer was I will update you as I'm processing this. And shoulder the burden with me as you see fit. And be a good friend to me in as much as you can just in life beyond this injury. Help me have hope for a better tomorrow in all aspects of life.
MR: Something you said, I think... I mean, thanks for all of what you said, but in the middle of that you said someone could ask, you know, how can we care for you? Or what do you need? Because people are different. When I'm going through hard things and including physical pain, I like going to a shell, I like to ball myself off from all things. My wife is like the opposite. She wants to connect, and there's not right or wrong there but it's good to know what people need.
I expect you probably read Job or have thought about Job and Job's friends are like the best and the worst. So first they go and they just sit with the guy for days. Right? Just being with him which was so great. And then they felt like they had to tell him what was going, why he was doing this. And that wasn't great for Job. And in the end, God says they weren't right. [laughter] That was... So I think we can use Job as a good sort of biblical case for what you just said. It's about being with people in it. And then discovering what it is that is helpful or not to them.
GH: A hundred percent.
MR: Well, now, okay, the pain thing is a thing. And the injuries, that's been tough. But there's something else too that I'm aware of. And that is after, you know, you worked at LinkedIn for a number of years, and then you got this new job at Google. And then Google decides to do these massive layoffs, including you.
MR: How are you doing? Well, I'm asking the how you're doing question. [laughter]
GH: That's okay.
MR: I guess I'm supposed to here, but tell us about that and how that's been for you.
GH: I showed up and that indicates to you, I think, an invitation to ask me these questions, but thank you for being cognizant. Yeah. So in the midst of me taking that leave from work with the wrist pain, I started exploring different careers. How can I find something less dependent on coding and typing? And I found a role at Google that was very interesting to me because it required less coding and more communication, verbal as well as written. And also at the time, the pain hadn't changed, but I was able to, praise God, learn some... Well, I was able to find these technologies that exist for voice dictation, voice coding, as well as eye tracking. That really helped give me hope that I can maybe even stay in the profession with the current level of pain. But I did wanna take a step away from it.
And so finding this role was very exciting to me. Worked hard to prepare and interview and so on. And when I eventually heard that I got in, it was a very emotional moment for me after a season where I felt like nothing was going for me. Receiving some, you know, a blessing in that sense. It was... I remember the moment. I went to my kitchen. I listened to a song and just cried and the song is If by Beautiful Eulogy. And it talks about like, God is a God who gives and takes away and can we be content with him through it all? And I just cried and realizing that he's taken so much from me, God has, but in this moment he's given me something and I can be thankful for that. And so I was at LinkedIn for six years, but six weeks into Google, I was part of those mass layoffs.
And I went to that same part of the kitchen and held my son in my arms and just held him tightly and cried and listened to that song again, that he's the God who gives and takes away. And so that was difficult. But I'm trying to... Holding things with an open hand, I think is a metaphor which comes to my mind, which God is teaching me. One day when I'm old and gray or when everyone, at some point, will lose, I guess, everything that they have on this earth, including their health. For me, I'm not even 30 yet and I have in very real way, lost so much of it. So like I said open hand, be thankful for when he does give you beautiful things and trust him that he's walking with us and wrestle... He invites us to wrestle with him through the periods of suffering. And so still unemployed. I'm seeking for a new employment. But, yeah, these past few months have been difficult, but I'm thankful for the extra time with my wife and son.
MR: Well, Grant, again and again in this conversation I've just gotta tell you I'm so grateful for your openness, because I think sometimes Christians feel a real burden like, "Oh I've gotta be up or I've gotta... " You know? And we don't know that freedom to... With the Lord sometimes we don't know that freedom.
MR: And that's... We already talked about the Psalms. I mean, if the Psalms don't give you the freedom, what else will give you? But I grew up in a family where if you were down, my job was to cheer you up. Literally, that was the language. Go cheer up Grant. And I would cheer you up by saying positive things and that's where I came from. And somewhere along in my life, probably once I got married, and that did not work with my wife, I realized wait a minute, scripture says we're to weep with those who weep. Right? And honestly, I'm really sorry in one sense that you're experiencing this as a young person. But I'm also really struck by partly how it's deepening and broadening your own faith, but then your willingness to share it with others, because I know there are people listening to this right now who are really right where you are.
And it just... Even to hear another brother or sister in Christ say that, it's just like, yeah, that's what I need to hear. And at the same time, like you said to... And then also acknowledge where God has blessed you. You know, and I'm glad for your wife and your son you've mentioned, I'm sure there's other blessings too, but that to try and weigh that out. And so I think that's really awesome. So is there... We've talked about the Psalms, we've mentioned Job. Any other scripture... This isn't a test. So the answer could be “well no.” Any other scripture that has been particularly meaningful to you as you've gone through this?
GH: I was hoping to actually read a part of Job.
GH: Yeah. And again, like the Psalms, I find Job to be highly poetic and emotional. And so this particular section I really relate to and find hope in. This is Job 23, starting in verse eight. And I'm reading the ESV. "Behold I go forward, but he is not there, backward, but I do not perceive him. On the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him. He turns to the right hand, but I do not see him." Job is looking for God here. This next verse he says, "but he knows the way that I take, when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold." And that just kind of wrecks me because it's like Job is saying, "I can't see you God, but I know you see me and you're refining me, and you're gonna make me into gold." And I have to believe that there is a better tomorrow, that there's a meaning for this and to see him express it like that, it gives me hope.
