Source: He’s Close to the Broken-Hearted
Tag Archives: suffering
I’ve struggled with how to respond when someone refers to my faith as inspirational. I see the wrestling and failures, and my emotions cloud the view of any resulting good. Often, I don’t even want to see anything good. Recognizing good feels as if it justifies the deaths of my daughters and Gracen’s disease and honestly, that’s just offensive to my humanity. I’m doing well to put one foot in front of the other. I don’t see anything inspirational in my faith walk.
Believe me, anything worthy of praise is not my doing—at all.
And that’s not false modesty or veiled pride.
It’s ugly in here!
Like the Apostle Paul, I do the things I know I shouldn’t and don’t do the things I know I should. I guess we all do . . . and I guess that’s why the Bible tells us that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness.
The Holy Spirit is somehow displayed through our brokenness; not the perfectionism we strive for.
The girls’s deaths and Gracen’s disease have done one thing for me; they’ve confirmed my faith.
I did not realize how much faith in Jesus Christ had come to define me.
When we feel as if God has failed us or calls something we disagree with sinful or simply behaves in ways we cannot understand and do not want to accept, we can experience what’s known as a crisis of faith. We must decide what we really believe about God. We have to decide to continue to follow Him or walk away from Jesus.
In John chapter 6 Jesus proclaims Himself to be the Bread of Life which caused many of His followers to abandon Him. In verse 67b Jesus asked His twelve disciples:
“. . . “Do you want to leave too?””
And in verses 68-69:
“Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.””
Where else can I go?
There is nowhere.
There is none other.
Without Christ; I’d still be living with the same circumstances but I’d be completely without hope.
No hope for reunion.
No hope for redemption.
No hope for anything beyond this life.
And if I live well (as some define living well)—a positive outlook—a life of happiness and joy—it’s not enough to offset the tragedies that I, and countless others endure, in the absence of the hope that lies within.
Living well, as defined by others, is not enough.
We always find ourselves empty and longing without the Lord.
If living well were enough the rich and famous would not find themselves lonely, depressed and wanting more . . .
needing relationship. . .
needing relationships beyond that of a spouse, family, and adoring fans.
Money can’t buy love and love can’t buy happiness.
Ask anyone who has either—or both.
That’s why the rich young ruler came to Jesus: He just didn’t understand, or really, simply refused to accept, that he needed Jesus Himself instead of some quick and easy solution for the emptiness within. And we’re all looking for quick and easy solutions to life’s problems and longings.
But . . .
Even when we have Jesus we are left longing.
I can almost hear the gasps—the harshly in-drawn breaths—following the reading of that last statement.
But it’s true.
Even with Jesus we long for more.
We long for the fulfillment of His promises—for completion—to be made like Him.
We long for restoration and redemption—to be all we were created to be unsoiled by sin.
We long to live in harmony and unity in a world of pure motivations and unconditional love.
We long for a life free of suffering, sorrow, tears, fears, problems and parting.
We long for reunion.
We long for Heaven!
We’re just not very good at distilling our desires down to the underlying longings and we chase our tails looking for fulfillment to desires we are unable to define. But Jesus is our only hope for those things—for fulfillment.
If it’s inspirational to live—truly live with the understanding that Jesus is our only hope—then I am indeed an inspiration.
Life has destroyed the illusion that anything else can satisfy.
And you know what? I’m not living in a state of perpetual satisfaction here; just because Jesus satisfies.
Ain’t gonna happen this side of heaven.
It’s just not.
I know you’ve encountered people who flippantly tell you that Jesus is the answer for every problem, but you know—you recognize it when someone genuinely believes that to be true—when they’ve found it to be true.
When all the artifice has been stripped away; when all the individual striving has ceased—you know it.
You know—something inside has settled and is at rest.
You know—they have stopped living in expectation of worldly fulfillment and have exchanged that unachievable expectation for living in heavenly anticipation.
It’s not always pretty.
Sometimes deep wounding has revealed the truth that Jesus is our only hope.
And pain is hard to hide.
So sometimes a faith-filled individual looks hollowed out and glassy eyed—because they have reached the end of themselves—given all they had to give—and come up short.
They’ve come up short!
