It’s time to return to this series. I spent about 10 months feeling very over Brad being sick. He and I had discussions about how we didn’t know where to go next, spiritually. We felt like we had gleaned every bit of truth from the situation. (And admitted while we were saying it that we knew that wasn’t true.) But that’s another grace of illness: You have to learn if you want to live.
In the last few months, while I’ve been preoccupied with new questions about God’s will, the gospel, and marriage, God has been quietly teaching me more through this fixture in my faith: my husband’s illness.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this series, so I want to remind you that I’m human. I couldn’t give you an official doctrine of suffering and none of this is as neat in my heart or my life as it looks written out. In other words, I’m not anything you’re not: A child of the Father, under His grace.
Part VIII: Suffering
This is the mystery: Suffering is good.
How can I say that? Brad’s ankles are so swollen right now, his shoes barely fit. A few times, his legs have cramped so severely, he can’t stand up. At night when the pain is the worst, I look in his eyes and there’s a dense fog there. The pain is a barrier between him and the rest of the world. And then I get angry. A hungry and urgent force in me wants to physically grab hold of his pain and pin that monster to the ground.
As much as I hate that Brad suffers (and oh, how I hate it), I challenge myself to see suffering the way the Bible does: as an essential and unavoidable part of the Christian faith. Suffering is a gift because it helps me want, see, and need Christ’s glory. Here’s how:
It makes me dependent. I’ve always wanted God. Now I need Him. I can’t make this illness go away, but God can. I can’t make Brad’s joints come down to normal size, but God can. I can’t give unending encouragement, hope, and peace to Brad, but God can. I need Him not just as a backup or ace in my pocket but as a constant flow of breath into our lungs so every day I can wake up, catalog Brad’s suffering through the night, and say Blessed is the name of the Lord.
It refines me. Pain, depending on how we respond to it, carves into us the wounds of holiness. If pain becomes an obsession and a defeat, we’re as good as dead. But if pain teaches me to pray for my husband like it’s the only thing standing between him and death, or if pain makes me cling to the barest, most childlike truths about God (He is love, He is good, I am His, Brad is His), then it’s worth it. It could be I wouldn’t have learned these lessons any other way. When I look at it that way, I see suffering as a mercy.
It reminds me of Christ’s suffering. Sometimes when I see Brad stumble or struggle to get out of the chair, I think of Jesus, a man even younger than my husband, staggering up a hill with a mangled body and a heavy cross for me. I’m so stuck on “Immanuel” lately. God with us, sharing in this sadness, sharing in the suffering because He’s been there. And He’s still there reliving it again and again as He walks beside us. I think my heart hurts when Brad is in pain? Think how much more His loving Creator aches for him and longs to sustain him. The Bible tells me this is our reality and I almost can’t believe it. I want to know more about it.
It reminds me who God is. I’m not the one in charge here and my logic and mission doesn’t run the world, God’s does. In our lives right now, that means dealing with this illness. I don’t get it and I wouldn’t choose it, but that’s what it is. That’s strangely comforting. (I really don’t want to be like Job’s wife.)
It pushes us to hope. Hope is what gets us through the worst days. I don’t mean that in the starry-eyed, generic way. I mean when we’re laying in bed at night and Brad has trouble breathing because his back hurts so bad, we say to each other again and again, “There is more than this. God has a place for us. We have the hope of being in that place without pain, without Lyme disease.” Hope lets me face sleep without nightmares.
Am I satisfied with suffering? No. I’m not crazy. But more and more I think there’s so much in this life we’re not privy to. There’s something going on in God’s kingdom that makes this suffering make sense…
…what we call hindrances are really the raw material of spiritual life. As if the fire should call the coal a hindrance! (One can imagine a little young fire, which had been getting on nicely with the sticks and paper, regarding it as a mere cruelty when the big lumps were put on: never dreaming what a huge steady glow, how far surpassing its present crackling infancy, the Tender of the Fire designed when he stoked it). —C. S. Lewis in a letter to a friend, December 24, 1930