Please forgive me if this post is personal. It’s something going on in my heart right now, something that I have shared with college-aged friends before, and something I’ll undoubtedly need to use (for myself and others) again in the future.
As some of you know, God has put me in a desert period for the time being–for the last four years, in fact. One October day in 2010 I woke with vertigo so bad I couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t hold down more than one meal a day. Over three years God led me to the help of various Christian doctors–beginning with our family doctor, Dr. Saito, and reaching as far as Christian specialists at Jacksonville Hearing and Balance Institute in Jacksonville, FL, and in the neurology and pain center at Cleveland Clinic in OH.
Through the help of those gifted Christians, my symptoms decreased in frequency and severity, but it has never pleased the Lord to bring things enough under control that I can do adequately and consistently enough what I believe the Lord called me to when I was about 6. God’s goodness, shown directly to my family and me, and His goodness demonstrated to us abundantly and repeatedly through co-laborers and others in Jesus’ Body, has been astounding.
However, I have to admit that my faith grows repeatedly weak, emotions are always near the surface, and there are many days I cry out to God for release or relief. Sometimes the “shadows” of this “valley experience” of the Christian walk seem too great to face one more day, and other times the Accuser shouts that God has somehow forgotten us and that friends and mentors have abandoned us (cf. Psalm 38-40, where the Psalmist felt almost identical, particularly Ps. 38:11), leaving our already-pained hearts and nearly broken spirits gasping and grasping for relief.
And all of those emotions are lies. Sure, even David felt that way, but each time, God lifted David’s eyes heavenward and Truth-ward. So I’ve done a lot of reading by Christian authors who’ve hurt. I’ve got two books running now, and it helps to be reminded again and again that: a.) suffering is part of God’s plan for helping us die to ourselves and become even more fruitful; and b.) Jesus suffered first–unimaginably beyond anything we will ever be asked to bear–and He did it for the joy before Him–to exhaust God’s wrath against our sins, to demonstrate both God’s love and His justice, and to bring sinners like us to Christ for salvation. That’s truth.
One of the Christian books that has helped prevent me from crumbling into self-pity over my own narrative of pain is “Off-Script,” by Cary Schmidt, a pastor who received a cancer diagnosis and was immediately thrust into the same kind of pain, doubts, and fear that almost every sufferer faces. One thing that stood out in his book was his encouragement to write a prayer of thanks to God–focusing on what’s true, and leaving what’s uncertain up to God’s goodness and control. So back in January, when my symptoms kept me holed up in a New York City hotel room for multiple days, I wrote a prayer.
God burdened me to share this prayer today, because it (combined with the ministry of the Word of God today), has helped plant my feet for another “round” of trusting God against the battery of pain, uncertainty, and the lies of my emotions. Though God burdened me to share it, I’m burdened that in sharing some could see it as spiritual bragging–making myself out to be more godly than I am. Exactly the opposite is true. Sharing this is humbling, because it simply unveils my feebleness and carnality amidst “suffering” that Paul calls “light”–suffering that will one day be swallowed up and forgotten by the glory to be revealed to God’s children.
This is directed to our gracious, good, and sovereign Heavenly Father:
“I thank You for this illness, for its duration, and for the grace you gave in realizing that my resignation was the right thing for BJU and for us. It hurts more than I can say, and the way ahead is dark; but if You’ll hold my hand, I promise to walk forward with You.
“Please help me steward this trial for my family and then for others around us. Remove self from any of it. Help me merely be Your servant seeking to take what You have entrusted to me and invest it for Your glory and gain.
“Please help me guard my emotions with Your Truth. Please do whatever You know to be needed in my heart. ‘Lord, I believe…help Thou my unbelief!’ And please draw our family closer to You and closer to each other as we walk each step with You and see You one day open a path before us.
“And in all, may Jesus Christ be praised and may Your Name be hallowed in and through our lives.
“I love You, my God and my Redeemer.”
Stephen (Jan. 12, 2014)