Even When

Good Friday: The day we remember the depths to which our sovereign God stooped to rescue us.

The day when grief has its place in the church.

The day when silence has the last word.

Today I attended a Good Friday service for the first time in several years. The uniqueness of this day in Holy Week was evident in the uniqueness of this service. For one thing, Emily the musician noticed that all songs, except one, remained in a minor key throughout, which set up the appropriate sombre mood. Emily the introvert appreciated the scheduled periods of silence, which allowed the congregation to contemplate the gravity of Jesus’ crucifixion. (I love it when I’m given the space to think in the context of the church.)

This contemplation led me to a question: Would followers of Jesus have been able to worship the Father on the day of Jesus’ death, as they witnessed what seemed to be His defeat?

IMG_6325

During the service, the choir sang the lyrics of a poem found on a cell wall in a Nazi concentration camp:

I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love, even when I feel it not.

I believe in God, even when He is silent.

I was fascinated by the use of this poem, composed in the midst of a bleak situation, to represent the sense that the Father had abandoned. A sensation with which I am familiar.

My current overall medical condition is good. I feel like I am in a place where I can manage symptoms that may arise. But a few weeks ago, I didn’t feel like my symptoms were manageable.

I had anywhere from six to eight dislocations of my right shoulder over the span of a week and a half. I never fully recovered from the first dislocation before the next ones occurred, so my muscles weren’t exactly working for me.

At the same time, I had reached near the end of surgery recovery for my hand. I was conflicted; I wanted to rejoice at my progress on one joint and mourn the temporary regression on another joint. I wanted to praise God as my Healer, yet I was simultaneously not feeling healed. There was a disconnect between what I wanted to believe and what I truly felt.

I love that Matthew and Mark report Jesus’ question on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34). According to these passages, Jesus also experienced the disconnect between His understanding of the Father and what He truly felt.

He was obedient to the Father’s will, even when He felt abandoned.

How does the cross enable me to do the same?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

The psalm typically associated with mourning death provides the key to renewed life.

He restores my soul.

If restoring is bringing back to an original state, the stability of my hands has been restored. How does God restore my soul?

By bringing me back to my soul’s original state–as it would be in the Garden of Eden.

He takes me back to the place where guilt and shame have not yet corrupted my soul.

He takes me back to the place where I don’t feel the need to work for my salvation.

He takes me back to the place where pain does not run rampant throughout the world.

Because of the cross, because of Good Friday, my sin has been paid for, and my soul has been restored.

 

I believe in my Healer, even when I don’t feel healed.

An Outrageous Situation

The cool thing about documenting my spiritual journey (as it relates to my health) on the Internet, is that I have proof of God working on my behalf. Whether or not you read this post previously, take a minute to read this older post before reading on, so that you have the full context.

Asking for Help

Now that you have some context, it’s time to conclude my update on last semester.

It was research-paper season. I had three research papers due within three weeks of one another, each with a 10-page or 20-page minimum. (My thesis ended up being 25.) For a normal college student, this is a lot of typing to do within a short timeframe. (Please don’t accuse me of procrastinating. I truly did the best that I could with the circumstances of my physical and mental health.)

About a week before my first paper was due, I picked up something with my dominant hand that ended up being much heavier than I expected. After that, I couldn’t use that hand for a week. An. Entire. Week.

I had three research papers to finish and 0 cooperation from my dominant hand. My poor left hand had to do all the typing for that entire week. Then it ended up dislocating maybe two weeks later. RIP.

At some point in this struggle, we moved up my follow-up appointment with my hand doctor for the week after Thanksgiving, after Paper 1’s deadline and just before Paper 2’s deadline.

I walked into this appointment completely brain-dead from working on papers in every waking moment. I didn’t even rehearse my spiel for my doctor. (I’m trying to remember back to what I actually told my doctor. I know I wasn’t eloquent. There’s a possibility I just lifted my hand and said, “It doesn’t work.”) BUT, because of what was said in my last appointment with this same doctor, my expectation was for my doctor to talk about the cyst in my bone and the removal process of drilling a hole through the bone.

I’m not a medical expert. Don’t assume that I know what I’m talking about. But I think an important detail of this story is that my doctor changed locations, and, thus, medical equipment. As a result, the X-rays I had at this new location are….different (better/more reliable). When my doctor came in with the newest X-rays, he actually had not received my records from his previous location. So he was only looking at my hand as that day’s X-rays presented.

Things that went according to expectation: He mentioned a cyst.

Things that were not according to expectation: The location of the cyst. There was no cyst inside any of my bones. The cyst was in between bones–and I think it moved from lateral to medial side. (“Moved” as in, previous X-rays indicated a cyst inside one bone; recent X-rays indicated that there was no longer a cyst in the same location, but there was a cyst in a new location.)

Things that were not according to expectation, continued: I don’t exhibit any signs of arthritis. !?! Yeah. My limited medical knowledge from A&P told me that osteoarthritis is “wear-and-tear” arthritis, as in irreversible damage. It doesn’t make sense for me to have osteoarthritis in June and not present any signs in November.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s an outrageous situation. These are phrases that I heard two weeks before my November appointment that stuck in my mind.