They’ve come up short because they were never intended to do it all. . . be enough all by themselves.
And humility is the result.
Humility is humbling.
It’s the acknowledgement inadequacy.
And then there are those—maybe you know one—a man, woman or child that exudes peace regardless of the circumstances they face.
I don’t know what causes that; if it’s a personality trait or a reflection of spiritual maturity beyond my depth, or maybe a combination of the two; but it’s definitely the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
They . . . those rare, rare, individuals, clearly are at peace with whatever comes their way.
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In the face of great sorrow—peace.
In the face of perilous situations—peace.
In the face of death and destruction—utter and complete peace.
It’s not a lack of energy, resignation or defeat—it’s peace.
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The absence of personal investment in a preferred outcome.
Hope-infused surrender not hopeless or helpless surrender.
Surely it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit; but I fear the only way to unwrap that gift is cooperating with the Holy Spirit While enduring the shared sufferings of Christ.
Suffering changes people and perspectives.
Suffering is a refining fire.
It’s painful . . .
and it reveals hidden depths of beauty . . .
Suffering burns away the humanity of man and reveals the holiness of God within.
And therein lies the beauty of brokenness.
The glue—faith—holds those broken pieces together.
And from the inside looking out, all that’s seen is the cracked facade . . .
But from the outside looking in . . .
the Holy light of God’s perfected strength shines through that cracked and crumbling facade and the only word to describe the view is . . . Inspirational.
When the Bible tells us to . . .
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:16 (KJV)
it is preceded by the statement . . .
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” ~ Matthew 5:15 (KJV)
Here’s the thing . . .
God’s light shines through your brokenness regardless of whether or not you hide your light under a bushel; just as this picture demonstrates.
Unbelievers can’t help but see the light of God within a believer. The failure to proclaim the source of that light is the equivalent of hiding your light under a bushel. The light under the bushel still shines forth and others see it, and fellow believers recognize it for what it is; but to the lost . . .to the lost . . .
it’s nothing more than an elusive quality they can’t define.
A light under a bushel gives light to others within a house, but not to all that are in the house. Proclaiming the source of the light—placing it on a candlestick so to speak, allows everyone—saved or lost—to choose to draw near to or reject the light of salvation.
So if others tell you your response to adversity is inspiring (the equivalent of seeing your good works)—proclaim your faith—(let your light shine) so that your Father in heaven will receive the credit He is due and be glorified.
I’m not inspirational—the God within me is.
I’m the broken facade.
He’s the light within.
And His inspirational light shines through your brokenness too.
The holidays are upon us and we will soon be interacting with friends, family and acquaintances that we don’t see on a regular basis. As a result, you may find yourself visiting with a suffering friend or family member–wanting to be supportive and encouraging but not really sure how to go about it. There are some common phrases we’ve all used, but they aren’t always received in the way we intend them to be. Therefore, it’s probably more important to know what not to say and why.
I encourage you to read this article by Vaneetha Rendall. The information is worthwhile anytime, but it might make your holidays more enjoyable for everyone if you read it in advance of the typical get togethers common this time of year.
Below is a teaser and a link for the article. I hope you will take the time to follow the link and read this informative article – for yourself, and for the suffering people you love.
“What’s the best way to discourage a suffering friend?
I can tell you what I’ve done.
I’ve told suffering friends about how other people are going through more painful trials. I’ve given examples of how brave, godly and optimistic these other people are. I’ve freely doled out advice, even mini-sermons, about how their horrible situations will turn out for the best. . .”
I was recently shocked to hear a fellow grieving mother express that she had to explain to someone that the pain she was suffering was not treatable by the ingestion of a Tylenol or Advil. And that one comment flipped a switch in my mind.
You see, although my daughter, Gracen, has Muscular Dystrophy and suffers from migraine headaches, I don’t think of her as sick. I guess I define sickness as a temporary condition. One that prevents an individual from going to school or work. A bacterial or viral infection that results in fever, requires bed rest, leads to weakness, pain and digestive distress. A condition that requires hospitalization or chemotherapy and radiation. That’s how I’ve always defined illness.
