Tunnel Vision (An Open Letter to God)

Dear God,

Remember me? We met a long time ago. We got really close a few years ago. I haven’t heard from You in a while, so I thought I’d check in.

I’ve been doing okay, sometimes. Less-than-okay at other times. Actually quite often. I’m usually kept busy with that thing I’ve had going on for a while now. You know, chronic pain. I’ve been in pain since before You and I had the DTR, when I decided to trust You completely. So really You should know by now how much it’s affected my life. You should know about the daily struggle to simply function, the setbacks in my goals, and the complete career change that resulted from the pain.

Not that I’m trying to only complain. It’s true that You’ve gotten me through many hard times. And I’d like to think that I’ve given You the credit.

But there’s something that’s been bothering me, and I think You ought to know. I often feel pain more than I feel Your presence. God. where are You on the hardest days? The I-can’t-get-out-of-bed days, the every-body-part-hurts days, especially the how-long-Oh-Lord days?

My own body taunts me, saying, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10).

You say that when two or more or gathered in Your name, there You are (Matt. 18:20). But what about the times when I’m all alone? Where are you then?

Where are you when I am either yelling from pain or silenced by pain, having to remind myself to breathe?

I feel like no one understands, or is attempting to understand, what I’m going through.  My life feels surrounded by darkness, like I’m traveling down a never-ending tunnel.

I’m trying to go back to the times when I felt You near me, when I felt that You knew how much pain I was in. I guess You did leave me Your Word to remember You by. Maybe I can remember what You would say if You were with me and could feel my pain. I turn to Your Word and see that You, God, are not exempt from suffering.

I see You, Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane. The sweat from Your brow reveals that even Your body–fully man and fully God–was wondering where Your Father was.

I see You with me in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). I’m never alone.

Not only that–I see that You’re with me in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). When I have to remind myself to breathe, You breathe life back into me. I could have a perfectly functioning body but would be nothing without Your breath of life.

The person I read about in Your Word is not who I’ve recently imagined You to be. Each  time I assign to You a label of unfaithfulness, apathy, or malevolence, I commit the greatest act of misunderstanding. I’m sorry, Lord.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:7-12

You must have seen the tears rolling down my face as I walked down the halls of the hospital. You must have heard my gasping for air when the pain was overwhelming. You must have. Because You were there.

You see. You hear. You’re here.

God, remind me that You are beside me, holding my right hand as You offer Your help and tell me not to fear (Isaiah 41:13).

Remind me that You are behind me, telling me which way to go (Isaiah 30:21).

Remind me that You are beneath me, as my foundation more solid than a rock, helping me withstand the storm (Matthew 7:24-25).

Remind me that You are above me, residing over both the powerful and the humble, as You observe everything I’m going through (Isaiah 40:22-23).

Remind me that You are in front of me, as the end goal for the race set before me (Hebrews 12:1-2). You’re the light at the end of this tunnel. Although I may still feel the darkness around me, You, the lamp to my feet, provide enough light for me to take one step at a time (Psalm 119:105).

Remind me that You are in me, giving my weak and dysfunctional body intrinsic worth (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Dissonance in “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

This week I got back into writing music. Although I was creating lyrical melodies, I’ve never used as much dissonance as I did in those few phrases. (Non-musician friends: Dissonance is a clashing of harmonies that doesn’t sound right to normal people.) The melodic M7th interval is something I never would have used before studying music in college, but I used it in every phrase this week. It’s funny how something I was taught to avoid at all costs is now my go-to strategy. I guess it takes an acquired taste to appreciate the unfamiliar.

And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

(Genesis 1:31a)

Sometimes I wonder how God could have ever looked at this world He created, that has become so broken, and called it “very good.”

In the past eight weeks, one side of my family has experienced three deaths–both of my grandparents and now a great uncle. The first funeral was a reflective time that evoked peace at the thought that my grandfather was no longer suffering from his progressive disease. The second funeral, just five short weeks after the first, was a time of shock and confusion, filled with more tears and longer hugs than before. My grandmother’s funeral was painfully similar yet vastly different.

Timing is everything. “There’s never a convenient time, but if there was one, now would not be it,” I explained before both funerals. My grandfather’s funeral was during finals week, while my grandmother’s was at the same time as the appointment I had been waiting for six months for, in hopes of finally getting a diagnosis. At the end of the semester, I was in a mindset of closure, and it was easier to accept that my grandfather’s suffering had ended. However, I entered my grandmother’s funeral from a completely different mindset.

