Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Theological Problem of Chronic Pain

It may be a little late into this blog to get into this particular thought, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway.  I was thinking about this earlier today amid the craziness of church.  My current musing is the idea of dealing with chronic pain.  This whole blog is about dealing with fibromyalgia from a Christian perspective and a big part of that is dealing with chronic pain. Lots of people have some trouble facing the idea that God Himself might directly or indirectly be the cause of their pain. 
Oddly enough,  I am not one of those people.  I find few things (if anything) as comforting as the idea that every struggle, difficult situation, and heartache has been chosen by God to make me more like Jesus.  There are few things I can think of that would be worse than the thought that all of my pain in my lifetime is random and without purpose.  So at the end of the day I don't struggle with the theological idea that God may leave me in pain for the rest of my life. That's the easy part.  Getting on here every month or so and sharing truth that God has seen fit to teach me through this--that's not hard.  I could write volumes of articles on the harsher mercies of God, the pain and suffering of following Him with cross in hand, and do it without challenging a single belief or conviction that I hold. 

So why am I writing about this?  There is one tiny part I forgot to mention  that I do struggle with on a semi-regular basis, and that is where this truth becomes reality on a daily basis to  me personally.  It's easy to proclaim the theological purpose behind suffering, but it's difficult to tangibly serve God through it.  I love sitting and theorizing about God's plan for different situations.  I throughly enjoy seeing God glorify Himself through the suffering I see in believers around me, when they hurt deeply and still trust Him.  What I don't have a very good appetite for is feeling the pain all the time and trying to still hold onto my joy.  I don't mind the side of it that involves talking about how good and faithful my God is, but when it comes to Monday morning and I haven't really slept the night before and I'm gulping down a handful of prescriptions and over-the-counter pain mess just to make it into work close to on time, can I really claim that I am embracing God's harsh mercy for me? 

Why is there such a disconnect between what my brain knows is true and what I feel in a regular basis about the way things are?  Sadly, I am ashamed of the answer, but feel compelled to share it with you guys, because this problem is bigger than just me.  Simply put, I still hold my personal comfort and desires before God's glory in my life.  Doesn't that sound horrible when you say it in real words?  But is it not true just the same?  If I know that God is in control of my circumstances, and I know that He could have chosen differently for me, but He didn't...  If I know that He will bring glory to His name through what He brings into my life, then why am I not more excited to watch and be a part of Him finishing what He's been faithfully working on since the beginning of time?  I would rather be comfortable and happy than suffer--even if God is glorified through that suffering.

I would like to think that there are at least moments of clarity where I can see the bigger picture and embrace what God is doing whatever the personal costs, but I would be lying to you if I claimed that's where I am all the time.  The majority of the time I am simply putting one foot ahead of the other, and hoping for an easier day tomorrow--that's just not good enough.  That's not joy, and that's not a full picture of what the Gospel looks like.  It is not enough to half-hearted walk around wishing for "better" because there isn't better to be had.  We are not here to be comfortable,  and we are not here to be served.  Are we better than Jesus? 

So this is a challenge to myself as much to anyone else, but rather than just acknowledging in my mind that God's glory is more valuable to me than my comfort (all the while feeling disappointed with His plans for me) I want to truly embrace this idea when Monday hits and I feel like crud but have to go work anyway.   I want to embrace this when I feel alone and isolated with nowhere to look but up.  When I feel short on comforters or understanding from other people,  I want to learn to be content in whatever situation I find myself in, because ultimately His glory and His name are worth a lot more than my comfort.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fibro Meets Wedding Meets Gospel

For those of you who just did a double take, no--Jon and I did not have yet another wedding.  We did, however, spend a few days last weekend completely engulfed in the wedding of two very close friends. I won't pretend that there weren't last minute headaches, 5-a-day trips to WalMart for extra supplies, miscommunications galore, missed details, time crunch stress, disaster area kitchens, and most other hectic events commonly experienced in today's wedding scene.  But typical wedding chaos aside, this was by no means your typical wedding.

I guess lots of people think that weddings they are heavily-involved in are special and unique.  It sounds like a cliche.  But while most maids of honor are out stressing over the details of the decorations or meticulously planning special parties for nervous brides, I hit my limits long before the work was done.  To top things off, I realized the morning of the wedding I had completely forgotten to actually purchase the wedding present...

Yeah, it was that kind of weekend.  I had a lot of times before the wedding when I felt like a complete failure--as a friend, as a wife, as a worker, as a Christian in general, as a human being...

Many of my thoughts in the weeks preceding the ceremony included all the traditional roles I wasn't living up to, all the responsibilities I was supposed to be helping with, and how overwhelming the remaining things to be done sounded.  I felt trapped beneath the weight of culture's expectations for a wedding (including those specifically for a maid of honor).  In moments of this lost perspective, my fibro reared its ugly head and tried to make me forget why I was even a part of the wedding to start with.  That could have drastically affected my view of this wedding and the days leading up to and directly following it.  I could have found myself sinking into the darkness and fog of comparison and guilt and wondering why God would put me in this spot of wanting to help and do certain things and then not give me the energy and power to do them.  It could also have negatively affected relationships with all involved.  Thanks be to God, it didn't.  What I haven't told you about this wedding yet, is that both the bride and the groom were not in this wedding for themselves.

This might seem odd, especially considering culture's idea of what marriage is about today, but they truly weren't.  From start to finish, this wedding was not about getting the perfect decorations, finding the most breath-taking photographic angle, or getting a picture-perfect cake.  This wedding party was not there to worship the bride and groom.  They were there to worship Someone else.  This was a celebration--grace was on display.  God brought together a man and a woman who are both fallen sinners, who both struggle to trust Him with their biggest, deepest, scariest hurts.  A couple who are perfectly paired to bring out each other's most drastic insecurities and weaknesses, and yet are also perfectly designed to be the method most used by God to bring about their deepest healing.  What we saw at that church was not a perfectly engineered and manufactured Kodak moment or a Hallmark movie ending.  It was a public display of gracious, transparent, vulnerable, risk-taking, committed, self-sacrificing love.  It was a symbol of Christ taking His church with all her weakness and vulnerability and scooping her up in His arms and embracing her to himself.  It was a visible reminder that in Christ, broken people are restored and healed and loved.  It was Gospel.

Why am I sharing this on a fibro blog?  I know, this is sounding a little more wedding-ish than my normal posts, but I share this here because I was struck to the core by the amount of grace that went into this wedding.  Not only was the public presentation extremely Gospel-centered, but the whole preparation and understanding involved behind-the-scenes exuded grace from start to finish.

I am pretty sure that I could be in the running for worst bridesmaid of the year, but that was not the point.  The point was, grace.  I felt so privileged to get a ringside seat for this tribute to Gospel.  My fibro has kept me from doing a lot of things, and will probably prevent me from doing many more in the future.  One thing it could not steal was the opportunity to proclaim grace with my sister and (now) brother on a very special day.  I could relate to their feelings of vulnerability, and I could praise my God for their willingness to make that day about His work in their lives, rather than their feelings or plans.  Whatever lies ahead for them, I know that God is in it, and He will finish what He has started in them.  Grace and peace to Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Brown. <3

P.S. Your wedding present is coming in the mail ;)