But in truth, my daughter is sick. She’s been diagnosed with a degenerative disease. It is silently and destructively at work within her body while she attends school, goes to therapy appointments, hangs out with friends, etc. Just because her condition doesn’t keep her in bed 24 hours a day or require hospitalization doesn’t mean she is healthy. She is in fact very sick.
Our culture appears to live under the same misconception in regards to the way it defines suffering. We seem to believe that suffering is not suffering unless it includes physical pain. Pain can be treated with medication, surgery, different forms of therapy and a myriad of other medical interventions. And although mental and emotional pain can be treated with pharmaceuticals, those interventions don’t eliminate the pain, they just enable the individual to better cope with the anxiety and depression that often stem from the heart and mind. Therefore, mental and emotional pain (and let’s not forget spiritual pain) is not perceived by society as pain at all and as such is excluded from the definition of suffering. Mental, emotional and spiritual pain have basically been redefined and reduced to nothing more than the practice of wallowing in self-pity.
From my personal perspective, mental, emotional and spiritual pain are better described as the bombardment of multiple feelings that coalesce into anguish and torment. Grief is definitely intense mental torment and emotional anguish. A lot of situations result in that kind of pain alone. Does the lack of physical pain mean an individual isn’t suffering? Does the Bible say that suffering is only physical in nature?
We need only consider the example of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest to understand that biblical suffering includes mental, emotional and spiritual pain. In the garden, when Christ separated Himself from the disciples to pray, He literally sweat blood as He beseeched God to let the cup of His upcoming, arrest, betrayal, rejection, humiliation and fear of His impending beatings, crucifixion and separation from God to pass from Him. He was not in any physical pain at that point in time, but He was definitely suffering that dark night.
It’s not unreasonable or hard to imagine that God the Father is also no stranger to suffering. Can you imagine the mental and emotional anguish God suffered as He denied His son’s request to have the cup of suffering pass from Him? How must He have felt knowing that His sinless, perfect son would take on the sins of the world and be separated from their intimate fellowship for the first time ever? How must He have felt knowing the excruciating pain that awaited His beloved son? He surely suffered as He watched as His son was arrested then abandoned and betrayed by His closest friends. It must have hurt to watch His son hit, spit on, taunted and mocked as He was passed from trial to trial throughout that long night.
Can you imagine the torment as He watched as His son was whipped and struggle to carry His cross to Golgotha-His anguish as He looked on in horror as nails were driven through His son’s hands and feet, as He struggled to breathe hanging on that cross for hours and finally-finally hearing His one and only son cry out begging to know why He’d been forsaken by His father? Can you imagine the suffering? Could you willingly go through any of that with your child? God the Father was not Himself experiencing physical pain, but He was surely overwhelmed and tormented by suffocating anguish.
Neither God the Father, nor Jesus Christ discount or belittle the anguish and torment that results from mental and emotional pain. They both experienced it. They both understand it at the most intimate level possible.
Feel free to gently remind the naysayers of that.
The sufferings of Christ included agony and torment far beyond physical pain and when we forget that, we minimize the extent of His suffering for our souls. We devalue His sacrifice. We make Him less instead of exalting Him to the extent He deserves. And we repeat that slight over and over again when we refuse to acknowledge that mental, emotional and spiritual distress is in fact suffering.
I would not wish for any bereaved parent to remain in that raw state of agony forever or even that bone deep ache that lingers as time marches on but your heart stands still in the quagmire of grief. And I don’t think we have to either. I believe we will always live with the awareness that someone of great value is missing from our presence. Their absence will always linger in our conscious and subconscious minds. Yet I also believe that God binds up and heals our wounds. His word tells us that is so. We live with the scars, but the intense minute by minute pain recedes like waves hitting the shoreline. The tide continues to rush in with birthdays, loss anniversaries, family gatherings and celebrations and other unanticipated events that trigger intense feelings of sorrow and loss. But the tide will then recede allowing us to catch our breath, to relish memories of living life together, to rest in the hope of reunion, and to enjoy the good things and people that still surround us. I experienced it after the death of my son 24 years ago. I know it can happen for me again as the Holy Spirit does His work in my heart. He can work that miracle (could any loss parent describe it as anything else?) in the hearts of every broken believer too.
