God gets joy out of our healing. Let’s learn together.
Being one that is chronically ill, pain becomes a multi-faceted word. As of today, I am 27 years old and have undergone nearly 40 surgical procedures; with each one bringing me face to face with many types of pain.
As if that weren’t enough, two of my close friends, one I consider a true sister, passed away in as many years.
I learned at an early age, pain is a fixture in life. In 1998, on my 14th birthday, I was in Madison, Wisconsin for a doctor’s appointment at a prestigious children’s hospital. It was on that day that I was diagnosed with Lupus and kidney failure. I was to immediately start IV steroidal and chemotherapy treatments. Surprisingly enough, despite the physical pain, it was the emotional fallout that hurt the worst. For a 14 year old girl, the nearly 80lbs the steroids helped me gain caused so much social damage, I would have gladly taken a million IV’s instead of facing my peers. I was so overwhelmed with pain on every level, physical, emotional and spiritual that hearing the words “this is temporary” fell on deaf ears.
However, like most things during your teenage years, it was temporary. Not my Lupus or kidney disease, mind you, but the pain in those moments was. Yes, surgery is painful and most of the time, for quite a while – but, you heal. Yes, using needles so large they should be illegal 3 times a week is painful – but after a few hours, they are removed. Physical pain tends to be treatable. Maybe not curable, but as a race, we humans can make it tolerable. So when I was asked to share my thoughts on pain, my mind went the route I am most familiar with: physical pain. That is the easy kind, the kind that, for me, eventually goes away.
But, the real pain for me comes from loosing two great friends. One I learned passed away because she was a victim of murder; her spouse being the number 1 suspect. The other, my very best friend, due to health complications on an Easter morning. For me, these are pains I cannot shake. They are pains I am promised will get lighter. The are also pains that I am afraid to heal, because as I have learned from my experience with physical pain – healing hurts as well, if not more.
I could write a novel how to handle physical pain, but am clueless as to handle pain in this capacity. On my closet mirror at home, I have written “Just because they are in Heaven, it does not mean they are separated from us, because we are all part of the Body of Christ.” It was something my pastor here in Florida had once said in a sermon and it brings me comfort.
So, day by day, needle by needle, memory to memory – I heal a little bit more. You think I would know by now that all healing, no matter the kind takes time – but those that know me best know how impatient I can be. All I can do is thank God that He created the healing aspect of life; because He certainly wasn’t obligated to! That along with knowing that we as Christians will undoubtedly experience total healing and the existence He intended for us with Him in Heaven – makes the pain all the more bearable.
As I write this today, I am sitting outside enjoying the afternoon breeze. The sun is shining, the grass is green, and the gentleman no more than 15 feet away from me puffs nervously on his cigarette. His vice is one that I can not rightly pass judgement on because I imagine people look at me the same way when I am at my prime at a local all-you-can-eat Asian food establishment. I have learned to understand that whatever we consider an idol involves an attitude of sin. Sin that separates us from God. Regardless, I am still enjoying the beautiful flowers. They are perfect.
Jesus talks about sinners in scripture. Many times in fact. He doesn’t condone it. Quite the opposite actually. Often when He approaches those in sin Jesus takes it much more seriously than I do. In the “Parable of the Sower” He compares those living in sin as figurative weeds in a garden or a pasture. Jesus says that God will not remove the “weeds” because this would have negative consequences for the “good plants”. So, when reading that throughout my life, I have always been on alert. “Weeds (sinners) are all around me…I need to be on guard”, I have always thought. For a long time, I developed an attitude of defense when it came to these dangerous sinners. The idea was that I should not get too close or the evil darkness of their hearts will infect my pure, innocent soul.
I thought this until my brother taught me a little about landscaping. My interpretation expanded a bit. He taught me something he did not intend to be spiritual, but now guides my ministry thought process. It also gave me deep insight on the parable mentioned above.
My brother owns a small farm and understanding the needs of the land is a massive passion of his. He raises chickens, grows vegetables, and takes pleasure in God’s creation. Every time I visit the farm, we walk together and talk about things like ministry, work, and parenting. A few weeks ago, I presented him with a question I had been saving up for a few weeks. The question had to do with how to get rid of the ugly weeds in my front yard. So, I asked. The answer somewhat surprised me.
“Don’t be mad at the weeds”, he said. “The presence of weeds simply tells you what the greatest need is.” I stared at him with a puzzling look. He knew I didn’t understand so he expounded. “When you have weeds in your yard, many times it means there is some nutrient that is lacking…the weeds tell you your needs.” He went on to describe scenerios pertaining to more and less nitrogen, chemical balance, and other things that brought about certain families of pesky flora. I learned more than I cared to know in that instance. At the time, I really didn’t want a long explanation…I just wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to avoid them.
When we read the “Parable of the Sower” in scripture and we begin to think of “weeds equal bad” and “no weeds equal good” I think we miss the point. The presence of weeds tell us the needs. So, we can think of it this way…God calls us to look at the sinners around us through His eyes. These are people with needs. Not just stubborn folks with no moral compass and lacking in wisdom. The need is food. The need is relationships. The need is healing and hope. The need is Jesus. How can we really judge, when God is trying to open our eyes to the great need?