MR: Well, thank you for sharing that and that tension, I'm guessing you, and I haven't talked about this, but I'm guessing you're also probably aware of Lamentations 3 and what we find there. So it's got one of the most popular and beloved parts in the whole Bible, which is the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They're new every morning, great is your faithfulness, which I mean, everybody loves, but a whole lot of us don't know the context in which... I actually wanna read a little of that.
MR: You've inspired me to read because when you put it in context, it's like what you've said and it's stunning. So this is what... This is the context. And there's a lot more before this that's similar, but this is what it says beginning in verse 16, "God has made my teeth grind on gravel and he made me cower in ashes. My soul is bereft of peace. I've forgotten what happiness is. And so I say, gone is my glory and all that I had hoped for from the Lord, the thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall, my soul continually thinks of it and it's bowed down within me. But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They're new every morning. Great is your faithfulness."
Now, I can't even read that without tearing up because it's such a powerful... I mean, yeah, that passage is such great news, but in context you get that this is somebody who is experiencing the utter, utter suffering and just feeling like God has betrayed me. And in the middle of that, then you have this but I remember this, so you get the tension of real faith and real, as you say, wrestling with God. Wrestling with the truth of who God is and the truth of your own situation.
GH: Yeah. That forgotten what happiness is just really hit me. Just this past weekend we were at a church retreat and there was a high ropes course. Everyone was able to participate. Unfortunately, I wasn't 'cause I broke my foot. And I think someone close to me in a caring way asked like, how do you feel? Are you... Do you, you know, how are you feeling that you didn't get to participate? And in the moment I said, well, I've kind of gotten used to not participating. And I should make it clear, my injuries are chronic, they're debilitating. I'm not dying. In many ways I am healthy. And I know there's maybe a lot of... Maybe there's people listening to this in different states than I am. But for for me, that's sort of forgetting what it's like to be happy or to be to have joy using my body, I think that just gets me. And so that's what I was mentioning when sometimes people remind me, oh, how'd you break your foot? Or why aren't you using your keyboard? It's like a smack in the face of like, "Hey, remember how you're not normal or you're not healthy." It's like, ugh. Like the sort of forgetting, being forced to remember, you know, that.
MR: So I think what you've shared today, as I've said, will be of a great help to many who are in hard time, could be physical suffering or other things that are debilitating and you said distracting and that's so right. That it's like it never leaves your mind. And not to mention your body. So there are those. And then I know we have people who they're listening and they're thinking, okay I have a colleague that's like this, I'm not sure what I should do. I wanna do something, I wanna let them know. So do you have any... I mean, you sort of did it before, but I just wanna underscore. Sort of a word of advice to someone who says, yeah, I wanna show that I care for my colleague. I don't know what to do.
GH: Right. I think there's two aspects of it. On one hand, like I said, try to see how... Listen as much as you can and then ask the question of like, or suggest, okay, I identify some way I could help. I'm gonna help you in this way. Or you could ask them, how would you like me to talk with you about this? Or would you be open to me brainstorming potential solutions? It could be frustrating when people say like, "Oh, have you tried... " And then they name something and maybe that something is good, but it didn't work for the person suffering. And so it's just like, yes, I've tried. So anyway, so having that sort of asking open-ended questions like, how would you... I noticed that you're going through a lot. How would you appreciate me talking to you about this or maybe not at all, and would you be open to me trying to see how I could help you?
And I think that that demonstrates a lot of care and respect. And if they just for example, say, "Yeah, I'm all ears for your brainstorming of how I could ease my pain, how I can overcome this." And then doing research to help them. Once I've... I told a number of individuals, I'm open if you know of anything, people have suggested things to me. And that sort of openness led me from severe dietary changes to like, I did mentioned physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, medicine. The different physical therapies like I shared. But ultimately finding that not only just talk therapy, but a pain reprocessing therapy in this method that I described earlier, you know, I had to try so many different things. And so I wouldn't, if you have a... Like I said, asking in the way that's showing respect for them and how they would appreciate it.
If they do show some openness and if they... You could help suggest things. For me, I think it's very under... It's not well known that this sort of mental approach that I shared can really make a dramatic difference. You know, I forget the exact timing, but on the scale of like a month to two month of practicing this specific therapy, I was able to go from my knee dramatic, it sharply hurts when doing something like squatting to no pain at all. And that was I did nothing else. I mean, I was rehabbing the whole time, but the one difference was just there. So I would encourage people who might have a friend going through chronic pain, you know, checking out that book, it could be helpful to them. Maybe it won't be, it's not for everyone. But that's a long answer, but that's what comes to my mind.
MR: Well, thank you for that answer, because what strikes me in it, one of the things is it's just the asking. I think that is where a lot of times we think I gotta say something, I gotta make a statement. But you're saying really, you could ask. And the asking is, as you said, it's respectful. The other thing that strikes me is when you're going through pain, you also feel very helpless. And by asking, you're... That's also an empowering thing. You're also saying you have a choice here, you can tell me what you need. And I think that in and of itself is an act of love and care.
Well, Grant, I mean, this has really been a very wonderful conversation. So thank you for sharing with us, for opening up and spending this time with us in this podcast.
GH: Absolutely. I appreciated your curiosity and your questions. I appreciated you sharing those scriptures with me and spending the time.
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