I think healthy grieving involves wrestling with God. As much as it is in your power to do so, ignore those who are blessedly ignorant and foolishly judgmental. Wrestle well with God. Don’t exclude Him from the process. Contend with Him! He is strong and loving and faithful and He grieves with us and for our broken hearts. He doesn’t condemn us for our anger and sorrow, instead He pulls up a chair and sits with us through it longing to draw us into His arms to comfort us. One day, I hope every broken believer finds themselves there, in His waiting arms, sobbing out their anguish and frustration and when the tears and shuddering gasps of sorrow release then I hope they will find their hearts to be safe in His care. That’s my hope for myself, for every bereaved parent, for every hurting Christian, for every lost soul struggling to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out after their cherished plans have been swept away.
It was the Spring of 2013, and I was struggling with the myriad of difficult circumstances our family was facing and attempting to reconcile my spiritual beliefs in light of those circumstances.
Gracen and Katie had been diagnosed with ARSACS, a rare and progressive form of muscular dystrophy a year before. Their prognosis was not encouraging. We saw increasing deterioration in Gracen’s health, which seemed to be moving faster than we’d expected based on the limited amount of information available. Bethany had completed her freshman year of college at the University of Central Arkansas and was growing increasingly cynical toward the faith of her youth. And David’s job was in jeopardy. He is the sole breadwinner for our family and we were unsure if he would qualify for unemployment benefits. Needless to say, I was a tad stressed.
Funny how none of the things above was my personal problem. Each one was a battle for those I love most deeply and as a wife and mother, their suffering became my own. The curse of empathy is the ability to personalize another’s suffering as your own and that’s exactly what I did. Every physical setback Gracen and Katie experienced resulted in grieving the lost abilities for my daughters and for myself. Each time Bethany attacked a biblical truth, I ached and feared for her, for her future, for her eternal safety and for myself knowing her choices might lead me to endure painful consequences alongside her. And I was well aware how a man’s job impacts his self-esteem not to mention the burden of financial insecurity.
One morning I sat out on my back patio with my bible and smartphone and began searching the scriptures for what God’s Word said about suffering. This is what the Apostle Paul wrote about his own trials:
7 “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing, I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (KJV)
When Paul asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh, this was God’s response:
(2 Corinthians 12:9) “My grace is sufficient for thee . . . “
“My strength is made perfect in weakness . . . “ KJV
Or in another translation
“My power is perfected in weakness . . .” NASB
In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul tells the reader the purpose of the thorn in his flesh. I find it interesting that Paul knew and understood why he was suffering, just as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane, yet both Paul and Christ asked for their suffering to be taken from them. That tells me that understanding God’s purposes doesn’t make suffering any easier to endure. Knowing why doesn’t make the hurt or the fear go away. The truth is that, in our humanity, we are desperate to escape pain in spite of recognizing God’s greater plan.
In this particular case, the purpose of Paul’s thorn in the flesh was to keep him humble. Paul understood that the normal human response to being singled out by the resurrected Lord—and receiving the sheer abundance of revelation he received—would commonly result in pride; a very destructive character trait.
Paul described the thorn in his flesh two ways:
1) As a gift; well he doesn’t actually call it a gift. He simply says it was given to him which implies to me that it was a gift and its purpose implies it was a gift from God (to keep him humble). Funny how a message from the enemy to buffet a believer could be seen as a gift from God when it serves His purpose. And it was a good thing because it saved Paul from the pain and destruction pride brings. Maybe some of our sufferings are considered good from God’s perspective because it saves us from a fate that is far more detrimental to our overall well-being or damaging to our character.
2) As a message from Satan to torment him. It’s as if God allowed Satan to afflict Paul, just like God allowed Satan to afflict Job. The Bible is riddled with such instances. Satan intended this thorn in Paul’s flesh to hurt Paul just as Satan, via the conduit of his brothers, intended harm, even death, for Joseph. Satan was also allowed to bring Christ to the cross, although Jesus laid down his own life in obedience to God. Satan’s intent was to destroy God’s plan of redemption but again, God thwarted Satan through Christ’s resurrection which defeated the power of sin and death in men’s lives. It appears that two plans are being implemented simultaneously with very different goals. Satan’s goals are destructive but God is well aware that Satan has set out to destroy His children and God uses Satan’s own devices not only to thwart Satan’s plans but to triumph over them. Isn’t that the most satisfying form of serving justice and meting out righteous vengeance—to turn your enemy’s own evil plans against him? It’s pretty much the ultimate slap-down.
