God is good all of the time. As of a few days ago I started heading back in to a good stretch (one that I pray will just keep going and going) in terms of sleep quality. Last night I had my first perfect (as in, jerk-free) night of sleep in 10 days. Considering that I’ve only had this problem with the jerks flare up twice now (for two ten day runs with a nice two week break in between) I won’t consider it a pattern. I am praying that the third run doesn’t come and keeps it from developing from a double peaked blip into an actual pattern. But I will not cross that bridge yet because I haven’t come to it and I’m not even sure there will be one.
First of all, thank you all for praying for me and for your encouraging words. In terms of anything substantial, I have never suffered much before. I’ve always considered myself quite a healthy person who very much liked it that way. So the road has been a bit rough in that regard. No one wants to go from feeling well most of the time to feeling awful much of the time with some temporary jogs into feelings of wellness.
I still have no official diagnosis but I have a few suspicions (none of which I believe are deadly or anything), including the one I mentioned in my last post. Other possibilities that people have floated to me or that I think are within the realm of possibility are Lyme Disease, Mercury poisoning and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (many, many people who get sick with Labyrinthitis end up with some sort of anxiety disorder afterward, simply because the brain and body were on such high stress alert for two to three weeks morning to night just in order to compensate for the off-balance feeling. Our brains of course create new neural pathways to deal with stress, and our bodies go out of whack when something as important as the vestibular system is affected so it’s no surprise that many people take a long time to fully recover.) We meet our new family doctor on Wednesday so will hopefully have some new insight from her.
In the mean time God has been teaching me a great deal. He has been teaching me how to trust Him and what it really means for Him to be our rock. Between the physical problems and their emotional after-affects (ie. one is extremely emotional when severely sleep deprived) I am learning what it means to be anchored on Christ through the storms of life. Thus far, all of the storms in my life have been applied to me from external forces. Whether difficulties related to being a minister’s wife, to the turmoil and loss of loved ones, to the pangs of homesickness that come and go in waves, no storm had until now originated from within my own body and mind.
While I’ve got nothin’ on Job, his struggle with God has ministered to me as I wait on God. And when times of refreshing come, such as now, I am able to more adequately reflect on the work that God is doing through this trial.
While my experience of suffering as of yet has been of rather short duration, here are a few thoughts on the topic.
- It is not outside of God’s plan. I can look back to before getting sick and see how God actually cleared the way for me to be sick, strange as it sounds. I was relieved of a job that required a good deal of my time just a short while before getting sick. Initially I was pretty bummed about this. But then I got sick and I saw that God had this all worked out and I found this strangely comforting. He knows what He is doing and it is for my good and His own glory. “Romans8:28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
- It is not a direct result of some wrong that the sufferer has done. It’s so easy to wonder if there was something I could have done to bring this on, that I may have been able to stave this off somehow, to wrack my brain about what brought this about. But God isn’t bound by Karma. He works over all and through all and has His own holy ends in mind. “Job:1There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”
- It is a means of God’s grace. As Christians we so often ask God to change us by his Grace. What we don’t expect is for that grace to come in the form of suffering. But scientifically, if any element or compound is to be radically altered, something cataclysmic must happen to it. Something that generally involves extreme temperatures, sometimes fire and sometimes explosions and often a good deal of resulting smoke and stench.
- Suffering does not mean we are exempt from bearing much fruit. There have been many days during these last two months when I was not functional. I was on the couch. And I will confess to you, there was a lot of grief involved. On those days I grieve the loss of my normal self. My cheerful disposition seems 1,000 miles away from me when I have gotten just two or three hours of sleep night after night after night. So on those days I mourn and weep because I don’t feel like myself. And to be quite honest, as a dear friend of mine has reminded me occasionally over the last few months, “there is a reason they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture.” And the reason is because it makes you go a bit crazy. You can’t think clearly and you don’t have a great deal of perspective. It’s pretty hard to see past the next time you might have the chance to fall asleep. But despite those times where I am tempted to despair and think there is no end in sight and no purpose to all of this, I must bear fruit. What kind of fruit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. God is obviously sowing the seeds of peace that passes understanding, patience and self-control in these times. Something tells me that the fruit of affliction has the potential to be one of two things, either some of the ripest and juiciest there is or some of the smallest and bitterest. I pray that He will give me the grace to bear much fruit every month of the year.
“Ezekiel 412And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
I pray that my suffering, though light and transient, will one day, perhaps even while the storms rage, be food for those who are weak andhealing leaves for those who suffer.
