Since I was in high school I have suffered from cluster headaches. Fortunately, it has been several years since I have suffered an episode. However, for years I lived with persistent daily bouts of scathing pain for weeks and sometimes months at a time. One of the things I discovered from living with pain was that over time, your ability to cope with fairly minor pain tended to decrease. It was like dealing with excruciating pain took so much physical and mental energy that when more garden variety pain from something as simple as an upset stomach or a stubbed toe came along, you just didn’t have the mental reserves left to deal with it.
I have thought of this fact fairly often over the past couple of months. If you’ve read my blog at all in the last few weeks, you already know that my family has been going through a difficult time and I have not been dealing with it all that well. Which has surprised me. Although our situation is terrible and could potentially get much worse, I’ve handled situations just as bad or worse without diving into the sort of despair and bitterness which I have been struggling with for the last few weeks. I have found myself questioning the very existence of God as well as His faithfulness and His good heart. Which, given all that He has seen me through before and my well established relationship with Him is ridiculous. I think that part of what has thrown me so off balance this time is precisely that I’ve been down this road so many times before, I’ve shown my faithfulness, I’ve trusted in God in the middle of an evil place. So why am I finding myself back on this road again? Haven’t I already gone over this ground and been found faithful? There’s really nothing to be gained by going back over all of this again – can’t we move on now? Just like with my cluster headaches, the fact that I had been through worse before seemed to be making it harder for me to deal with a fresh bout of struggle, not easier.
Fortunately, I have a copy of The Ransomed Heart, which is a collection of readings from John Eldredge’s works in my bathroom and I have frequently thumbed through this book and found some little string to hold onto. One day it was a couple of paragraphs on how easy it is to forget that God is real and faithful. This is why God told the Israelites to remember over and over and had them set up memorials at the sight of significant encounters with God. Even Jesus, when instructing us to practice the Eucharist tells us to do it for remembrance of him, so we won’t forget.
Today, I picked up the book and found this:
One of the most poisonous of all Satan’s whispers is simply, “Things will never change.” That lie kills expectation, trapping our heart forever in the present. To keep desire alive and flourishing, we must renew our vision for what lies ahead. Things will not always be like this . . .Julia Gatta describes impatience, discouragement and despair as the “noonday demons” most apt to beset the seasoned traveler. As the road grows long we grow weary; impatience and discouragement tempt us to forsake the way for some easier path.” (The Sacred Romance)
Isn’t that the truth? I too have found that the lie of “things will never change” can be an ever present spiritual taunt in trying situations. (This seems to be a particular problem in marriage, I think. You have a fight and you think that your spouse’s anger or bad attitude towards you is going to be the new “normal”. But that’s a whole other conversation.)
As I have struggled, especially with how pointless this whole thing seems to be, the thought has popped into my mind, “maybe this isn’t about you. Maybe this is so you can be a demonstration of faith for others around you. One of those ‘so they will see your good works and glorify God’ times.” But the thought seems too arrogant, too presumptuous to actually adopt. Then today I also read this in The Ransomed Heart:
We run our race, we travel our journey, in the words of Hebrews, before ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ (12:1). When we face a decision to fall back or press on, the whole universe holds its breath – angels, demons, our friends and foes, and the Trinity itself – watching with bated breath to see what we will do. . . The question that lingers from the fall of Satan and the fall of man remains: Will anyone trust the great heart of the Father, or will we shrink back in faithless fear? . . . The great struggles of our heart reveal to the world our true identity: We really are the sons and daughters of God.” (The Sacred Romance)
Hmmm . . . Personally, I keep coming back to the problem of hope. Hope can seem like a fool’s errand. What if it doesn’t work out? What if I end up not as an example of faithfulness in God’s good heart, but as an example of misplaced hope and optimism? Yet like many times before, I find myself repeating the words of Simon Peter to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
So I’ll just keep plugging along and hope that I will be found worthy and that some one, some where will glorify God because of me.