It’s hard to say where my day begins because so often one day blurs into the next with an inability to find restful sleep. You see I have a pretty intense arthritis that’s keeps me not just from finding rest but at this point in the progression of the disease, I am rarely ever able to escape the pain that comes from the damage that has been done to my body.
I share all of this not to evoke a response from you but to share that I write my story from the place of deep struggle and hurt. In the last year, I have experienced a steep decline in my physical health. I am the most limited physically that I have ever been and in the most intense pain I have ever gone through. This is what I want to speak on. How do we worship when life is hard? When life has not gone the way we would like it to? What if life feels really unfair with the circumstances we’re facing?
I know, a bunch of softball easy questions, right?
Often, as people tell the story of their health struggles, it’s in the frame of reference of “What I went through to get to where I am.” While these stories can be great and maybe even inspirational, they tend to speak of the past and have the nuance of “I’m better or stronger in the here and now.” As I am writing this blog entry it is 3:18am in the middle of a restless night that is being fueled by an upset stomach caused no doubt by the medication that is supposed to be helping me. And next the option before me is to go up a classification of medication that may help take away some more of the pain, but it may also affect my ability to think and function.
None the less, I have chosen to write from the place I am in now, in the midst of my current struggles. In the past few months, my disease has taken a step forward, further limiting my physical abilities and with that comes more pain and discomfort as well as the depression and frustration with my life being different than what I want it to be.
One of the hardest aspects to process is that recognition and acceptance of my life not being what I wanted it to look like. I never would have imagined not being able to get down on the floor and play with my son or go camping with family because of my limitations. It’s led me to wrestle with God over how he was answering my prayers. How could or would he allow such pain? For many, I have seen this take them away from God. For me, this is where I have seen my faith blossom and grow. It has drawn me toward Jesus. Of course I have seen the enemy attack me with the lie of “See? This means Jesus is not real or you don’t believe.” But the Holy Spirit has corrected that with Jesus’s own struggle. And I don’t believe God wants me to be in pain or suffer.
As Jesus prayed in the garden the night before he was crucified, he asked God to take the suffering away. Jesus wondered if he could handle what was before him, that I can relate with. As Jesus suffered on the cross, he cried out feeling alone and forsaken. That too is a feeling I can relate to. But this feeling drives the focus to be on me. It’s easy to go to the place where I feel sorry for myself. I have to remind myself I am not alone. God is with me.
Back to Jesus, what does Jesus do? In the end, he submits to God the Father. He showed us how to pray by saying, “Not my will but your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” He submitted to what the Father asked him to do. This is what has driven me and drives me now. “God, what do you want me to do with this? My pain? Hurt?” There are all kinds of promises in his word. He has a plan. He does not waste. In all things God works for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. So then, what is God asking me to do today? How can I love my wife in this place today? My son? My neighbor? What does that look like? In this, my focus has gone from being on myself to God and others.
Focusing on others and how I can love them from this place is difficult. I have a hard time staying grounded in truth. The impact of not being able to coach my son’s team one day or the things he and my wife miss out on as a result of my limitations is a constant battle. Saying no to good things even when I may be able to do them – but not without added pain if I don’t rest – is a challenge. As my condition progresses the reality is I will impact others more and will need more help. This becomes a mental battle that drives my depression and pushes me to the place of feeling like a burden on those around me.
The other side of this is the struggle to receive the love that others display when caring for me. Recognizing that others are blessed in helping me is something I have to remind myself. I am so blessed when I get to help others, I have to remember how I I feel about getting to serve those whom I can. This is what needs to be my thought process when the concern or lie of being a burden to others has warped my ability to ask for help.
Sharing my story and allowing God to use my experience has been immensely critical in the process of finding joy in my suffering. It’s sounds contradictory, but true joy can come from suffering. That is the picture of what Jesus did on the cross. As I’ve been vulnerable about my hurt I have seen others find joy as they’ve done the same. As I have been willing, God has put me in places where I could speak uniquely to someone wrestling with depression and suicide. This recognition that I have something to offer is a truth that needs to be embraced. The enemy attacks us with so many lies of not being worthy or capable because of our circumstances. The truth is the opposite of such lies. Even in begging the Lord to take suffering away, God speaks, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” And as I have offered my pain and suffering and submitted my life for God’s will, I have found peace and joy in my suffering.
My final thought to leave you with is this idea of what healing and or a miracle looks like in your life. Years ago, I was anointed with oil and prayed for healing by one of our pastors and I did not receive physical healing. So often what we want is blurred by the limitations we have. We are people who cannot even comprehend what God has for us. Looking back, I can see that the healing I received was a spiritual healing. My miracle in that prayer time was granted in allowing the thorn to stay in my side. The very thing that has kept me crying out to God has been my greatest blessing. It’s hard to not see blessing in my hardships. I have been allowed to walk with so many because of what God has walked with me through. From being present with parents who have lost children, families torn apart by addiction to seeing generations of curses being stopped by the radical healing of people coming to know Jesus and trusting him instead of allowing the brokenness of their past drive them. Who am I to be invited into so many people’s lives? Moses asked this question and God said, “I am with you.” It is a question I have asked myself many times and in wrestling with it, I remember Emmanuel, God is with me.
I could quote the whole book but in Romans 8, Paul speaks of living in accordance with the Spirit instead of living in the flesh. Paul says in the Spirit is life and peace, and in sharing in his suffering we also share in his glory. In Romans 8:18 Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” This has been my experience and what I have seen in others. When my focus is too narrow, just absorbed in the right here and now, my sin and brokenness overwhelm me. Stepping back, trying to and choosing to look at the bigger picture, allows me to realize what is important. It helps me to know that this season, as hard as it might be, it will be a blessing.