Pray for God’s eyes today. Let’s attack sin.
At 2:30pm today, I hit the wall…you know what wall I am talking about. The one you may hit everyday too. I try so desperately to fight it, but often it overtakes my every move. A yawn escapes and there is something so satisfying about letting it go. It may be my personality, but I often find myself in these moments snapping myself out of a daydream. I do that often…I can’t seem to help it. Then, somehow, I make it through. I leave work and come home to a house teeming with life, pretend and snotty noses…and then it is bedtime for the kids and sometimes I stare at a blinking cursor…knowing that God wants me to share my heart, but with droopy eyelids. This is my life.
As a bivocational pastor, I have found myself getting into unhealthy routines because my brain and heart are on autopilot. Between my day job, preaching, visiting people in the hospital, counseling people, putting out fires, parenting, and life in general it is easy to make excuses for myself. As I write this blog today, I feel led to admit some things you may not know about me. I am tired…and I have some confessions to make.
The following are 5 confessions I have about my life as a pastor:
1. I don’t get into God’s word like I should– It is funny. The most energizing and life giving activity that I engage in is something that is often put on the back burner. Granted, I do dip into scripture regularly to prepare my messages, but I definitely feel the damage when I get into a habit of “snacking” on scripture and neglect the full meals that I need. I know that God is not going to keep me from Heaven because I got half way through the Psalms and got side tracked…and really that’s not the point. The point of soaking in scripture is to fall more in love with the author. I need this.
2. Sometimes I want to cuss– It’s true. It really affects the glow of my halo too. Don’t worry conservative fan base….I don’t, but I want to. Often something will come up that is stressful, or I have realized I have dropped the ball on a project, and I get as far as a “crud” and dare not go any further. What I have found, for me, is that the less I soak in scripture as mentioned above, the more these thoughts erupt.
3. From time to time I pray selfishly– It is a joy to pray for people in their time of need or simply when they come to mind. I will confess that there are rare times when I simply want to have what I want. A fat bank account, a new house, a smaller pant size, and the list goes on and on. As a result of these things, sometimes God hears about it…and the prayer request that someone gives me comes second. God checks me during these times, and reminds me of the blessings that He has provided…or…at the moment I will see one of my children boumding past my view and I am reminded how rich I am.
4. I find myself not trusting God– There are times where I look at the bank account and the prognosis doesn’t look good or I gear up for a relational battle that I think may be coming, and I forget that God is supposed to be in control. I try to take hold of the outcome so I am not left looking silly or so I can still look good. God has shown me, so many times, that his timing and methods are perfect. I don’t have to worry…but I confess that even though I preach this at church regularly, I often get caught in the negativity trap.
5. I often feel sorry for myself– If something happens to me or there were not many people at church this Sunday, I tend to have a short-lived pity party. It is a trance that I get into. I convince myself no one cares and no one should care, and I begin to get upset based on a false reality that I create in my mind. I think God wants so much more for me. He is always waiting for me, to snap out of it, and return to serving.
Like mentioned above, it is easy to come up with excuse after excuse. I could tell you about all the things I need to do between now and next week and cite these things as a reason for the way I handle situations. I am tired. I am a pastor. I desire to know Him more and serve Him. I get angry, and I falter. Obviously, I know God wants more from me. Sometimes it is really hard. But, when I think about it…I wouldn’t have it any other way. What keeps me going is the celebration I see in a person’s eyes when God reveals Himself to them in a mighty way. Really…I am living the dream, and my faults are opportunities to be transformed. I am not perfect but God is chpping away at my edges. I am so grateful.
There is an epidemic that is spreading throughout the world. It is one that every human being has experienced and will continue to experience until they enter their eternity. This epidemic is the ailment we call pain.
For the most part, humans try to avoid pain, or when they are in the midst of it, attempt to find some sort of sedation. I see this every day in my day job (a doctor’s office). People call every day wanting their pain medications and depression drugs so that they will not have to feel what is affecting them.
People are in pain….I get that. It hurts….I get that too. Pain is not always a physical malady that we can treat with medication, but often hits us in our emotional center. This often hurts us the most. It feels better to alleviate it….It is easier to concentrate when it is gone.
I think we often misunderstand the interplay of God and our perceived archenemy; pain. We assume that God’s main job in life is to take away our pain, and even prevent it. I tend to agree, mostly, with these assumptions but I think there are times where pain is a necessary tool to use to guide us to holiness.
In ancient times, when a lamb would wander away from its shepherd, the shepherd would break a leg of the lamb and carry it on his shoulders until it is healed. The pain for the lamb would be trememdous and the shepherd would also experience turmoil for the pain that it inflicted on the lamb. The point? The lamb’s leg was going to heal and simultaneously this delicate animal would learn to fully depend upon its master. The nature of the relationship changes for the two characters in this story and, at the same time, the lamb’s leg is stronger than ever.