Although the message Satan wanted to communicate to Paul isn’t directly outlined, we can extrapolate it ourselves based on what we’ve heard other broken believers express through trials. Here’s a reasonable sampling:
1) God doesn’t love you or He wouldn’t have allowed this bad thing in the first place
2) If God really loved you, He would have healed you from this affliction
3) God isn’t as powerful as He claims because He obviously can’t heal you or He would have
4) God can’t protect you from me (Satan) – I’m more powerful than God
Just like Job, when Paul didn’t respond to suffering the way Satan expected, Satan added to Paul’s affliction. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 says that Paul suffered more than any man for the sake of the gospel. Paul:
1) Received 39 stripes on five separate occasions at the hand of the Jews
2) Was beaten with rods three times
3) Was stoned once
4) Was shipwrecked three times
5) Spent a full day and night in the ocean on at least one occasion
Throughout his journeys to spread the gospel, Paul’s life was in danger from robbers, fellow Jews, Gentiles and false Christians wherever he went and however, he got there. He suffered from cold, exposure, manual labor, sleepless nights, hunger & thirst all while shouldering the concerns of the churches he planted.
Satan uses affliction to:
1) Discourage and torment believers
2) Derail efforts to spread the gospel
3) Cause believers to doubt God’s love, kindness, and power
I recently read a very interesting article about John 10:10, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The article examines the Greek words in this verse to aid in gaining a better understanding of the scripture. Click on the following link for an eye-opening read from the Renner Ministries Blog:
God uses affliction to:
1) To prevent us from becoming prideful — 2 Corinthians 12:7 (See above); Or maybe to prevent us from developing some other trait that damages our character or is personally destructive.
2) To save His chosen people:
“Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. . . God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” — Genesis 45:5 & 7
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” — Genesis 50:20
3) To provide His children with the assurance of their own salvation:
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” — Romans 8:16
4) Conform us into the image of Christ and share in the fellowship of His suffering, His consolation, and His glory:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” — 2 Corinthians 3:18
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. — Romans 8:28-30
“And if we are children, then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.” — Romans 8:17
“For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. . . And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” — 2 Corinthians 1:5 & 7
“But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory.” — 1 Peter 4:13
5) To produce endurance, develop your faith, and lead to increased spiritual maturity:
“Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.” — James 1:3-4 AMP
6) Enable us to comfort and encourage others who are suffering:
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” — 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
7) To display the works of God:
“His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” — John 9:2-3
8) To earn eternal rewards that will far outweigh the temporal suffering we experience in life:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Why is it important that we understand God’s purpose in allowing His children to suffer?
I think it’s critical that we realize that God uses affliction for a variety of purposes and each trial a believer encounters may serve a completely different purpose.
One thing I have discovered through child loss is that fellow Christians often try to encourage the grieving by reminding them that their current suffering will allow them to comfort another hurting soul somewhere down the road. This may or may not be true. Depending upon the circumstances, the level of trauma involved, or the personality of the bereaved, God may never intend that believer’s suffering to be used to minister to another. The experience may be so negative that the individual may not be able to support and encourage another. The pressure to minister may re-victimize the believer or the individual may not be able to talk about their situation without inciting fear in another thereby doing more damage than good.
I have also discovered that those who are called to minister to others generally are not capable of taking on that role until a significant amount of healing has taken place in their own lives. Discernment is definitely required before encouraging anyone to minister to another as a result of their trial and also required for the tested, the survivor, to know if God is really calling them to this type of ministry or to minister to a specific individual. Ministry is about more than shared experience. Personality and approach matter.
Of all the purposes of suffering I uncovered in my research, all but one can generally be confirmed in hindsight. The one that can’t—when God allows suffering in order to prevent something He deems more damaging to His child. There are some things we will never be able to understand or explain.
