If Christ can be God risen from the dead and still hold in his body some level of blemish and brokenness, we have to question whether our visions of wholeness are really shaped by the Scriptures or by society.
This biologos post resonated with me, and as I read, I was increasingly compelled to respond to it.
In Nov 2004 initial neurological anomalies appeared in my body, and since then I have been living with Progressice Relapsing MS (PRMS).
For the last twelve years or so, I’ve been sending, to some family members and friends, updates about my health and well-being, some of which form the backbone of my book, entitled Endearing Pain: Life Lessons from MS afflictions.
As I explain in the introduction, each chapter corresponds to an update I’d written and sent to my family and friends, attempting to explain what it was like to be in my skin and what, if any, recent life lessons I might have learned. Words I wrote in April 2011 eventually became the chapter of my book, which I called ‘Happy Spring’, and it is was during the time I was writing them that I was trying to come to terms with my chronic, incurable disease, and the apparent silence I was hearing from the God who I was convinced loved me. I’d like to respond to this biologos post with some of those words I wrote ten years ago, and which are true to this day
“In her perceptive book An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote words that I found particularly incisive … “Pain is provocative. Pain pushes people to the edge, causing them to ask fundamental questions such as ‘Why is this happening?’ and ‘How can this be fixed?’ Pain brings out the best in people along with the worst.”
Some of my ‘worst’ is thinking that because I got ‘stuck’ with fast-fading health, I should be entitled to a few breaks in some other areas of life. I’ve become acutely aware of the fact that pain drains, and have frequently entertained thoughts like …‘God can’t you at least see to it that we don’t have any more vehicles breaking down?!” (We’ve had a run of vehicle problems lately.) I know that this inane line of thought can be detrimental to relationships, and I want no part of it … especially when I find myself trying to justify my poor treatment of those I love by thinking, “With all the pain I live with, who could blame me for being short-fused?’ Wrong! I know it’s wrong, absurd, and dangerous, and I would value your prayers in this regard … that I won’t indulge self-pity. I don’t want to become a bitter person; I want to be someone on whom nothing is lost. In light of the fallacious thoughts that subtly penetrate my mind and skew my judgement I want to cultivate G. K. Chesterton’s dictum in my life as well as I’m able … words I smiled to read - “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.’ I think the key is to be mindful of the bounty in my life.“All the business of religion is gratitude.” (Thomas Traherne)
I was recently confronted with the book of Job through the eyes of Eleonore Stump, and was reminded about how I can live well in light of living with chronic illness. In her erudite Veritas Forum presentation on Job and the problem of evil, I heard Eleonore Stump answer the question, “How can we best learn from Jesus about suffering?” She suggests that the best way to learn is from what she calls the double movement in the garden of Gethsemane. Eleonore points to the fact that Jesus does not say to God, “Hey, whatever. You’re God. You do what you want. That’s good with me.” That’s not what He says. He says to God , “No. I know what I want, and I’m going to tell you what it is. I don’t want this suffering. But, I’d rather do things your way than my way if we disagree.”
That’s 2 movements of Spirit. We mustn’t skip the first movement, and Eleonore is ardent on this point. That’s inhuman, and it distorts something about humanity in us. She insists that we radically distort things if we bypass the first movement. It’s important to say to God “Here’s what I want. I want not to die. I want not to suffer. But if your will and my will are not the same. I’d rather do it your way than my way.” And here Eleonore becomes emphatic. “That’s not because after telling Him what I want I go on to say, “But hey I don’t care. Whatever.” That’s not it. But because He’s the wildest, most beautiful, most loving, most good thing there is. And all things considered, it’s much better to accept affliction at His hand, than not to be at His hand. Because whatever it is He’s doing,” she continues, “it’s definitely something I would want if I only understood exactly what He had in mind. The second movement is, in the end, saying what I want most of all is You God. And the reason for that is because You’re most worth having. So, if we need to do it this way to get to You, that’s the way I want to do it.”
