I Am Hurting
My conviction is telling me to write about topics that are truly on my heart. As I blog more, I want discuss what I am learning and problems I am trying to find answers to from a personal level. My past writing has mostly entailed topics for other people, teachers and professors, but this is a new season of authenticity for me. In other words, as I write, I want to have a proverbial horse in the race. Honestly, I really need get away from silly theological discussions that have no meaning in my life. It does sound self serving, and it is, but I hope we can learn together.
The problem is, there are so many things I want to discuss like, how do we know God is real? How do we experience Him? What is the Christian response to pain and suffering? And many more. These could all be thesis papers, let alone anthologies, but let’s start with pain. Because our faith is founded on an all-powerful loving God who allows pain, it has opened itself up to a vast array of criticism over the centuries by people who cannot reconcile the two. The problem of pain and suffering (or some people call “evil”) has been debated long before Jesus’ time and it’s still a barrier to Christianity for people today. But mainly I want to write about this topic because I am hurting right now, in fact. This is probably the most difficult period in my life ever. I do have horse in this race, and let’s call him Shadow.
So my world is being rocked now, and my faith is being challenged by two physical ailments I’ve been battling for the last twelve years. I’d love to tell you specifically, but they are too embarrassing to talk about. The people that need to know, know, and for others, I would covet your prayers as you think of me. Overall, I am generally healthy and not going to die so I don’t want anyone to worry–it’s chronic issues that certainly won’t kill me, just limit me in some ways, and are very disheartening, frustrating, and scary.
Because of this, my faith is raw: sensitive to the touch, open to infection, and vulnerable. The more recent issue has challenged me to the core emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It’s led me to one the darkest and driest places I have ever known. I have spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket meeting with numerous doctors to figure out from where the problem stems, and what can be done to fix it. Still, very few answers. Emotionally, I feel hollow inside, like a kiwi fruit cut in half and scooped out: there’s not much left in me, only a shell–a seed? In other words, riding Shadow has been exhausting.
Of course I’ve prayed for healing many times, alone and with others. I still read the Bible, talk to counselors and friends, read other books, and now blog about it. I’ve seen several doctors and specialists and will continue to do so. Still, no healing. I feel like the made scientist running around the lab trying to get the formula right. What about if I add a little more fasting God, and a dab of good works?
Maybe my formula needs modification, and scarier yet, maybe there is no formula? I’ve followed James 5 and have had the elders pray for me in faith but my healing remains a mystery. Why Lord?
Am I the only one who asks these questions? I don’t think so. Many have gone before me and have written great insights about suffering. These ideas have been propogandized for thousands of years yet pain’s problem still remains the main philosophical barrier to people coming to know Jesus. Where is God when it hurts? What did I do wrong to deserve this? Why didn’t God stop it? Where is He when it hurts? Why does God allow pain? Why aren’t my gosh-darn prayers for healing working? We all ask.
C.S. Lewis stated that pain is God’s megaphone to “to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain). I’m not sure if that’s encouraging or not, but I do know that pain certainly gets our attention. What it “rouses” is debatable. Some people steadily climb and conquer their mountain and it thrusts them into a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with God. Other people get buried by the avalanche. Talking about personal pain is difficult, and reading about it is even more difficult because it reminds me that all is not well in my life, in other people’s lives, and in the world. I just want it to go away. To reason with it, philosophize it, or even theologize about pain does little when going through a trial. So stands me.
At the end of the day when my emotions are drained from worrying, when my hand is cramped from journaling, or my eyes tired from reading, when my knees are sore from praying, and when my mouth is tired from talking about all this, I have to face my real pain when I close my eyes at night. I ask myself, can I deal with this? How long will I have to ride Shadow? Will we make it, or be crushed?
There are many reasons I could conjure up as to why this is happening. I could argue well that God wants me to develop a better prayer life, or God is actually kind because He is limiting pain to this life on earth, or just need to rest in the fact that Jesus suffered too, and bla bla bla. Maybe in the future I will arrive at one of these conclusions but not today. Answers like these have to be revealed from above and known in our deepest parts to be healing, and I am not there at this point.
If we throw spirituality aside for the moment, we could totally go down the road of this world just plain sucks. It sucks. Ever wanted to say that? It feels good actually. I’ll say it again. THIS WORLD SUCKS! TOTALLY SUCKS! And this CRAP is hard! Ahhh!!!
Still with me? Or did I scare you away?
But “All is not lost” says Halbarad to Gimli in Lord of the Rings. The last chapter has not been written, I remind myself. First, simply because I’m not dead, and I am thankful what troubles me physically won’t kill me. Second, I haven’t heard from God yet, and since Jacob wrestled with a heavenly being and received a blessing, why not me? Plus, and not the least of which, I think God is good.
This is where theology becomes helpful–taking it from ivory towers to real hurting people like me. Theology just means, “What do I really think about God?” Since my emotions (anger, frustrations, confusion, etc.) won’t change easily, maybe my head could affect my heart? Let’s try.
