Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

Coming up for air…

           I’ve never been scuba diving.  Snorkeling one time as a child in the Dry Tortugas, which was incredible, but never scuba diving.  I do know that if you dive really deep and then come to the surface too quickly, you can end up with decompression sickness.  I saw on it TV and read about it on the internet, so it must be true.  Seriously, decompression sickness can lead to some serious physical and neurological effects  (you can google it if you want to know more). Thankfully, the sickness can be treated with oxygen and time in a hyperbaric chamber, usually resulting in no long term effects of decompression sickness.  

Image

        I’ve never been scuba diving, but I’m quite sure that I spent most of last year diving in the abyss of cancer.  The depths of suffering and pain that we have explored are overwhelming at times.  Sometimes the deep was so deep that no light could be seen.  Thankfully, the abyss did not swallow us and we have returned to the surface.  But I realize that my return to the surface has been quick in many ways. It has much to do with my desire to return to ministry in a full-time ministry.  And normal life.  Whatever that means.  

Image
         So, I’m in a strange place.  Maybe there is some decompression sickness.  It’s really nice to be on the surface.  Life is really good, but there are still many challenges that I face on a day to day basis.  On the positive side:  my strength, energy, and endurance are returning in a great way.  I would say that I am back to working full-time – which means some long days and weeks.  That’s not a complaint – the water’s nice.  I am so glad I can make hospital visits, focus on serving my family and our church family, seek God’s wisdom for the future, and continue to preach and teach week to week.  But I also feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged.  Out of place or out of step.  Disappointed by my mistakes and my need to make frequent apologies for my foibles.  The waters can still be troubled at times.  So, I have to try to remind myself regularly that I am first and forever a child of God.  That I am forgiven.  That, though I am weak, He is strong.   I need the oxygen of God’s grace.  And the  hyperbaric chamber of His steadfast love.  And day by day I find new mercies – which is more than I deserve.  I’ve come up for air and I am so glad – even of my ascent was too fast in some ways.  I have to trust God with that too.

                                                         Image

Advertisements

A Subtle Heresy

Question:  does God want you to be healthy, wealthy, and wise?  Many Christians would say that yes, this is God’s desire for our lives.

Better Question:  does God want to conform us into the image of His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ?  Yes, yes, and yes again.

This means that the Lord will go to great lengths to accomplish this in your life.  Including bringing suffering into your life.  Not a once of us would ask to go through the school of suffering.   But, I can attest, great growth in faith and the Gospel comes through our suffering well in Christ.  A friend of mine called it a subtle heresy that most Christians believe, when we that God wants to make us happy and comfortable.  Actually he wrecks our comfort, especially our comfort with our sin.  When we quit fighting for our sanctification.  God wrecks our apathy.  My friend and his wife had great plans for their son, until they realized that he was autistic.  All of a sudden they were on a different journey.  I think he would agree that is both a wonderful and terrifying journey.  This makes us depend all the more on God.  This dependence is the real goal of the Christian life.  I can assure you that in some way at some time, God will disrupt your will, your thinking, and your life.  And He will do so for your good.  I guarantee it, though you may not see it at the time.  It is the lie of the Prosperity Gospel (that God wants you to have your best life now) that we so desperately want to believe.  It is easier to believe that, but it is not in the Bible (read 1 Peter or Acts 7).  God has so much better for us.  Live in that truth and look to our God to do wonderful and terrifying things in our lives.  For His glory and the furtherance of the Gospel in our lives.

Pondering the Why/Why Me Question (Part 1)

Image

When you go through a trial, adversity, or some suffering, a perennial question that comes to our minds is “why?”  And often that questions turns into a plaintive “why me?”  It is a real question, but it is often without clear answer or at least one that is readily forthcoming.   And sometimes those unanswered questions become a noose around our necks or millstone on our shoulders.  We are weighed down by the seeming silence from God.   This can lead to despair, anger, or further distress.   And Satan can use this question against us and against God. 

It is a natural place to go in our hearts and minds.   We want to know who or what to blame.  We want to know what lessons God is trying to teach us, so that we can get the learning process completed and move on.  We want to know if there is some better way to learn altogether.  We want to know how keep this from happening again.  And yet, despite those desires, many times we are not called to know, but to trust.  To depend upon God in the storm, rather than looking for the first exit ramp. 