Suffering almost always leads to the why question. But ultimately, having a definitive answer doesn’t make the suffering less painful or even lead a believer to embrace the pain for the joy that lies before them. Knowing why is less important than the fruit God produces as a result of affliction. Understanding why may come in hindsight, but even if it doesn’t, I believe there’s always a purpose, whether I approve of it or not, and God allows it for our individual, eternal good.
As Ruth, my grief counselor, pointed out to me recently, at creation, God proclaimed everything He created “good” not “perfect”. Why would Adam be made caretaker of all of creation if there were no problems to resolve? Had there been no problems, Adams job would have been superfluous.
Perfect is a life without problems, without suffering. Good is a life that includes problems, inconveniences, and even suffering. It’s a life that matures through time and experience. It’s a life that includes overcoming adversity, recognizing our dependence upon God, helping our fellow man, bringing glory to God and earning eternal rewards. We don’t earn anything unless we work for it. And God’s grace is sufficient to enable us to live a good life in spite of trials, afflictions, and suffering.
I feel like I’m sinking—sadness weighing me down—regardless of the medications I’m taking. Why can’t I overcome this? Is it possible that trauma causes bipolar disorder?
I just want to escape this body of death. That phrase, “body of death”, had little impact on me before—before my world imploded. Now, well now, I have an entirely different view of—and response to—that phrase. Now it’s way too personal, way too descriptive!
Every day I am bombarded with the visual representation of that phrase. I perform acts of service that reinforce those images. I cannot escape this body of death and I desperately want to. I want to flee from the future and the daily reminder that things are just going to get worse—lots worse.
But there is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide and the only means of escape available is one which further injures those I love, who frankly, have already suffered enough—more than enough in my opinion.
Somehow I have to learn to live with the cumulative pain and losses of the past while surviving the emotional erosion of the soul caused by daily care requirements, simultaneously bracing for and absorbing the blows each new and upcoming setback includes.
I can continue to put one foot in front of the other (although I’ve noticed it getting harder and harder to do; which concerns me) but I have yet to discover an emotionally heathy way to cope with this life I’ve been left with.
Distraction, distancing, withdrawal and emotional numbing may be effective coping mechanisms to prevent a complete breakdown but they are not healthy. They are nothing short of a delaying tactic that builds barriers between an individual and the people they love and later serves to compound the pain in the long run.
Those coping mechanisms are a completely normal and common human response to emotionally deep wounds, I’m told, regardless of the cause. They are not unique to my situation. But when consistently exercised they heap guilt, shame and despair on the heart as the individual becomes aware that they’ve lost precious, unrecoverable opportunities to spend time and deepen relationships with those they love in a conscious or unconscious attempt to protect their hearts from further pain. And that awareness, when it can no longer be avoided, is nothing short of agony. Time lost cannot be redeemed in this earthly realm.
Some time ago I questioned my daughter’s physical therapist about the potential benefit of a medical procedure that had worked well for another child in the clinic Gracen receives services from. The procedure involves creating holes in the overly tight muscles of the legs so that the muscles will stretch and enable more freedom of movement.
The PTs response was that the tension–the tightness of Gracen’s leg muscles are the very thing that enable her to stand. Loosening those muscles would make her legs noodle-like; unable to support her slight weight.
I am very much aware of the painful emotions that accompany my past and current life circumstances. When I find myself confronted with “negative” emotions, I don’t allow myself the freedom to experience and work through them. No, instead I distract my mind from them primarily via fiction (emotional numbing) locking them to the far regions of my heart. I am constantly aware of the existence of this metaphorically locked box of emotions, but I refuse to open and cope with the contents. Shoot, I’m pretty sure the contents of that box are under so much pressure that the slightest move to open the box (maybe my next effort to shove new emotional turmoil into the box) will result in the contents being forcefully expelled like an erupting volcano — an apt description as rarely does a volcano erupt without prior warning and I’ve experienced years worth of prior warnings. Warnings that the pressure is escalating.
The tension required to push those emotional realities away, to pack them into my own personal Pandora’s Box, is the tension that my emotional health is standing, or maybe in my case a better word is “balanced” or “teetering” upon. Like a car precariously balanced upon a cliff, one shift in weight forward without substantial counterweight will send the vehicle plunging over the cliff.