I’m grateful for Gethsemane and for Eleonore’s insights into what we can learn there from Jesus about suffering.
In light of having to tell you again, that there’s no improvement in my health, I also want to say that though it may appear that God isn’t present in the situation, He most certainly is, and it’s often been in His apparent absence that I‘ve found Him to be most present. I’ve long loved Frederick Buechner’s perspective on Job …
“It is out of the whirlwind that Job first hears God say “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 42:3) it is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present, and it is not just the whirlwind that stands for his absence, not just the storm and chaos of the world that knock into a cocked hat all man’s attempts to find God in the world, but God is absent also from all Job’s words about God, and from the words of his comforters, because they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define him as present in ways and places where he is not present, to define him as moral order, as the best answer man can give to the problem of his life. God is not an answer man can give, God says. God himself does not give answers. He gives Himself, and into the midst of the whirlwind of his absence gives Himself.”
In her book Chasing Grace, writer and clinical psychologist Martha Manning writes these words …”There seem to be two levels of suffering. There’s the suffering itself. And then there is the almost universal sense of isolation that comes with the territory of suffering. The sense of being apart in one’s pain has to do with the hard but true fact that no one can walk our road for us.” But she continues to say “I have also learned that I don’t have to go through every type of pain to make me a credible listener. I have no intention of becoming an alcoholic so that I can better understand those members of my family, friends, and patients who struggle with alcoholism. I pray that I am spared from that, and all the other hardships that would make me closer kin to other sufferers. In my own way I have suffered long and hard, and it has taught me that there are also universals of pain that can bridge the gap between my experience (or lack of it) and another person’s very different pain.
The essence of the singular struggle with suffering is the same. It is the dogfight between spirit and strength on the one side and fear and resignation on the other. We all know the universals of the struggle: it’s hard, it’s lonely, it’s scary, and it takes too ■■■■ long.” Manning then relates an old Irish legend that soundly illustrates the premise that “just having a companion on some part of the road can make the long, lonely walk seem shorter, and make the journeys, however difficult, infinitely more bearable.” Thank you for the companionship that this writing and reading of updates creates. It truly does make the walk seem shorter, and the journey more bearable. And your prayers are invaluable, so please continue to pray for me and mine. “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” (Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Looking forward to Easter and the celebration of all things made new.
With love and gratitude …
I have found that people don’t really know how to pray for people with chronic, degenerative conditions. It’s like the only thing Christians can think of to pray for is healing. Prayers for healing make sense to me when one’s body is on a course toward a potential healing process or is actively fighting an infection. I know there are miracles, but I have never heard of God recreating something as a response to prayer. Prayers for healing don’t generally remove genetic birth defects or grow back amputated limbs or reverse aging. So when you are dealing with an illness or condition where the medical prognosis does not include a road to recovery but is more about best case scenarios for mediating inevitable pain and increasing limitations, then I wish people would pray for something other than “healing.” I get tired of telling people their prayers have not been answered when they ask how I am doing.
For example, you can pray that people with chronic pain be filled with grace and the fruit of the Spirit and that they would be Christ-like and treat the people around them well despite the strain on their emotional resources that living with pain brings. You can pray they have the willpower to use pain meds well and appropriately and that they don’t fall into any unhealthy cycles or addictions in an attempt to numb their feelings. You can pray for daily renewed hope and protection against depression and anxiety and despair. You can pray that important relationships would stay strong and fulfilling despite changes or limitations that physical disability or chronic pain brings.
Nice. ← (Major understatement. ) Thank you.
I love the Chesterton quote, and hopefully I’ll be having more adventures and fewer inconveniences.
The Traherne quote on gratitude reminds of a book by another strong and thoughtful Canadian woman, One Thousand Gifts, and the Eleanore Stump quote beautifully mirrors the essence of another favorite, Desiring God.
Welcome, and so is your first post!
And in music, I’m reminded by @Christy, there’s ‘Blessings’, by Laura Story:
Great post and responses. Welcome to the forum, Colleen! @Colleen_Peters
Peace, Joy and Comfort to you all.