After her unexpected and tragic death on a Saturday afternoon, the funeral was scheduled for that Tuesday morning, with the visitation on Monday night. The thing is, on Monday morning I had an appointment 200 miles away to determine whether or not I will be having back surgery. After hearing that I will not be having surgery, we then headed to the next rescheduled appointment; instead of waiting another several months for a cancellation, the doctor’s office squeezed me in for that afternoon. Two major appointments, one day, zero solutions. I did leave with a list of biomechanical problems, most of which I didn’t know I had. (And technically I got suggestions for some symptom relief, but no overall solutions or diagnosis.) The traveling and medical-information overload left me exhausted. That night after the visitation, I felt too tired to have the come-to-Jesus meeting I so desperately needed. So I walked into the funeral the next day unprepared.

One congregational hymn was common to both funerals: “Amazing Grace.” However, at the second funeral, we sang the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I’ve played and sung this hymn for years, and I had just sung it in one of my classes a week or two before. I knew the lyrics, but I studied them as I held the handout in my hand.

“Thy compassions, they fail not,” I read. I found that I couldn’t keep singing.

I knew this to be true, and I remembered the passage from Lamentations 3 on which this hymn is based. But my mouth couldn’t utter the words as the song continued.

“As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning, new mercies I see.”

After this phrase, I felt the dissonance–the clashing of ideas. The objective truth that God’s compassions never fail, and the subjective perspective of seeing them.

I realized then and there that I hadn’t seen new mercies that morning. Or the morning before. Or the week before when my grandmother was tragically slipping into death’s hands.

I realized that I couldn’t see anything past the pool of tears streaming from my eyes.

Not because of my pain or loss.

Because I realized that not seeing new mercies doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Because I finally felt the ache from holding God at arm’s length.

Because I realized that I have nothing but Him, and I better start looking for His mercies.

God is an artist who had to adjust His artistic style to the brokenness of humanity. He now creates beauty from pain, beautiful melodies from dissonance.

It took my ears two years to fully appreciate the beauty of dissonance. I wonder how long it will take for me to fully appreciate the beauty of God’s sovereign will through suffering.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Lord, give me eyes that see how You make beauty from pain.

 

God is Great, God is Good

“God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands, we are fed. Thank You, God, for daily bread. Amen.”

If you’re like me and grew up in the children’s ministry of a church, you’ve probably recited this prayer. In this simplistic prayer spoken by pre-schoolers, the core belief of Christianity is found. “God is great. God is good.” This first line of a child’s prayer contains the answer to why anything happens in life.

When God created the world, He saw that it was good. God in His existence and dwelling place is good. Then, He decided to create human beings with souls that were not of Himself. Because God created something that was not Himself, He created beings that were not innately good.

God is good.

Man is not God.

Man is not good.

Considering why certain things in life happen can bring one back to the belief that God is good. In difficult times, we tend to question the most basic belief of Christianity. I know I have experienced major doubt concerning this belief.

In the first few years of my pain, God taught me in multiple ways about His faithfulness, why He would never leave me. So I have rarely doubted His faithfulness since the time He began to prove it in numerous ways. But the very truth that used to comfort me began to haunt me when I doubted God’s goodness: Yes, I believed, God will never leave me. But, I questioned, the same God who causes my pain will never leave my side? The faithfulness of God is not the core belief of Christianity, because believing in the goodness of God determines one’s eternal destiny.

God is good, yet so is doubt. Questioning one’s beliefs can bring oneself to a much deeper understanding of these beliefs. While I didn’t find one specific answer that solved all elements of my doubt, over time, God also began to prove His goodness to me. One proof is found in Romans 12:2, which says that God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect. God wouldn’t create a life’s purpose to be anything but good. He also wouldn’t create a situation’s purpose to be anything but good (for believers- Romans 8:28).

Because of my doubt, I pushed God away from me for several weeks. I claimed to not be mad at God, but I didn’t want to get too close in case He decided to bring more hurt to my life. However, this act of pushing God away is the exact opposite purpose of my pain.

Hosea 6:1 New Living Translation (NLT)

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces;
now he will heal us.
He has injured us;
now he will bandage our wounds.

Lamentations 3:32 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Even if He causes suffering,
He will show compassion
according to His abundant, faithful love.

In the process of pushing God away, I became even more focused on my pain. I embraced the hurt rather than the Healer. When He rescued me by teaching me that the joy of the Lord is my strength, I was overwhelmed by His goodness. How can God be so good that He sent His perfect Son to pay with His life for the imperfection of man? How can He be so good to offer us redemption and a renewed relationship with Him? How can He be so good to take us to extreme measures in order for us to accept His healing touch?

God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our pain.