Opening Pandora’s Box is the means to healing I’m told, but it is a terrifying prospect. It will push me over the emotional precipice and I fear what that will mean, what it will look like; what living with it, living through it, will cost and what, if anything, will be left of the woman I once was. And worst of all, my greatest fear, will I be left in a recoverable state?
On top of everything that implies, opening Pandora’s Box only allows past emotional trauma to be vented. How then, in this new weakened and vulnerable state, do I cope with the ongoing trauma progressive disease constantly thrusts upon me? Where is my shield of defense when the communication device or the stander is delivered? How will I cope with the installation and use of a tracking system in my home, let alone the day when it no longer makes daily life less physically taxing for both Gracen and I, but when it becomes a necessity I must use alone in order to properly care for her?
How will I cope in a healthy way with the complications that arise from a lack of mobility: pressure sores, stiffening and less moveable joints, decreasing core strength that results in the inability to sit up from a prone position and maintain an upright position once seated? How emotionally strong will I be when verbal communication is lost and I can no longer hear the sound of my daughter’s voice?
The boxer in round ten is less capable of withstanding a body blow that was thrown with far greater force in round one. The boxer’s split skin, bruises, and broken ribs don’t heal between rounds. He just rests, catches his breath, gets his cuts taped up and smeared with antibiotic ointment while receiving instruction and encouragement to continue the fight.
Is this not a picture, yet another metaphor, of the Christian life? God binds up our wounds between rounds, but the damage inflicted in the early rounds affects our ability to fend off and endure the blows taken in later rounds. Training, muscle memory and endurance developed prior to the fight are the believer’s primary form of defense in the midst of the fight.
When the metaphorical boxer ignores the instructions, is unable to rest as adrenaline floods their system, rejects the antibiotic balm and encouragement in the early rounds as young, brash believers are known to do, determined to “Do it My Way” as Sinatra sings, ineffective strategies are employed and more blows from the opponent successfully land escalating pain and weakening the cocky boxer.
Come the later rounds, desperate for the ministrations pridefully refused when the fight began, the beleaguered boxer attempts to tune his ear to those words of instruction. Humility has replaced pride and his brain, so distracted by pain and fatigue is far more inclined to seek and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we rest on the Cornerstone of our faith in dreaded anticipation of the sound of the bell that propels us back into the fray. And when the final bell rings we either find ourselves flat on our backs from a knockout blow or in the middle of the ring, beaten, bruised, and so fatigued that we can barely lift our arms in victory.
The bell has rung repeatedly in my life and I’ve been forcefully shoved back into the battle over and over and yet again. So weak, dreading the next blow that I know without a doubt is coming, trying to simply raise my arms to protect myself. Too tired to be effective, desperately attempting to put into action the instructions received in the corner, I huddle against the ropes frustrating my opponent and the audience who scream at me to step into the fight, defend myself, and destroy the enemy who contends for my faith.
What will be my fate when the fight ends? Will God step in and call the fight? Will I find myself stretched out on the mat breathing heavily but defeated all the same or will I be doing my best to hold my hands up in victory when the final bell rings?
Your guess is as good as mine!
I hope to be silently caught up in the air as God calls the fight or to hear the sound of the trumpet signaling the arrival of my Savior, rescuing me from this body of death and torment. But I fear I will continue to find myself stretched out on the mat breathing in the stale and bitter aroma of sweat and fear–yet another bout in my future, yet another beating to endure. Will I enter the ring the next time stronger and better equipped?
At some point, every suffering Christian is encouraged to “choose joy” and move beyond their pain. And how can any good Christian argue with such biblical advice? But, as my grief counselor often says . . .
“What else does the Bible say?”
“When pain almost strangles us and darkness is our closest friend, what should we do?”
“For years, I thought the best response was cheerful acceptance. Since God uses everything for our good and His glory, I felt the most God-honoring attitude was to appear joyful all the time. Even when I was confused and angry. Even when my heart was breaking. And especially when I was around people who didn’t know Christ.”
Vaneetha Rendall Risner has something worth consideration to share on this topic. Click on the source link below to see what else the Bible has to say about how to handle suffering.