A few Sundays ago, my husband and kids were at a church event. I was, as usual, lying in bed, restless, feverish, in pain, exhausted but not sleepy, and desperate to connect. Friends, if you know someone with a chronic illness, do not assume that we enjoy being alone just because we stay home from events. Many of us are beyond desperate for companionship, interaction, encouragement, and just plain old friendship. We don’t isolate because we want to. We are isolated because we are sick.
On that particular night, even though my fever was 102 on pain meds, I needed some kind of connection. My mind was traveling to places that it had no business going, and I felt the need for another person to help me redirect my rather hopeless thoughts. As a young mom, my friendship circle is filled with individuals who are busy little bees, shuttling kiddos to sports, activities, and play-dates, going to work, attending the same church events that my husband and babes attend, and just keeping up with life.
That night, I tried to reach out, but to no avail. No one responded–I don’t blame them. They are busy. If I were healthy, I would be busy too. I probably would not have responded. Unfortunately, however, when you are sick and lonely, you aren’t thinking very rationally. So I just assumed everyone hated me. (Like I said, not my most rational night).
I had a stomach bug on top of my normal level of sick, I was battling furious attacks from the enemy regarding my identity, worth, and even my place on this planet. The pain seemed more than I could handle, and the culmination of four years of chronic agony seemed to impress itself deeply into my weary soul. All of the passions and dreams, all of the hopes and goals for my life, and all of the plans that I had for our family, seemed entirely unreachable from the vantage point of my sick bed.
I reached a breaking point, where the agony of suffering was met with two options: Despair or faith; And I wasn’t sure if I could cross over to faith at that point.
As I lay in bed with tears streaming down my face and pooling in my ear canals, desperately trying to reach out for some sort of connection, I verbally cried out to God. No one was home to hear my crazy, agonized lamentation, so I felt at liberty to act out the nutty that was swelling inside of me.
I cried out to God, “What am I supposed to do? Where are the people?? Where are my friends?? Where are you, God???”
I think that my echoing lamentation may have housed a few more choice words, but that is between me, God, and my house.
I hesitated for a few seconds after the cry left my lips, the tears frozen to my cheeks. The air was pregnant with anticipation, as I held my breath. Would God break through?
Maybe God will respond and someone will call me back. Okay. Maybe crying out to God isn’t always a magic formula to get exactly what I want. But maybe….
Instead of a phone call, however, my sweet Calico, Daphne, jumped up on my bed, laid her head directly on my shoulder, and started to nuzzle my face.
Well, she’s not human, but in my book, she’s a close second. And in this case, she might be better than a human.
At that point, my tears shifted from hot, bitter, angry, frustrated tears into refreshing tears of relief, joy, and gratitude. I felt the steady hand of the Father lifting me up from the quicksand of my despair. I heard the quiet whisper of the nurturing voice of the Spirit, saying “peace, my child, be still.”
There you are, God. I should have known you would show up in your own absolutely perfect way when I cried out to you.
I was simple: My cat curling up on my shoulder. I did not see writing across the sky. I didn’t even open my Bible to the perfect verse–my head was throbbing too violently for me to read that night. Nobody called me immediately to help pull me out of my pit.
Anyone could analyze this situation and tell me that I saw what I wanted to see. Clearly, my cat just jumped on my bed because I was screaming in agony. Yes. Probably true. Also, God cared for me though the gentle nuzzle of my cat.
God knows what I need. The moment of crisis was met with the nudge that I needed to cross over the bridge to the side of trust. Daphne reminded me that God is here, has been here, and will always be here. In the presence of my kitty, my spirit let out an exhale. I can keep trusting. God is here. God hears. He has not abandoned me.
The fever stayed. Actually, it hasn’t left yet. That night began a flare for my hyperPOTS and Mast Cell that has lasted three weeks so far. The situation did not chance. Fortunately, my sweet, wonderful friends faithfully called me back over the next few days when they had a few moments to spare.
These moments of crisis keep coming. When suffering is overwhelming, we are met frequently with a situation that Paul talks to the church of Corinth about in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: We are hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.
But here’s the thing, fellow-sufferers: That’s only one side of the verse. In these moments of what seems like near-death, when we feel like we can’t draw another breath, take another step, or continue on another moment, we are promised this: We are not crushed, not in despair, never abandoned, and not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Can we be still long enough in the suffering and the waiting to experience the deliverance of God? In her book on the gift of delay, Wait and See, Wendy Pope shares a profound insight about Psalm 46:10. We all know this verse and at least two songs to go along with it if we have been in church for any length of time:
Be still and know that I am God.
I have always seen this verse as one piece of advice: Be still and know (trust, believe) that God is who He is. I always thought that being still and knowing that God is God happen simultaneously, like: Do ‘this’ and also ‘this’. Pope, however, highlights the Hebrew word for “know”: “yada.” “Yada” is defined as “to experience.” This single Hebrew word changes the whole game for me. This verse in Psalms is an “if, then” statement. “If you are still, then you will come to experience that I am God.” It is the act of stillness and trust in God that allows us to know God more deeply. Why? Because God makes Himself known to us more deeply when we allow ourselves to be still in the middle of the storm. Will I slow down enough in my heavy, agonizing, pain-filled struggle so that I can get to know and experience God at a deeper level?
This understanding of Psalm 46:10 leads me to the second part of Isaiah 30:15:
In quietness and trust is your strength.
Why is our strength found in quietness in trust? What about stillness allows us to know God? Because when we come to the end of ourselves, or when we choose to humble ourselves, we come to know the strength and all-sufficiency of the one who raised the dead to life, made the blind to see, comforts the suffering, and heals the sick.
God is here constantly. In the black holes of life, we are given a unique opportunity. When we feel the weight of the world (or just our crazy-heavy loads) weighing down on us, we often find ourselves at a cross-roads: Will we choose to despair, or will we choose to trust God, thus knowing Him more fully?
Please hear my heart on this: I am not saying that everyone needs to be sick to encounter God. Every human on the planet encounters suffering. Some of us carry it in our physical bodies; some in our minds; some in our souls; some in our relationships; some in our circumstances. We all suffer. I am going to bet that if you say that you never suffer, you are suffering from some form of denial; so, welcome, fellow sufferer. My suffering is more obvious, but not any more severe than the suffering of others. I don’t have the corner on the market of pain and suffering.
We do, however, have a choice of how we respond to our pain.
Because God makes Himself known in unique ways every single time I come to my moments of crisis, I am finding it easier to trust Him.God is constantly proving Himself faithful. I am coming to know God better through my illnesses, and because of that, I am thankful for my suffering.
I cling to the words of James, the brother of Jesus, who declared,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (1:2-3)
Let’s all count it joy: not necessarily happiness, but joy, when we face our own unique brands of suffering, for we are all in the process of being made complete in Christ. And in this process, we come to know God as absolutely faithful, steadfast, and gracious.