Everything is connected! Literally, but not ideally. I officially found out yesterday that the chronic pain I’ve experienced in my feet, hands, and back over the past five years is all connected; it is due to weaker connective tissue in those areas, which is causing the inflammation, joint instability, and muscle fatigue (from overuse). Fortunately, I was not diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder, so it’s unlikely that I will have problems with connective tissue in other organs. I don’t have a disease–I’m just not normal. I’m not chronically ill–I just have chronic pain. Don’t get me wrong: I may or may not have had multiple breakdowns in the past week over the amount of pain I experience on a daily basis. But none of my specialists have predicted that things will get drastically worse over time. With no estimation that my life will get more difficult (physically), I feel less intimidated by the future and more excited for what God has in store, despite the pain.
Yesterday my doctor described a vivid memory from a med school textbook: Two x-rays with the same degree of scoliosis curve were placed side by side. One was an x-ray of a mountain hiker, the other of one confined to a wheelchair. He basically told me that the quality of my life is up to me–whether or not I defeat the pain or let it defeat me.
As encouraging as that is, I disagree. As Paul states, “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content–whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13). In my own strength, I will fail every time. Only through His strength am I able to do anything. If I’m going to be a mountain climber, it will only be because “Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights” (Habakkuk 3:19).
After my doctor explained that there is no cure for my weaker connective tissue, he asked me how I felt. Honestly, I felt/feel fine, which isn’t apparently how everyone else responds. He said some get angry with him for not being able to prescribe a pill to fix everything. While I still wish he could do that, I have a “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In finding out that everything is connected, I can rest in the sovereignty of God, by whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
This idea of God connecting unlikely events to accomplish His purposes reminds me of a paper I just wrote for my Biblical Perspectives class. In this paper, we were to explain how the Bible, as a whole, is one overarching story. I’ve come to realize that the Bible is a continuous story of redemption, with God’s grace acting as the hero. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel struggles to remain committed to covenant relationship with Yahweh. Still, the Israelites serve as a model of the reception of grace. Then Jesus comes as the manifestation of grace, to form relationships with individuals of all nations. Finally, the church is given the task of sharing the message of grace with all people.
So what about God’s story today? How does my story fit into God’s story? How do we explain recent attacks on Paris and in other locations, in light of God’s overarching story of redemption? How do we respond to Syrian refugees, considering God’s constant grace? I don’t know what God has planned for the rest of my story, but submitting my story to His is the only option for me. And if His story includes pain for me, so be it. C.S. Lewis states in The Problem of Pain, “If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable.” In a sense, the presence of suffering in the world should bring hope, due to the knowledge that God isn’t finished with us yet. And since we, as sinners saved by grace, are waiting to return Home, we should not neglect the suffering of those also without a home and also in need of grace. Until the end of suffering, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Everything is connected.