- We must live life just one day at a time and not hold too fiercely to our plans. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart… but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21) Or one hour at a time. Or minute by minute. We are always trusting in something or someone. When we are healthy it is so easy to go on as if we will always remain that way, trusting in our good family medical history or our sturdy physical stature or our sheer will-power to muscle through whatever comes our way. Or even on how we’ve managed to not get sick very much at all in the past so we must therefore be impervious to all ailments. And the last word we would ever in a million years use to describe ourselves is “sickly.” I have worded all of this in the plural tense so as to draw you all into my story and show that no one is impervious but really, I’m of course talking about myself. Health was not an issue and I never really thought it would be. To be quite honest I always thought, if it would be either of us, my husband would be the one to suffer some kind of illness as his family medical history is more dicey than my own. Of course I don’t want that but if there was ever a concern with regards to health it was that he or my children might one day face something, but never myself. But God has seen fit to allow me to go through this (hopefully temporary!) period so that I might, among other things, more daily cling to Him.
- Suffering can be wasted on us if we don’t allow it have its full effect.
“James1: 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
It is so that a harvest of wisdom and righteousness might be produced. I don’t think it’s accidental that trials and testing are lined up right next to, “ask God for wisdom.” Christ himself was said to have grown in wisdom and stature and favor with the Lord and apart from His obedience to the law of God’s heart, the only thing that made Him truly worth to be raised up from the dead was his experience of suffering. If we are going to ask God for wisdom we cannot expect to receive it on a golden platter coming down out of heaven. (Wouldn’t that be nice?!) Whether we learn it by way of our own suffering or by way of learning to truly weep with a broken heart, as Christ did, with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, we grow in wisdom through trials. When would you be blown and tossed by the wind if not during the storm? That is when we must not, no matter how tempting it is, doubt that our sufferings are intended for our growth in wisdom.
“James5: 10Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
- We may ask God “Why?” for a time as long as we do not turn away from Him or close our ears to His answer. “Job2:20“Why is light given to him who is in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
21who long for death, but it comes not,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
22who rejoice exceedingly
and are glad when they find the grave?
23Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
24For my sighing comes instead of my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water.
25 For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
26I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes.”
I was praying last week asking God to please, please take this affliction, which so acutely effects my daily life when it is on full throttle, away from me. I was crying and asking Him why over and over again. Why was I allowed to get sick in the first place? Why was there this apparent secondary affect from the Labyrinthitis, as if the three weeks of vertigo wasn’t bad enough? Why has He chosen to let this continue with only a small break in the clouds? Why? Why? Why? And as I questioned Him, He pointed me to the cross. I was reminded of the Mediator by whom I was able to approach the God of the universe with my complaints in the first place. Job lamented that there was no mediator. He was understandably consumed with his sufferings and He wanted but a man who would span the chasm between tiny insignificant him and Holy God;
“7If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
I will put off my sad face, and be of good cheer,’
28I become afraid of all my suffering,
for I know you will not hold me innocent.
29I shall be condemned;
why then do I labor in vain?
30If I wash myself with snow
and cleanse my hands with lye,
31yet you will plunge me into a pit,
and my own clothes will abhor me.
32For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,
that we should come to trial together.
33 There is no arbiter between us,
who might lay his hand on us both.
34 Let him take his rod away from me,
and let not dread of him terrify me.
35Then I would speak without fear of him,
for I am not so in myself.”
I was reminded of his nail scarred hands that plead on my behalf.
“Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.”
I was reminded that he was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He hung upon a cross and screamed out in wretched agony to His Father, with whom together with the Holy Spirit He’d spent all of eternity in perfect unity, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” so that I could take comfort in the words of God, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Jesus asked “WHY God?” so that I could cease to ask why, that I might allow the suffering that He has ordained in my life to have its full effect, a harvest of righteousness and wisdom. Jesus spent the night in the Garden in the deepest anxiety, anxiety far greater than the anxiety of having something wrong with me and not knowing its origin or ending. He begged God to take this cup of suffering from him. The anxiety that accompanied His job as our savior was part of the suffering that he took upon Himself that we might be able to take comfort in His tender command to, “be anxious about nothing but in everything present your requests to God” and to “cast all of our cares upon Him” and “find rest for our souls.” If we do not take up His cross we will carry our own anxieties and sins and afflictions and we will not bear fruit but will wither on the vine. “Matthew 11:29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” It’s less and less a mystery to me why God has to repeatedly call us back and remind us to “hold fast” to days of rest and take up yokes that give us rest. We are control freaks!
“I Peter 1: 19So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
Thank you Jesus for being the mediator. Thank you for being the chief sufferer. Thank you for your promise of peace that passes all understanding. Thank you for bearing our griefs, carrying our sorrows, being smitten by God and afflicted, stricken by men, punished for our peace, wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, despised, rejected, acquainted with grief and a man of sorrows, that you set your face like a flint to the suffering you faced for the prize set before you. Thank you that that prize was Me, your offspring by grace, and all those who call on your name. Amen.