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.


Pain, Loss, and a Loss to Explain the Pain

Summer 2015 is definitely a summer to be remembered. It has been unlike any other summer, in that I’ve never experienced more pain, confusion, and uncertainty. Yet through it all, the goodness of God has been evident.


Hosea 11:3- “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in My arms, but they never knew that I healed them.”

The first month of this summer, I spent relearning how to walk: I had a procedure known as PRP therapy on both feet, with the second occurring two weeks after the first. I had this procedure on just my left foot last summer, so I mostly understood what I was getting into. But it ended up being more difficult than I expected.

The night after I had my left foot done, following my right foot, I sat on my couch, unable to laugh, unable to talk, unable to blink. The pain was so great that the only movement I could make was wiping away the tears that involuntarily flowed from my eyes. Using the pain scale of 1 to 10, I was trying my hardest to believe I was not at a 10; I had never experienced deeper pain in my 4 1/2 year of pain.

The next few days were insanely difficult. Since I was relearning how to use both feet, what once took me 10 seconds to walk across my house took me 10 minutes. I had to hold on to walls with every step. And each step felt more exhausting than the last. Every day felt like a nightmare.

But here’s the fascinating part: I was so wrapped up in the fact that I was in pain that I didn’t realize my pain had decreased every single day. A week after the procedure on my left foot, I realized that I didn’t need my boot anymore. And a week after that, I didn’t need to hold on to walls anymore. And a week after that, I was driving without pain! All of these realizations were sudden, and I saw how God had gotten me one step closer to recovery. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis states that pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Goodness of God: If it wasn’t for my pain, and then lack thereof, I wouldn’t have seen how God has been there literally every step of the way.


Colossians 4:5- “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

This summer I lost a sweet friend, Kelsey. Kelsey and I went to elementary school together, became friends through a science project in 7th grade, and stayed friends through all of high school. This was my first friend my age to pass away- long before anyone expected.

The funeral home was packed for her funeral. I don’t think Kelsey ever realized just how many lives she impacted. The room was filled with sadness- sadness at the realization that we can only rely on memory to experience the happiness she always spread. Yet another emotion filled the room- regret. We regretted the loss of the opportunity to be there for her. Most of our friends said the same thing: “I wish we would have kept in touch.”

Through this tragedy, God provided an opportunity for me to learn how to improve the way I relate to others. First, I learned to promptly take advantage of the chance to share God’s love, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Delayed obedience is disobedience; the Spirit prompts us to obey in His perfect timing. Therefore, I don’t want to procrastinate loving others any longer.

Secondly, I learned that, although life is hard, the absence of life is harder; other people are struggling as much as–and more than–me. In recent months, I’ve been so overwhelmed by my own pain that I’ve forgotten that others are hurting too. Leading up to the funeral, as her loved ones expressed to me their hurt, I realized what brokenness sounds like. I don’t want to be deaf to this sound any longer. Philippians 2:4 tells us that “everyone should look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.”

Goodness of God: Even with death, God can still use the hurt to motivate others to live like Him.

Loss to Explain the Pain:

Galatians 2:20- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

After two additional rounds of PRP therapy, I thought, “This is going to be it. It’s going to work this time.” And I think it did: Weeks 7 and 8 (or 5 and 6, for my left foot) were great! I was walking barefoot on tile without pain. But by Week 9, I developed additional pain–and severe, at that. It was at that point that my right Achilles tendon (on the outside and back of the heel) became inflamed. This tendon was not touched during PRP, since I hadn’t had problems with it before. In the next few weeks, I developed problems with my wrist, which had been present a few months before but never received a diagnosis. At my most recent appointment, I was diagnosed with tendonitis on the outsides of my wrists. (I had previously been diagnosed with tendonitis on the thumb side of my right wrist.) One year ago today, I might have been experiencing (at most) some back discomfort. In the past year alone, I have redeveloped plantar fasciitis, but in both feet, and I’ve developed tendonitis in both sides of both wrists and both feet. None of this has made sense to me.

Christian metaphor time! Since I’m writing this at the beach, I’ll use a beach metaphor.

Today when I went out in the water, the waves were frequent and strong. At first I approached the waves by trying to stand my ground and not fall. It was difficult because wave after wave crashed into me, while all I did was face and brace myself for the next. Later on, I got on a float and rode on top of the waves. I felt proud that the waves could no longer get to me. I enjoyed floating up and down at the passage of each new wave. But the problem with riding on top of the waves was that I was moving backwards instead of forwards. However, I found another response to the waves: remaining on my knees, with my back to the incoming waves, as I let the impact carry me forward. I didn’t know when the next wave would arrive. I didn’t know what the magnitude of the next wave would be. And, surprisingly, it was liberating. Since I had no idea what to expect next, there was nothing I could do to prepare or prevent it. I was free to relax and let it move me. Similarly, I’m not strong enough to simply face my pain, and I don’t want to conquer my pain only to move backwards. The only way to move forward without getting beaten by my circumstances is to stay on my knees in prayer.

Right now, I have more questions than answers. I really don’t know where to go from here. I am at a loss to explain my pain. I have no control in preventing my pain. But here’s the reward: The One who is in control of my circumstances is the One who “brings out the starry host by number” and “calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26).

Goodness of God: When my situation is out of my control, it is in God’s control.

I know that in all things, my God is good. I’m sincerely grateful for the difficulties of this summer; without them, I would feel entitled to a good life and neglect a good God.