In dealing with those with chronic illness, it seems some cope well, and those tend to be the ones who are able to embrace and accept their limits as the article suggests, and move forward from that place of normalcy. Those who do not, often use their illness for secondary gain, be it drugs, attention, finances, or sympathy, and become dependent on it to get some measure of satisfaction from life, making it very difficult to get out of that cycle and move forward in positive ways.
How can we best help those who are suffering?
I’ve also found Ann Voskamp’s books and articles about pain and Christ’s presence extremely insightful!
I’m enjoying this series highlighting the the different abilities and reframing them as not a lack, but whole.
GKChesterton’s wisdom has helped me a great deal over the years, another of his quotes taped to our bathroom wall being, “True contentment is a real, even an active virtue - not only affirmative but creative. It is the power of getting out of any situation all there is in it.”
And I too salute Ann Voskamp’s courage.
Your mention of Desiring God brought me back immediately to my pre- and post- 2004 brain biopsy days and weeks, and the lifeline provided me by John Piper’s writings, these words in his foreword to The misery of Job and the mercy of God being a source of wise solace I’ve gone to time and again since my first reading of it long years ago -
“it is a great sadness when sufferers seek relief by sparing God his sovereignty over pain. The sadness is that this undercuts the very hope it aims to create….whatever Satan’s liberty in unleashing calamity upon us, God never drops the leash that binds his neck…pain and loss are bitter providences. Who has lived long in this world of woe without weeping, sometimes until the head throbs and there are no more tears….but o, the folly of trying to lighten the ship of suffering by throwing God’s governance overboard. The very thing the tilting ship needs in the storm is the ballast of God’s good sovereignty, not the unburdening of deep and precious truth. What makes the crush of calamity sufferable is not that God shares our shock, but that his bitter providences are laden with the bounty of love.",
words I quoted in the first chapter of my book -
Many years ago I quoted Henri Nouwen in in one of my updates which later became a chapter in my book, “Every time there are losses there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper.” (Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer:Ministry in Contemporary Society) and followed the quote with my own words of gratitude that the Lord God Almighty empowers me to choose to let my losses (the abilities MS has stolen from me) be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper.
You are making good choices, and wise ones!
it is kind of you to say so, but I think I am able to make those choices largely because God has graced me with an optimistic personality. A few days have lapsed since I wrote these words, and during this time I’ve been remembering the remarkable book I read many years ago, written by Peter Kreeft entitled , ‘Making Sense *Out Of Suffering’, and the great help it was to me in ‘coming to terms’ with the road I was plodding along, and how it could be that my God could watch me plodding along and love me immeasurably as he did so. And then to find more recently Peter Kreeft’s Veritas Forum presentation, was a sweet surprise as well; and one I can share with you here -The Problem of Evil and Suffering ~ Dr Peter Kreeft - YouTube
before thic topic closes I hope to be able to offer one more resource that has often proved to be a wonderful wake-up call to me when I’m slumping into despair about never being ‘repaired’ (physically that is); a CT article by William Stuntz, a man in the grip of overwhelming physical and emotional pain and suffering, who ‘graduated’ ten years ago but before dying was thoughtful and knid to write an article from which I quote in the ninth tenth chapter of my book called The King of the Clouds, a link to the PDF for which I’ll put here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gNsKL8hwcl0c0x7U38HHacIyOiTFE1pl/view?usp=sharing And I’ve also just found the article by Stuntz which contributes enormously more to this topic! Pease read an d benefit! -https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xKdeRDHx_7O7HHj1tEUowAv8dikqnGz_/view?usp=sharing
thanks for the reminder, most articles are open indefinitely so I have adjusted that.
I hope I didn’t step on any toes by mentioning the topic closing - certainly didn’t mean to! This is my first time partucipating in the forum and I may have misunderstand that aspect of it.
Nope! It was a good reminder, some of them fall through the cracks