Why do we equate pain with evil? God never said that pain didn’t exist before the fall of man…He just said that the fall would be painful (childbirth, death, etc).
God cares about your pain and truly desires to heal you……Just don’t allow any suffering you experience to be wasted.
I am a terrible patient.
Lately, I have experienced a cough that has lasted around a month, and each day it becomes more annoying. A few weeks ago i broke down and went to a local immediate care facility and was given antibiotics. They did nothing for me. I then decided to live with my ailment and essentially ignore the symptoms that I was having. It was okay at first, but the more I coughed and wheezed, the more people made comments about my condition. “You need to go back to the doctor”, some would say. Others would try to diagnose me based on their personal experience.
I have to say that I got tired of hearing people tell me that something was wrong. I would roll my eyes, and ignore their advice. I developed a wall of pride that prevented me from seeing the real issue.
How many times do we do this? We slowly (not necessarily on purpose) eliminate intimate times with God, and our priorities become skewed. The lack of regular resourcing from God’s spirit begins to erode us to the point of burnout and exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong….even when we are in God’s will exhaustion can still come, but it is a different response. This exhaustion can lead to bitterness and what I displayed; pride.
When we are in this situation we can become somewhat irritated when someone points out our visible change. Our eyes have lost their sparkle and our desire for “His will……on earth as it is is heaven” has disolved.
God wants us to be well. He wants to spend regular time with us and pour His spirit out upon our lives. Not to magically give us wealth or influence, but a resourcing that will not only get us through the hard times, but will also help our testimony be meaningful to others.
In humility, we need to approach the Great Physician. We may be afraid of the potential diagnoses, but the future will be filled with unlimited potential if we obey.
The enemy of our souls wants us to believe that we are alone in the fight to become well. We know better than that….
If I kicked you in the shin what would you do? This may seem like a silly question but the answer to this may help us understand how we react to pain. In general, it is safe to say that most humans have the same pattern of response to an assault that inflicts pain. The visual display may look different but the reaction has similar foundations. This same response can not only be seen with physical pain but also with the infliction of emotional distress.
As I have been reflecting about the concept of pain, 3 steps (obviously not the only steps) of pain response come to mind that manifest in different ways.
1. Expression of Pain (OUCH!)- When many experience an unwelcome trespass on their comfort, the natural urge is to make that infraction known. The reflex of expression shows the assailant that harm has been done and that, at the very least, restitution is deserved. Some try to mask this step by acting like everything is okay, but the bottled hurt manifests itself in other areas of life.
2. Anger- When a person comes to terms with the fact that there has been harm done to them anger or indignation occurs. This anger causes the mind to think of ways justice can be served. “Lashing out” for retribution often occurs. This reaction could be passive, and the individual may seek justice but this justice may look more like “pity” or the infliction of guilt on the opponent.
3. Questioning the Event– When someone is “kicked in the shin”, as was started earlier; the final response may be to question why they were the one hurt. Often times, if the answer is not adequate to the one harmed a new pattern of pain commences. A new cycle has begun.
Why am I saying all of this? Well, we can see this same pattern in our spiritual lives. Many people have been dealing with deep pain for a very long time. Pain that is unresolved can feed a cycle that leads to deeper anger, bitterness, and even addictions. If we can’t understand why we are hurting, or even refuse to seek an answer (we have become comfortable in our suffering) then doubt, fear, anxiety, or unhealthy relationships have a natural breeding ground.
Seek to understand how you respond to pain.
God is not calling us to lead a pain free life, but to be a living example of what healing looks like.
I have seen the commericial many times before. It is an advertisement for a new miracle pain reliever. It is powerful, and it has to be prescribed by a doctor. The nice lady in the background tells me how it can cure migraines…I have seen the commercial so many times, that I start to have a migraine. Well….not really.
When watching commercials like this it is interesting and somewhat entertaining to hear the long list of side affects associated with the drug. A pill that is meant to treat minor pain can cause nausea, itching, drowsiness, insomnia (odd how it can make you sleepy and not able to sleep), and trouble swallowing. In a few tests, death occurs… The side affects, to me, make the medicine not worth buying. Many times people will over medicate themselves, and are incorrectly medicated to attempt some sort of retreat from their pain.
We often try to swallow the “pills” that the world has to offer. Many long to thwart the evils of deep internal pain, so they look to sin to be numbed. Some will drink, seek sexual immorality, drugs, and other idolatry. God tells us the side affect of this treatment in Romans 6:23. The apostle Paul says, “ For the wages of sin is death…” We all are familiar with the concept of wages….An individual earns according to the work that they do. One earns death, if sin is the occupation. The side affects of attempting an artificial cure is death.
Jesus can heal all of our pain, and a life lived for Him is one that will last forever. Will there still be pain? Of course, but we will be glorified with God through the way we deal with it through prayer. The great physician is with us always. Talk about a fast house call!
God, however, shows us the side affects of His prescription. In the second part of that same passage Paul says, “…BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The cross is sin’s antidote.