“I am sick at heart. How long, O LORD, until you restore me?” – Psalm 6 v3
One of the hard lessons for Christians is prolonged pain (of any kind). There are several instances in the Bible of people calling out for deliverance, healing, a miracle, change for the better… It would make a good bible study to check them all out and see how many instances end with a positive answer!
My photograph is from a local beach: the main pillars of the breakwaters have been “in post” (!) for many years. They have had time to grow pretty lichen: and time for the wood to split, crack and begin to break. Ceaseless pounding from the incoming tides and violent storms has taken a toll. Still strong, the wood is good for a few years yet- but the strain is showing. The sea won’t go away; the breakwater must face a daily battle, protecting the beach at the cost of its own wholeness. Such is life.
Six years ago I was experiencing severe chronic pain, a loss of dexterity and mobility, and a crushing fatigue. Prayer was offered by many believers: and the NHS did its thorough best to diagnose and treat the condition. In the end, I had to retire early because I couldn’t function effectively. That hadn’t been in my plans-and the retirement outcome led to heart-searching and questioning.
Why me? Why now? Why no healing? Why a chronic illness? What would we do, where would we live, what about an income until “normal” retirement kicked in? Was it MY fault I became ill?
Questions ANYONE asks when in that kind of situation.
How does “faith” fit into those circumstances? Some Christians seem to suggest that healings and miracles come automatically when we pray for one: I have to say I believe they are wrong. Such acts are grace-gifts given at the Lord’s Sovereign Will. Prayer isn’t a “magic prezzie tree” where we get everything we want. God can and does work supernaturally, and can and does work through science, medicine and suchlike.
Chronic conditions and difficult circumstances may well help us learn vital lessons and build our maturity. Does that mean we WANT them? No, but if/when they come (as they do), we live with them and adjust our expectations and experience accordingly.
In the last six years I have lived with fibromyalgia (now managed), diabetes (now in remission), and cancer (treated surgically). In retirement, I am part of my local church and contribute out of my skills, experience, and collected wisdom- and it’s good! (As well as generally less stressful). Do I wish my body was whole? Yes! Am I willing to trust that God DOES hold my life in His holy Hands? Yes. The Artist is painting my portrait for eternity… but doesn’t do it by numbers!
In Hebrews 11:24-26, we read Moses endured all kinds of suffering- conflict, criticism, and pain- in order to pursue what God wanted to do through his life.
Perhaps we need to hold that in mind when our life is less than optimal… Even though we will ask “How long, O Lord?” and go through the other worries, doubts and heart-searching common to human beings in troubled times. With the 100% hindsight we will all get one day, the reasons and lessons will be seen more clearly and will fit into an active, obedient faith.
Faith is persisting through pain without knowing “how long.” -Rick Warren