~~The month of April 2017 has virtually disappeared for me and will remain a blank page in my calendar for all time. I began the month with a physical ailment that progressed to the point of needing a minor surgical procedure to address it. While I am attempting to keep it all in perspective, I can assure you that physically, it has been the most painful experience of my life, and has revealed a serious flaw in my spiritual life. Perhaps – I’m believing it – that was the point of the pain.
I am a very practical person. I do not believe in randomness, or coincidence. I believe that God is sovereignly in control of all things. All things. All the time. And so, I have the habit of looking for the lesson in anything He allows me to experience. This time, I could not find it. Knowing that physical pain is just a consequence of living in a fallen creation makes it hard to redeem it for any spiritual purpose, I thought. Having not been tested in this way before, I could not make sense of it. I felt as if Jesus was standing in a corner of the room with His arms crossed watching me struggle, and doing nothing to help. It felt like the most personal kind of betrayal. I had done nothing to bring this on myself. I had nothing in this from which to confess and repent. It was just… random, pointless suffering. And to be perfectly honest, the pain was blinding to the point that I could not reason, could not think, could not run to the Word for guidance. I was literally at the end of my ability to cope. All I could do was beg Him to help me. But He didn’t. Not in the way I wanted Him to, and that was my error.
When I could see through the post-surgical Vicodin haze, my questions then became something along the lines of who I believe Him to be. What do I really believe about my Savior? What have I failed to believe? What did I need Him to be that He wasn’t? Is it enough that he is “there” in the valley of the shadow if He does nothing? Did He really betray me… or did my own lack of understanding? Who is this God, anyway, and what has He really promised me…and is that really, truly, enough when it is all I have but I don’t think I can survive another minute without more?
The Body has been faithful to listen to my heart and guide me to some hard answers. You know those hard answers? One sister in Christ gently asked me if I am faithful to remember every way God had blessed me leading up to that moment, and pointed out that it was unfair of me to call Him unfaithful when it was I who had forgotten “all His benefits” in my usually comfortable life. She also pointed out all the ways He had been faithful through the process, even though immediate healing was not in His plan. Another sister asked me if I had let Him help me, citing my typically capable, independent, self-reliant character (she was kind enough not to call it sin). They collectively challenged my perception of God’s love, what I believe to be “good”, what I believe to be a parent’s responsibility to their child, and what I have believed God has promised to His children. It has been a little overwhelming.
Here’s the small moment of clarity I’ve gleaned in hindsight. Let me start by telling you that the surgical experience has been one of the best health-care experiences I have ever had. These people! I don’t even have words. Having never seen me before as a patient for consult or anything else, they worked me in to the front of the surgeon’s schedule – not the back, the front. When he saw my condition, he expressed heartfelt sympathy. He sighed heavily as he explained what he would have to do to begin the process of healing, and then immediately set about the process - with a waiting room full of people who had long-standing appointments. I was there over an hour. He never once made me feel rushed, or like an imposition. When he began his work, the surgeon’s nurse held my hand, stroked my arm, and talked to me as a distraction. She noticed that I was not breathing and reminded me to. She was sympathetic and understood my pain and my poor attempt to joke my way through it. The surgeon meanwhile, apologized every single time he had to do something he knew would hurt. Every. Time. And I was so grateful that this pain would be productive that I did not even care. I had suffered the random pain of disease for two weeks with no relief. At least this pain would bring healing.
Here’s the moment of clarity I promised. God is the surgeon. Jesus and the Holy Spirt are the nurse. My God was not standing idly by with His arms crossed refusing to help me. This was the help. This was the pain that would lead to healing my broken understanding of who He is, and who I am, and who we are together. And (in hindsight) I am so grateful to have the disease exposed so healing can come. I do not want to meet Him with anything but a right understanding of His character, and our relationship. I want to know Him. If this is the way, let me walk in it.
I haven’t answered all those questions I mentioned (and more), but at least I’m asking them. I didn’t even know I needed to before now. I’m working on it. We are working on it together. In fact, let me belabor the comparison in the hope that in your next moment of pain it will be helpful to you. Through this surgical experience, I’ve learned that:
Just as the surgeon made time for me, God always has time for me at the front of His schedule. No waiting required. Psalm 34:15-17, 1 Peter 5:7
Just as the surgeon sympathized, and regretted my pain, but was willing to do the procedure in order to bring me relief, God sympathizes with my disease and longs to cure it, not to delay healing. Psalm 103, Romans 8:28
Just as the nurse stroked my arm and held my hand, Jesus comforts me with the comfort of true understanding, having suffered just as I suffer (and far more so). Hebrews 2:9-18, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Just as the nurse reminded me to breathe and used her words when I had no words, the Spirit counsels me and intercedes for me when we cannot even think how to pray. Romans 8:26-27
So maybe the month of April, 2017 will be blank on my earthly calendar but will be full to the brim on my heavenly timeline. Appointments were met, meetings were held, and trips were made all for the purpose of making my roots grow down into God’s love to keep me strong, so that I will eventually have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, how deep is His love for me. Then I will be complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God who is able to do more for me than I could ever ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:7-17-20)
Let me leave you with one closing thought for that moment when you can find nothing else.
"…we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:8-11,16-18 (emphasis mine)