The setting in which I heard these phrases before my appointment was in one of my Old Testament classes in which we studied the book of Job. Ah, Job. Arguably one of the most difficult books of the Bible to read. Just as I’m not a medical expert, and you shouldn’t assume I know what I’m talking about, I’m not going to pretend that I understand the book of Job. I passed my class and moved on. But, obviously, some lecture points have stayed with me.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
    I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
    twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Job 40:3-5 (ESV)

In the middle of God’s monologue, Job interjects his confession and vows to remain silent. But Job’s interjection does not conclude the Divine Speeches.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
    Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Job 40:6-8

God responds to Job by exalting mythical creatures that were known for fighting back. Then Job repents from his last statement–his vow to remain silent.

42 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job 42: 2-6

When Job “repents,” he then vows to question God. After this point, the story of Job is that he lives happily ever after, due to God’s restoration and blessings.

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil[b]that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money[c] and a ring of gold.

12 And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.13 He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14 And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. 15 And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.16 And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days.

Job 42:10-17

What an interesting story. Job vows not to question God for his suffering and then gets chastised for his vow. So then Job vows to question God and is consequently rewarded.

Here are some notes that I took before my appointment:

“What do we do when we don’t understand what God is doing? Stand up. Keep pushing.

The book of Job deliberately sets up an outrageous situation in which the redemptive purpose is nearly impossible to see.

The only answer that is unacceptable is no answer at all. Silence is the wrong move.”

As I was sitting in heavy traffic coming back from Thanksgiving break, I had time to think. So I did. I thought about my inability to write a few weeks before. I thought about how much more difficult even typing would be, now that my non-dominant hand had also dislocated. I thought about this blog and how much I’ve grown in my own faith because of my writing. I thought about my friend who used this blog to minister to a disabled refugee when she herself could not relate. I thought about my genuine desire to glorify God through my writing.

I thought about it, and it didn’t make sense. It was an outrageous situation. The God whom I wanted to glorify was preventing me from doing so in the way I desired. It was outrageous, and I told God. I let Him know how frustrated I was. I demanded that He not take away my ability to write, when I genuinely wanted to glorify Him through it. Sitting in standstill traffic, I yelled. I let out the anger that I had not allowed myself to feel against God. I prayed the prayer I hadn’t allowed myself to pray.

Two days later, I found out that I don’t have arthritis. !?! And the issue that I was having was fixable. !?! And that didn’t involve drilling a hole through bone. !?! And that recovery would be a breeze after what I went through with shoulder surgery. !?!

I am now a month and a half out from said surgery. My doctor removed the cyst from between the bones–my literal thorn in the flesh. My hand bones no longer grind against one another with every move I make. I am one or two physical therapy appointments from getting discharged. (I did PT for 5 months after shoulder surgery.) As evidenced by this post, I am able to write again. This past week, I took almost all of my class notes by hand, which hasn’t happened since my freshman year. I also attempted to play piano today. I’ve experienced healing. It is well with my soul.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27:13-14

 

Proactive Healing

I love Pinterest. I love the quick links to easy steps for a better life. Pinterest has a way of motivating people to improve their lives by empowering them to think, “Even I can do that!” Even though many (including myself) fail to follow through with Pinterest projects, the starting point of pinning creates a desire for a quick-easy fix to life’s problems.

I recently turned to Pinterest for a quick-easy fix. Yesterday morning I had a doctor’s appointment where I was given an indefinite treatment plan of lifestyle changes. After being presented with multiple (possible) contributing factors to my pain, I decided to start my own research based on Pinterest links. The quick links to easy steps to a pain-free life told me about 18,000 foods I need to incorporate into my diet. There is absolutely no way I could ever try everything that the links suggested. To try anything would be a contradiction to the findings in another article. And that was only the nutritional aspect of my research. I was left completely overwhelmed. This time Pinterest didn’t make me feel empowered; it made me feel powerless.

My search for proactive healing reminds me of the woman who bled for 12 years. (But thank God I’m not that bad off!) Luke 8:43 tells us that she “spent all she had on doctors yet could not be healed by any.” Where doctors and treatment plans failed her, Jesus came through for her. After all of her efforts to find healing herself, she only found it when she reached out for Jesus.

As human beings, it is in our nature to want to fix things ourselves. After all, Eve bit the apple to know good and evil for herself. But this attraction to self-help created the largest problem humanity has ever faced: sin. And still, we want to fix this problem ourselves. When the prison doors opened for Paul and Silas, the jailer thought he was done for. But at the discovery of his remaining prisoners, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Even when we desire to be saved, we want something to do.

Paul and Silas told the jailer to “believe on the Lord Jesus” in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). They didn’t give him a to-do list or Five Easy Steps for a Better Eternity. Instead, they pointed him to the person of Jesus Christ. I think that sometimes we overcomplicate the Gospel; we want ourselves to have a role in our own salvation. We ask, “What must I DO to be saved?” Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us the answer: nothing.

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.

Although we should strive to live as followers of Christ, nothing we can ever do will bring about salvation for ourselves. The only role we have in our own salvation is in trusting Jesus to save.

In regards to my own healing, I’m not saying that I only have to believe, and I will be healed. God isn’t Santa Claus. My point is that I can try everything and succeed at nothing, if I’m acting apart from Christ. Proverbs 16:9 states, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” Our plans, our quick-easy fixes, our efforts to save ourselves will be trumped by God’s will. And the good thing about that is the fact that He wants to be our source of provision. So instead of seeking out proactive healing, let’s seek the Healer Himself.