Category Archives: Suffering

Job’s Dark Response

It’s been awhile since I wrote one of my lengthier poems, Job: A Champion of Faith by Grace. I read it again recently and found myself turning back to this great book of the bible. Once again, I was amazed by Job’s response in chapter three. It is so dark, so utterly sorrowful and desperate. Why am I amazed? I don’t think it is because his response is strange. It isn’t strange. In fact, it is kind of what you might expect from a man whose property, herds, servants, and children were just lost and destroyed to two sets of violent raiders, fire from heaven, and wind strong enough to collapse a house.

And then, as if his pain wasn’t great enough, he was smote with “sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (Job 2:7).”

I mean, this scenario is insane. I would write more about it, but since I already have in the poem and here I will let that suffice. I just wanted to zero in on chapter three.

After seven days and seven nights of silence, and pain which made him unrecognizable to his friends, he finally opens his mouth and starts by cursing the day of his birth. He wishes he had died as a stillborn child, or been miscarried and discarded. The imagery here is graphic and disturbing. He believes that to have died and been at rest would have been better for him than to have lived and suffered this excessive loss.

Then he asks “Why?” as most people who find themselves in suffering do. “Why is light given to him who suffers (Job 3:20)?”

But it was the last three verses of the chapter that stood out to me the most recently.

Job 3:24-26 “For my groaning comes at the sight of my food, and my cries pour out like water. For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”

Try that out as a Facebook status.

I’m being cheeky of course, but how comfortable are you with those verses? How would you respond if a friend said this to you? Picture a person too grieved to eat their food, too distraught to sleep, who cannot be quiet, but cries out loud about their woe? Someone who says “there is no rest in me. I have no peace. I am undone.” Continue reading

Resolutions, Determination, and Godliness

1Timothy 4:7-10 “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

If you could choose one word to use as a label for your year in 2016, what would it be? I know mine. It would be determined.

 I started this year with a desire to break away from everything that reeked in the previous year. My mind was set as far as resolutions go, that as far as it depended on me, physical pain was not going to be my master. That might sound weird to people who haven’t lived with chronic pain, but this is where I was at. As far as I was even remotely able to this year, I went to the gym three times a week. If I was in pain, I didn’t really care, I was going anyway. If I was utterly exhausted (which I generally was since I have been anemic most of the year), I didn’t care, I was going anyway. Sometimes that meant slow cycling with my eyes closed, but at least I was moving. Sometimes that meant leaving the gym feeling worse off than when I started- but for me, it was a way of taking back control. It was a way of saying that pain could never bring me back to that horrifying black corner of helplessness. Get me as far away from that corner as possible. Basically, exercise was my way of kicking pain in the face.

I also went back to university this year and took a Creative Writing course, which I really enjoyed. Sure, completing each writing assignment meant my hands ached for a week, but once again, I did not really care. I was determined. Pressing on. Taking my life back. Kicking pain in the face.

And treatments. I tried so many treatments that it is almost funny, just trying to keep on functioning.

Often I have not tempered my determination with open hands. At times I have had this huge piece of my heart that just hasn’t wanted to trust God’s will in this area, to be honest. My eyes have been on temporary things so often that they don’t feel temporary anymore. When we set our eyes on temporary things, they simply take over our whole view.

It has been the most difficult part of my Christian life, to balance determination and contentment, or in other words, to balance desire and surrendering. There is nothing wrong with my wanting to be free of life hindering health issues, and there’s nothing wrong with setting goals and striving for them with determination.

But it’s wrong to want something so badly that you are no longer willing to accept your circumstances when God doesn’t give you what you want. It’s wrong to stop trusting Him in an area and to go chasing after it apart from Him. And it’s wrong when you put more effort into reaching temporary goals, goals that don’t even hold a promise for you, rather than exerting much of your effort into becoming more like Christ. Continue reading

You Are Never Doing Nothing

If for some reason you are ever rendered incapable of doing much of anything, you will likely know the insecurity and restlessness that goes with it.