When I settle down and think about my situation from the outside (cybernetics of cybernetics), mostly I am surprised at me being surprised about all this. I’ve been to theology school and have read about this stuff. Jesus says clearly in Matthew 7 that storms will come and they will challenge our very foundation. Peter writes to Diaspora Jews telling them to hang on amidst their suffering. We can look at the suffering of Shadrach and his fellow conspirators, Daniel, Jeremiah, and even the eleven apostles who were martyred for the faith. Several people I know have gone through so much pain through cancer, divorce, disappointment, and even losing a child. If you’ve made it through with your faith in tact, I sincerely applaud you.
But enough about you, this is about my suffering. It’s happening to Eric–did I mentioned that? Not a Christian hero somewhere overseas, not someone on TV, and not even a friend. Indeed, this is my pain. This is my own personal MMA match with God, my Dark Night of the Soul, my desert experience. I wish I had answers to your suffering but I don’t, maybe someday. Right now I can only listen and empathize with your pain because I need to come to grips with my own. Shadow and I must finish this race before I teach someone else how to ride.
Keeping with my thinking cap, I move to my favorite author, Dallas Willard. I don’t know what you do to soothe yourself when you’re hurting, but when I’m done fighting the wind I turn to go ‘ole DW. Dallas’s writings are philosophically chewy, and I’ve grown tremendously from them, especially Renovation of the Heart. Admittedly, I’ve often used his teachings on my iPod to put me to sleep at night due to his deep, monotone voice. (Try it, and I give you the fifteen-minute guarantee!).
Willard defines reality as what you “run into when you’re wrong.” Think about that definition: When you drive at 70 mph in a 35 mph zone to beat the 10:30am deadline for a McDonald’s breakfast and think you won’t get pulled over? Reality check. When you have high hopes for a relationship and are devastated to find out it won’t work out? Reality check. When you think you won’t get sick until you’re 80 years old when it won’t matter anyway? Reality check. Again, reality becomes clear when we’re wrong–our fantasies, false expectations, or wishful thinking quickly shatter in the face of reality.
I’ve been wrong about God. I thought God was good AND wouldn’t allow me to have any ailments that would challenge my faith until I was older. Oops, reality check.
Lesson #1: Pain and suffering are a real part of life and can and will happen to everyone. You might already know this.
As I think of it, I’ve probably been wrong about God a lot. For example, when I first became a Christian I thought He spoke to me all the time. Then I worked at a Christian college where I grew leaps and bounds in my faith. After that, I traveled overseas with a Christian organization and things in my spiritual life were nothing short of blissful the first year. The world was my oyster, and there was nothing but blue skies and smooth sailing ahead. My faith in God was dynamic, exciting, and I thought about all the possibilities He had for me. Go Jeremiah 29:11! This was my view of Christianity: “Easy peasy Portuguesy”, as my friend would say (He was Portuguese but you wouldn’t have guessed).
Reality check, and Lesson #2: Life doesn’t always go as you planned.
Choice in the Matter
I could easily be buried by this mountain of doubt and despair, either emotionally or spiritually. Shadow could get the best of me. Many well-intentioned Christians get overwhelmed by life and throw in the towel because it becomes way too hard. They look for soothing in material possessions, lust, or just check out of their faith and life in general.
Although tempting, the route of giving up on Jesus and the faith is not an option. Where am I to go besides Him? The other options seems so grim. There are only biological answers in atheism. In agnosticism, I couldn’t even know if there even were any answers, which sounds even more depressing. Buddhism is out of the question because pain wouldn’t even exist, and right now I’ll tell you it does. Hinduism is a “no-go” because then I’d have to swallow that fact that I brought it upon myself, which sounds like some cosmic injustice. Islam couldn’t relate because therein lacks a personal God that could relate to my suffering. Lastly, Materialism or Humanism wouldn’t satisfy because, well, what could a Lamborghini do for true consolation? (Ok, maybe it would help a little).
So I’m left with my religion that I radically converted to when I was twenty-one. I feel like one of Jesus’ early disciples, and when he asked if they were leaving, replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” There I stand.
At least in Christianity I have hope, or the chance to find it. Like Jacob, I will continue to wrestle the angel until I get an answer or get tapped out. Maybe Shadow will even bring about a blessing or two in the process. But answers to problems like this don’t come cheap, and a pair of kneepads will probably be in order. I’m committed to rolling up my sleeves and to do the work necessary to find out. Like Neo in The Matrix, I will swallow the red pill to see just how far this rabbit hole goes–it will lead to the bigger adventure anyway, right?
But maybe my questions will never be answered, or at least to my satisfaction. But my hope is that I could be free to love Him without one. It’s been said that God doesn’t give us answers, but promises. That sounds like Him, and I think that’s all I need to be OK.
It’s healthy for me to write, and I will write more, as I know more. I decided to make this a public blog instead of keeping it in my private journal so you could understand, and possibly relate to where I was at. As I said earlier, this is a new season of authenticity for me and this is the first attempt at publishing my situation. It is not meant to argue a point, or even pursuade anyone to agree with me. I also have been careful not to quote too many outside sources because my words are coming out of my heart, not from anyone else. The authors I used are those who have in fact touched it, and I’ve taken their teaching to be my own now. I have been reading, and will continue to read books by Yancy, Lewis, and others in hopes to find hope in this situation. Next time, when I feel the need to process again, I will update this. Thanks for reading!