Five years. Five years plus. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I began battling this. It began so gradually, you see.
First, it was pain in my lower back, hurting me occasionally and then slowly creeping in until it became my normal. Aches and pains are typical, even more so as we age, but I’m not even aware anymore that this pain really isn’t normal.
Low grade pain continued to creep higher on the threshold scale, turning into sciatic pain and I found myself flat out on the floor, hardly able to move. A parade of days and muscle relaxer and pain reliever and chiropractor appointments began, eventually leading to an MRI and a degenerated disc with a broken splinter, and then finally, to a skilled surgeon, back surgery and the start of a long, slow recovery.
I sat across from my friend at her kitchen island as we discussed pain. She wasn’t feeling her best and I told her she could’ve cancelled our plans. She looked me in the eye and replied, “You can’t cancel life.”
I mulled these words over for a long time. It’s true. You can’t cancel life.
You keep on. Even when pain is deep and gnawing. When sadness feels engulfing. When death feels victorious. When words have inflicted wounds, penetrating deep.
And I find myself mourning because my daughter doesn’t remember my funny, silly, quirky side very well. Recently, I pulled some silly stunt and she laughed and told me I remind her of our three-year-old niece. She added, “I’m not used to my wise mother acting like this.”
I chuckled and I appreciated her compliment, yet it makes me aware of how much I haven’t felt the normal fun and games and general around-home humor that used to flow more naturally.
I haven’t been completely hopeless or grumpy these last five years, yet when some days it’s all you can do to muster the energy from deep inside for the absolute have-to-dos, simple silliness is overshadowed by survival mode.
You can’t always realize the depths of something until you begin to emerge. And while you can’t cancel life, sometimes you lose out on life.
From trouble to trusting
But you know what I find interesting about the hard things and the deep waters we walk through? While we’d never choose them, we also wouldn’t undo them. It’s a common phenomenon that I’ve seen.
My friend with the pregnancy with complications.
This friend over here dealing with death and mourning.
A dear friend holding a shattered dream.
Constant headaches and side pain attacking that friend.
A breast cancer diagnosis.
Unexpected financial strain.
Here’s the common key I find as my friends and I share our stories, struggles, and feelings. These experiences build our faith, driving it deeper, making us stronger. They transform trouble into trusting and they open up opportunities for His strength to be shown in our weakness.
We can’t cancel life and we can’t cancel pain. But we can cling to Christ. He is our anchor, holding us steady in the midst of these deep troubling waters.
I’ve long loved this verse and a hymn I learned as a child:
“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 NLT)
And remember the familiar words of this verse from “How Firm a Foundation”:
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”
~ author unknown
Women of the Word
I don’t feel like I’m at the end yet where I get to tell you about the marvelous sanctification of my deep distress. I’m not at the “happy ending” like Ruth or Hannah or Abigail.
They all walked through deep sorrow, disappointment and sadness. They were flesh and blood like you and me. They had doubts and fears, questions and worries, pain and tears.
Penninah cruelly taunted Hannah of her childlessness and reduced Hannah to tears.
We read of Abigail’s beauty and intelligence, yet we find her married to a man who was surly and mean. I doubt Abigail was exempt from experiencing his mean streak.
Then, we read the story of widowed Ruth. She was devoted to Naomi, but could leaving her homeland and becoming a foreigner in a strange land have been easy? Working hard to glean grain, enough to feed her mother-in-law and herself, sounds like back-breaking labor to me. And I am not unfamiliar with back pain.
These women didn’t get to read their stories, all neatly typeset on the page, with wonderful endings; they would never know if it turned out well, any more than we get to. They were living life – just as we are. All they could do was press into life un-canceled, praying deeper, living faithfully. Women of the Word, yet unwritten.
We’re Women of the Word, too. We are studying it, clinging to it, believing His promises of faithfulness and sustaining. We read the stories of Hannah, Abigail, and Ruth, gaining encouragement from these women who have walked this path of life before us.
I may not get my Samuel or handfuls of purpose or the answer I have pictured. But I will trust in the unfailing goodness of my Father to know what’s best for me. And isn’t sanctification a gradual, continuing process?
Perhaps this problem of pain is teaching me this gradualness all along. Perhaps it is teaching me to dig deeper into gratitude, to notice the beautiful details of everyday life and to foster awareness and empathy for others in their suffering.
Imitators of Christ
So many saints are and have endured hardships here or chosen a difficult path of suffering and serving:
Stephen the Martyr, The Apostle Paul, Horatio G. Spafford, Watchman Nee, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Amy Carmichael, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Elisabeth Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Gracia Burnham…
Because life can’t be cancelled and life isn’t meant to be centered on self but on Christ. Perhaps pain will gnaw my days until I fling off this flesh and meet my Jesus and He robes me in a glorious new body. Do I desire that ending?
I do not desire the never-ending pain part. But I do desire a deep, steadfast abiding in Him while I live in my little corner of the world. I so deeply want to run my race well… even if I run with a limp.
And I look forward to that glorious day when He makes all things new and defeats pain, death, and misery once and for all! – where I can find myself one day in these poetic and beautiful words penned by C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”