Insecure

Insecurity, because as people we have so much of our perceived worth wrapped up in what we do. Our capabilities, responsibilities, and hobbies are what make us who we are. When we are no longer able to take on those things, we are left with little left to talk about, and find it painfully difficult to relate with those who are busy doing things.

You have a sense that you are existing more than living, and that is an incredibly difficult feeling. I wrote last year of this experience:

And some had easy laughter
And a carefree kind of sway,
They flittered and they fluttered,
Humming through the day.

“What have I to offer?”
The bruised reed said
From the ground,
“The glory’s gone over my head
But I am sinking down.
Up above the light is shining,
Sweet perfume fills the air,
But down here is decaying,
And an awful load of care.”

There is a potentially crippling sense that because you are not accomplishing things you are not valuable, nor are you even interesting.

Restless

I say restless, because we are used to doing things and being busy, and when life becomes slow and monotonous, all the hours rolling into one, it is easy to be anxious. But a sadder thing happens when you are stuck in that place for a long period of time. You accept your current reality and even if you are able to hope for improvement, when that hope is a long way off (even weeks or months), it is a dreadful wait. You begin to look forward to nothing more than going to sleep at night, and perhaps, if things are particularly bad, even night does not bring relief. Continue reading

We Rejoice In Our Sufferings

 

 

Romans 5:3-5 “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

“We rejoice in our sufferings.”

We have here a totally unnatural response to suffering. Only God can produce that. It isn’t hard to be angry or frustrated with suffering. If we just give way to our fleshly, automatic responses, this is likely where we are headed. Nobody wants to suffer. I don’t want to suffer. I want an easy life; I want goals met without roadblocks, I want plans carried out without interruptions, I want pleasure that is unhindered by pain, I want choices that are dictated by pure want and not scribbled out by limitations. I want myself and everyone I love to be healthy and happy.

I suppose we call that hedonism. For the Christian, we might not want to attain this “easy” and “pleasure-filled” life in the same way the world might, or at least we shouldn’t. Many of the pleasures of this world Christ has made ugly in our eyes. But if that is the case it doesn’t mean we are free of self-indulgent want. It doesn’t mean we are free of the idolatrous and entitled thirst for easiness.

Simply put, we want a smooth road and pleasures by the wayside. Comfortable and enjoyable friendships, respectful children, loving spouses, a healthy church, steady income, hobbies, health, vacations, laughter- simple things. Not ungodly things. Good things. And it is so easy to make them all idols.

So I’m preaching to myself. Suffering can lay its hand on so many avenues of life. It can interrupt our “good things,” or turn them upside down. It can even destroy them completely. And who wants to rejoice at that?

No. It is not a natural response. In fact, many circumstances call for what I have called “fitting sadness.” Rejoicing does not mean there must be the absence of sorrow, for the bible says we are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2Corinthians 6:10).”

But here we have it. “We rejoice in our sufferings,” strange as it seems, and the scripture says it is because of what we know God is going to produce through them. Continue reading

Last Year- past the end of my rope.

January of last year I found out I was expecting our second child. I was half excited and half terrified, my dream and my dread all wrapped up in one.

New Years Eve of 2015 I had prayed more earnestly than that whole year before that I would conceive again. It was the first time I wanted another baby more than I wanted to escape pain. I prayed, and believed God would answer that prayer in the following year. It was the end of a hard year. Over three hard years. I had so much physical pain with my first pregnancy, and that pain was only just starting to fade three years after my daughter was born. Pain that stabbed me every time I walked and prevented me from doing so much of life. Pregnancy causes severe back and pelvic pain for me, and experience told me that healing from it and getting back to life was a nearly impossible task.

That New Year’s Eve I wrote:

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been so low
As this year
Or as high,
It was a battle knowing no retreats
Though bombs like rain
Fell from the sky.”

I was still scared that God would answer my prayer for a baby at the end of a year in which I battled so hard and was left weary, needing rest. If He did, how was I going to survive it? I was so spent with pain, so ready to move beyond it, yet I wanted another child so desperately. I ended that poem praying:

“Here I am- empty without You,
Take me up
Upon Your shoulder bear,
This year I pray you will surprise me
But You must carry my care.
Be it dark
Provide for me a spark-
Be it bright
Then dance me in that light.” Continue reading

The Desolation of Smug

Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”

It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.

