I had disk removal and spinal fusion surgery on Jan. 23 of this year, and have been out of work since Aug. 22 of last year. I can tell you that life has not been easy here lately. Of course, life is never easy, anyway, and all of us have known and experienced times in our lives when we were hard pressed to see how we were going to make it through, or even make it through the day. I know I’m not the only one who has ever suffered, or experienced pain, but I can say that I’m the only one who’s suffered in my own individual way. How unique we humans are to see our suffering in the light of our own selfishness. When we’re going through intense pain I suppose it’s natural to think that we’re the only ones experiencing it, and wishing most fervently that it would go away and never come back. I don’t know perhaps it’s natural to question why I had to go through it, and am still going through it, and whether or not God loves me. For me it was. I don’t know if you’ve ever endured intense, chronic pain over a span of years or not. I pray not. If you have then you know how it drains you; how it saps you of all life and energy; how it robs you of dignity and self-respect. I can’t begin to tell you the number of days when it took everything I had just to keep from killing myself. Sad but true. It’s not something I’m proud to admit.
As a Christian, the last thing you want anyone to know is how weak your faith is and how you’ve lost hope. Talk about guilt. You have the strength of God living inside you after all. How odd, at least for me, that as someone who believes so strongly in Christ, I could not bear to see myself as weak, as someone who was in desperate need, as someone who had to depend on others. I know better of course. Jesus came not to save the strong, but the weak. I was the very person He came to save, and yet there was that part of me that absolutely hated being that person. I don’t know if this makes any sense but that’s how it was. I thought I must have done something terribly wrong in my life, and that God was punishing me. It’s strange the thoughts that come into your head when you’re in so much pain. You try to find some way to rationalize or justify it. Anything to make it bearable. You have two options, at least that’s what I thought, and how I viewed it. Either it was my fault, or God’s fault. Looking at it either way only adds to the pain.
Life is in many ways about perspective; how we look at things, the lens through which we view the events that comprise our existence. That’s why for one something might be a total tragedy, while for another it’s nothing more than a slight disturbance, something to be taken in stride. For me, the last ten months have been very revealing. I’ve learned a lot about who I am, but even more about who God is, and more importantly who He isn’t.
Have you ever read the first chapter of Malachi? God opens with the statement to His people, “I have loved you.” Notice how they respond. They say, “how have you loved us?” I’m ashamed to say it, but I was one of the people asking that question. I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was for me to believe that God could really love me and allow me to go through such agonizing pain on a daily basis. It comes back to the age old question of why does a loving God allow people to suffer, or to put it another way, why do bad things happen to good people? I think the first thing to do is to take a long hard look at the questions. Ever given any thought as to how asking certain questions lead to certain answers. Isn’t it funny how so often we go in search of something and find exactly what we went in search of. Did you know that taking someone right where they want to go is one of Satan’s greatest plays.
There are two great motivating forces in life, and they are “love” and “pain.” Love gets all the praise while pain gets all the credit. We like to think of it like that, but it’s really not that simple. We like to simplify them, don’t we? Put each of them into their own neat little box, and keep them separate from each other, but as we all know, you can’t and won’t experience one without the other in this life. It’s amazing to me how short my memory can be, how my expectations can be skewed so easily, how easily I can forget and fail to remember just how much God loves me. When I look back over the last ten months it saddens me that I got off track so easily. Here I thought my faith was so strong, and then the surgery, and the pain. I thought I could handle pain. I knew about pain. After all I had lived with it, worked with it, for over twenty years. But, this pain was like nothing I had ever dealt with before, being unable to move, being unable to even breathe without breaking into a sweat. I learned very quickly that I couldn’t handle it.
It’s when you’re at your weakest point that Satan attacks. Remember that. It’s when you’re at your weakest that you learn just where you stand in your relationship with God. You learn about yourself. You learn about God. You learn where you stand in connection with Him. For God our trust and our faith, our unwavering belief in His love, mercy, faithfulness, justice, and holiness in all their purity and perfection is the highest plane of worship that we can aspire to give. God loves us and understands us in ways that are beyond are comprehension. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. How naive and arrogant we are to think that He is in any way like us.
What have I learned? What are the conclusions I’ve drawn from this experience? Let’s see. I’ve learned that God is indeed love. Oh how He loves us. If only we could truly understand how much He loves us. I’ve learned that prayer is the most precious gift, and not one to be taken lightly or carelessly. I’ve learned that you can’t treat God like He’s a checkbook. I’ve learned that nothing pleases God more than a heart that is open to love and willing to serve. I’ve learned that daily reliance on God is more than a hearty good morning prayer, and a quick good night. It’s a minute by minute, step by step, walk in which I honor God with my every word and action by allowing His spirit to lead me and following wherever He may go. These are just a few of the things I’ve learned.
I don’t pretend to know everything about God, and I’m not capable of answering the deep theological and philosophical questions that are sometimes discussed in relationship to Him, but I can tell you this. My question, “Does God love me?” has been answered. Yes, He loves me. Do I know this just because of His deep, tender, providential care for me over the last ten months? No. I know this because He sent His son to die for me on a cross.
So, in the future, when the thought that maybe God doesn’t love you crosses your mind. Look to the cross, and keep your eyes focused there.