I am among those blessed with physical pain. How can I use the word blessed in such a context? I remember now reading Elizabeth Barret Browning as a student and being deeply drawn to her immutability and passion despite her permanent set of disturbing circumstances. If ever there was a Job...still, she is recalled as having stood for something(1). She was also not without the blessing of God. I have been asking the oldest human question standing on a new plain: what do I do when "it" doesn't get better--ever?Extended pain and/or deep grief is the kind of seemingly helpless experience that motives a person to start compartmentalizing and formulating out of sheer exhaustion. A person in real pain will feel no shame about trying every solution imaginable. "There is nothing new under the sun" by the way(2). King Solomon wrote that. (This coming from a guy who could have literally anything he wanted). I'm not sure whether he ever had physical pain, or if his problem was simply chronic boredom. Mindlessness is a sort of pain in itself; a disassociation from the reaches of God and the nonconformity of living in Him.
I see this offensive stance we take towards our pain as a normal human response to suffering. When there's discomfort, we fight it. Sometimes we even enjoy the fight--this makes us feel worthy. If we have to go through it, we'll stick some placebo in to mask the absence of real appeasement. I am no longer shocked by my inability to be composed during pain; I find there's nothing wrong with honest questions in the midst of maladies. These attempted judgments against our Maker only become infectious when we have seen them and continue to recline about with them. Unless we move towards God, they eventually become bedsores or gangrene and then we are terminal and must lose a leg or an arm to see bitterness go. The questions themselves are really just opportunities. We don't have to wait so long as to be engulfed by them. Questions are intersection points for action. If we fight this way, pain can't win.I am not proud to say that I have frequented the halls of doubt--not at all a great champion of faith--but all is not lost. Doubt has been the implement of God's hand in forming many faithful heroes. I confess I have "consorted with flesh" in a myriad of compulsive questions against God(3). As though I could even hope to stand in His courtroom. My questions are something to this effect: "Why is everyone else being healed and not me? Is my faith not strong enough? I've been touched by God before, why wasn't wholeness sustained?" Though I have asked and asked again my pain seems indomitable, like I've rolled in a mixture of discomfort and super-glue. To those who know pain, I have compassion for your struggle, I hope the way God has compassion for mine. You are not alone. We ask the kinds of questions that cannot be answered with a trite word or a randomly quoted scripture verse. Those in some sort of pain, realistically most all of us, know what it's like to feel starved for encouragement.
Something new has begun to wake up in me, and I want to share. Encouragement has woken up in me. I have had a new opening of my eyes from God and now I know: perhaps His eternal dreams for my faith are greater than the immediate alleviation of my temporary pain. I have often wished that my body could keep up with my heart. Now casting a look across what my life has been I see moments when I felt so incredibly broken physically, when there was nothing that I could do to work harder or faster for God and no way I could try more or accomplish more. For me this has been a remarkably frustrating phenomenon, but those intersections were the "thin places" between heaven and earth, as CS Lewis calls them. The intimacy with God that has became my portion in those times is exquisite. I can almost say--I am almost surrendered to say-- this is intimacy worth all the suffering I've felt. Suffering is a process. Surrender is a process. God understands.
Impacting in my encouragement was the brinkmanship of Jesus's miracle in Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived(4). What I read has brought me to a yielding I can't escape from. God has tested my reliance. Lazarus died and Jesus knew He was dying ahead of time. This gave Jesus plenty of time to get to the siblings house. Surplus time aside, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were also loved by Jesus. Amplified Bible says "they were His dear friends and he held them in high esteem." So wouldn't affection be enough to motivate Jesus to give to the need of the moment? Mary and Martha hoped so. Like me their pain took hold and they couldn't deny their disappointment. They too wrestled with Jesus's sovereign will to hold off on healing those last few days. They told (asked) Jesus, to His face, "Master, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." I see here this lovely concept I've been told of is truth: we really can be highly esteemed and dear to Jesus and still struggle with His ways--to His face! Jesus's response to Mary and Martha is catalytic in stirring up their belief, reliance and trust. Jesus is asking them to "cleave" to Him. His heart for the situation is articulated earlier on when He says, "This sickness is not to end in death; but (on the contrary) it is to honor God and to promote His glory, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Saturated in these words of God I know He requires the ultimate in obedience and trust from me. He desires me to attain wholehearted determination towards the larger focal point of His glory. If I can cleave to Him, then all I will see will be Him. There will come a point when my own suffering will just not be consuming to me. I will have vision of a vast and good plan unfolding about me. Do I believe that He is a Good Friend and Papa? Do I believe that He raised Lazarus from the dead? Now Jesus is the One asking me questions. He so often uses questions to derail the rigidity of formulaic thinking.
On Wednesday I visited my doctor and asked Him to remove my warts. He went into a detailed explanation of what the procedure would entail and told me that I would be in a lot of pain, especially because my warts are growing out of my knuckles. He said the pain would be deep into my bones and would last long after the actual freezing had been done. I found out the process only yields the desired result, complete killing of of the tissue and hopefully the virus that causes the warts, about fifty percent of the time. Never the less, having had these warts and watching them grow and multiply for about a year so far, I told Him that I wanted to go ahead and try. Warts can take up to five years to clear on their own; the immediate pain seemed a measurable trade for ridding myself of the virus' roots in my hands. He got the liquid nitrogen ready and while chatting with my husband and I, positioned the tube to jet out over my fingers. He paused for a second and, without lifting his head, said with gravity, "this is going to hurt."
How many times have cried out to God for relief from internal and external pain being accentuated by my circumstances? How many times have I expected Him to "pony up", essentially saying, "look God, right now I have a need." I will put voice to giving Him permission to "do whatever it takes"...."go ahead God. Shoot that liquid nitrogen into my heart--I can handle it" When the ache starts in my core as God obliges me, how often do I refuse His sweet medicine to go back to an old concoction of my own, knowing full well I can do no good? We all get stuck sometimes. The old pain is more manageable to us than the new that purifies.
Elizabeth Barret Browning retained her effectiveness in life despite a chronic problem with her lungs, spinal injury at a young age, tyranny of her earthly father and loss of her brother. Through all of these circumstances God lifted her up with a remarkable ability to write and with love she experienced through her devotion to God and in her relationship with her husband. She "saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living(5)" despite apparent hindrances. God is not asking me to despair of all miracles as though He will never make good on His promises. Jesus wept before Lazarus's tomb and He was troubled over the suffering He saw. He is compassionate. He is not without genuine pathos. He is asking me to trust His deeper work in me. If He desires this pain remain for this earthly season, He assures me it is only temporary. Pain well worthwhile, pain for His glory: deeper faith, love, purity and anointing. If I can cleave to Christ, walking steadfastly, I will see the dead rise in my own life and the life of my beloved companions who also suffer. This will come in God's timing, when all spiritual ground in my faith is ripe to receive His glory. I will be His testimony and His letter will be written on my heart. I must keep believing my Abba, no matter how badly I hurt.