To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”

It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.

The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.

The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:

“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”

When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.

If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.

My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:

“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”

About the smug heart, I have written previously:

Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!

Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.

That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.

I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:

1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

The Unveiling is Not Cruel

Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?

To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?

Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?

Oh, perhaps some seasoned saint
Could stand unflinching at a cross-
I doubt it.

There was man- Him without dross
Who fell face down before His cross,
An angel sent to strengthen there
The Son of Man weighed down with care.

Surprised?
By this: The Man of Sorrows
Pausing, praying at the cup?
What an awful load to bear
And what a sip to sup.

But you,
You know your lot is small
Compared to Jesus
Or to Paul,
‘Tis not a stake,
Or stones, or whips
Or hungry nights and sinking ships.

“Some men by worthy trials be
Cast low,
But who should pity me?”

So in your little furnace flame
A crying up-reaching
Burns with shame,
You see you are a smoldering wick,
Should wrath be kindled
Hasting quick? Continue reading

A Thorn To Bless

What will I do with satan’s thorn
Lodged deep in weakest access point?
No pill to take
No treatment makes
It well, no method has supplied
A cure,
Steps stumble; Backward falls
The soldier, boldly with a limp
But limping on
He goes, he goes,
A carefully crafted grin
All turmoil within.

Paul called his a tormentor,
Assailant of the flesh,
A harassing messenger
Its’ agent being death.

What wickedness with cruel intent
Should drive the thorn so deep?
What does he gain
From this my pain?-
But not my soul to keep.

God, the guardian of my soul-
He does not sleep.
No armies march past Him
While I do weep. Continue reading

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: A Hymn For The Weary and Discouraged

One of the reasons I love this hymn, written in 1882 by George Matthison, is for its rich poetic content. If you like, here is the story surrounding the hymn. The lyrics deserve to be read slowly, and you will find Chris Rice’s version of the song below.

“O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.”

A verse that comes to my mind is Psalm 119:25 “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.” The composer is a weary soul, a flickering torch, in pain, in rain, laying down in the dust, feeling as though this life’s glory is dead. But he knows what he needs. And he knows that what he needs will not be found within himself. He knows there is another source. Continue reading

Abide With Me: A Hymn For the Dying

When I search my mind for a favorite hymn “Abide With Me” rises quickly to the surface. CyberHymnal.org gives us this information about the circumstances surrounding the writing of this hymn by Henry Lyte in 1847:

Lyte was inspired to write this hymn as he was dying of tuberculosis; he finished it the Sunday he gave his farewell sermon in the parish he served so many years. The next day, he left for Italy to regain his health. He didn’t make it though—he died in Nice, France, three weeks after writing these words. Here is an excerpt from his farewell sermon:

“O brethren, I stand here among you today, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to impress it upon you, and induce you to prepare for that solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely acquaintance with the death of Christ.”

I know of no greater hymn which so honestly puts into words the experience and struggle of those dying under the curse of disease, a thing I have not experienced but have seen. The lyrics in full may be read here, and below is my favorite rendition of this song. Please take time to listen and to read the words.

You might wonder why I would love this hymn so much, when its’ topic is dying. But it is not just about dying- it is about dying in and dying for the Lord. “If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).”

Jesus can “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:15).” He did this “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).” “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1Corinthians 15:56);” He has removed that bitter sting and broke that power which stood against us, condemning us, and He gives and will give us victory over these things. The bible testifies that a day will come when death will be destroyed, and resurrection life will be ours. For the Christian, death needs not be a topic of dread, but of anticipation.

Yet for all the good death will bring to us, anyone who has witnessed death knows- it is usually not as glorious as Hollywood makes it out to be. Disease has no pity; It has no respect for human dignity. It is a cruel tormentor, ugly and stealing from its victims, wasting them, and crippling with pain. Not always, but surely this is often the case. It is not so much the death, but the dying that can surely cast a Christian low, even in agony. Continue reading