I have thought of the why question a good bit, since this whole thing with cancer started back in late February and early March.  And I have cried out the “why me” question at least a couple of very specific times that I can remember.  The first of those was on Sunday, March 10th (a few days after surgery), when for two hours I was in excruciating pain that the morphine barely touched.  The second time was when I vomited for the first time during the very first chemotherapy cycle.  You can understand why those experiences provoked the cry of lament, “why me?”

The more analytical pastor part of me has been thinking about the why question and I am pondering three answers.  In some ways, you might think the answers unsatisfying, but I find hope in them, particularly the second and third.  And these are not either/or answers.  They are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, I think it likely that all three are a part of the puzzle.  So, why did I get cancer?  Stay tuned…I’ll give you my answers, such as they are, next week. 

Preparing for Cancer

How does one prepare for cancer?  Specifically, how does a Christian prepare to face the battle of cancer in their life or in that of a close family member?

And I don’t mean, how do you keep from getting cancer.  I’ll leave you to your own devices with that one.  Certainly, I don’t have anything worthwhile to share in that category anyway!

I do not hold ourselves up as paragons of faith, but I do wonder in amazement at how steady we have been through this (It’ll have to be a separate post, but we must remember that faith is more about it’s object – Christ – than our “work of faith”).  Our faith has surprised me at times.  I don’t mean to paint an inaccurate picture.  To be clear this whole thing sucks (to use a technical term), I hate it many days, and the teardrops are too numerous to count at this point.  And yet, there is something more.  Really, there is Someone more.

One answer, in my mind, without a doubt is all of the prayer that we have received and continue to receive.  Friends, family, preschoolers, acquaintances, and strangers lifting us up before the Lord.  Yes, that has much to do with it.  And that’s probably another whole reflection.  Here, I want to think about preparing in the years before trials come, suffering hits, and horrific news knocks us to our knees.  In that sense, this applies more broadly to cancer.

Ready for the answer?  Here it is:  walking faithfully with the Lord day in and day out for years.  In good times and bad.  In plenty and in want.  You get the idea.  As we do that, what happens?   We will have read the Scriptures, we will have heard the Scriptures proclaimed, hymns and songs will root into our bones, and we will watch others deal with the falleness of life.    We will come along side of them when they need prayer, meals, hugs, and encouragement.  We will see the faith of the saints carried out in both the mundane and the tragic.

Trust is something that we learn over the seasons.  We learn that God is trustworthy during the harvest and even during the drought.  For He provides.  Not always what we want or expect, but still this is something that has to be learned over the course of time.  But if we don’t put ourselves in the company of others and we don’t learn those hymns and we don’t hear the Word of Life, then it will be hard for us to trust.  We will have stunted our growth.  Think about it this way.  That hymn that you are singing on Sunday (you know the one that you don’t like the tune of), may not be for today.  You might be learning it for a tomorrow that is going to come and you’ll need to be reminded that “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head” (“God Moves In a Mysterious Way”, William Cowper, 1774).  You’ll need to have treasured up already the Words of Scripture that alone give life and lead us.  You’ll need to have put in some time already listening to the pastor drone on just a little too long once again.  It may not seem like much is happening right now, but I can assure you that the cumulative effect of walking with God and His people, can sustain you when you are diagnosed with cancer.

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man

and makes flesh his strength,

whose heart turns away from the Lord.

He is like a shrub in the desert,

and shall not see any good come.

He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,

in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

whose trust is the Lord.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

                                                                                (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

 

How can we bear fruit in a drought season?  Only if we have placed our trust in the Lord and have been nourished by Him before that.  That is part of how you prepare for cancer.

Suffering and a Good God

Tragedy, suffering, and pain. As much as we would like to be immune from them – we aren’t. Whenever we see suffering on a grand scale, such as the recent Myanmar storms that have left so many dead, school shootings, Hurricane Katrina, tornadoes, etc…, the question of the goodness of God is bound to come up. This is a difficult topic, regardless of whether we are Christian or non-Christian, and one worth discussing with honesty (about ourselves) and compassion for others (particularly those who have suffered greatly).

It is important that we don’t just regurgitate the opinions of others, but it is also helpful to have some conversation partners along the way. Here are some resources that I would recommend to further explore this issue from a Christian perspective:

What thoughts, books, sermons, etc…have you found helpful?

Update (May 14, ’08):  Here are some of the recommendations made by friends (these can also be found in the comment section).