Chronic pain

Holding onto Manna

Exodos 16:18b-20a

“Everyone had gathered just as much [manna] as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.”

Proverbs 3:9-10

“Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.”

So, at my most recent checkup, I learned that my blood work was all out of whack. Namely, my white blood cell count was up and my iron was low (and getting lower with every passing month, I guess). Follow-up labs showed elevated double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). The first thought—Lupus. I was devastated at the possibility. Not because it is debilitating and incurable, although it is. And not because the number one cause of death among sufferers is kidney failure, although it is. To be sure, those thoughts were disappointing and discouraging. But the thought that most often brought me to tears was that such a diagnosis would constitute a permanent medical deferral from donating a kidney, which as many of you know has long been on my heart as one of God’s calls on my life.

And in my layman’s understanding of the disease, I reasoned (rightly or wrongly, I still don’t know) that, had I only donated soon enough—before Lupus attacked or infected my kidneys—someone might be alive today as a result. Meanwhile, delaying my donation might well cost someone else their life, along with my own. Two kidneys wasted, when at least one might have been salvaged. My mind kept going back to the story of the Israelites in Exodus 16, where God supplied their daily needs through the provision of manna. You see, God gave each person and each family enough for one day, and if they tried to save any for the next, it would rot overnight—and in a very unpleasant way according to Scripture. This was done to teach the Israelites to trust and depend upon the Lord.

And I believe He wants the same from us. No, God doesn’t provide physical manna nowadays. But He provides, and He calls us to trust Him. This concept is found throughout the Bible, namely that we aren’t to honor God out of what is left, but out of our first fruits (Proverbs 3:9-10). But it seems like many of us are waiting until…or saving for…some point in the future.

  • We’re called to serve, but we’re waiting until we have more time.
  • We’re called to give, but we’re saving just in case.
  • We’re called to trust God, but we rely on ourselves.
  • We’re called to step out in faith, but we choose to remain where it’s safe.

We’re holding onto our stuff—our comfort, our convenience, our control. But God is more concerned about our character than any of these. And that’s why, when we refuse to let go of our stuff willingly, God may very well pry it out of our cold dead fingers (consider Lot’s wife, and Ananias and Sapphira, and several others). Whatever God is calling you to, don’t wait. Don’t waste the gifts and talents and resources that God has blessed you with. Honor Him with them TODAY, lest you wake up tomorrow to find them gone.

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His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms

Not for Naught

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If you know me very well, you know that I blame a lot of things on “the fall,” as in the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. That’s because, quite frankly, the fall has had a LOT of consequences for our lives, our society, and our world. And sometimes we face things that just plain don’t have any other explanation. Pain and suffering often seem to fall into that category. I’m not sure that it’s pain and suffering themselves that we dread so much. Instead, I think that one of our biggest fears is that our pain will somehow be wasted. The apostle Paul knew that better than anyone. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote:

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

Like Paul, I think that we long to identify a reason for the suffering we experience. We want to see it produce a testimony in our lives that others can see. We want it to display God’s glory. Some painful experiences seem to lend themselves better to these ends than others. But among those that don’t are chronic pain and illness. Incidentally, I learned just yesterday that September is Chronic Pain Awareness month. I’ll bet you didn’t know that either. It isn’t something that gets a lot of press. Why? Maybe it’s because many people who suffer from chronic pain and illness do so in relative silence and obscurity. Maybe it’s because these conditions often aren’t visible to the naked eye, and as such are in many ways forgettable.

Over the years, this has prompted me to wonder how God could possibly be glorified in this, how it could produce a testimony. Then I naturally conclude that my pain is pointless. But during a recent bout of self-pity, God interrupted me. Over several days, he brought to mind a number of friends and family members who are afflicted by chronic pain and illness. And I realized that, because of my own pain, I am in a unique (if unenviable) position to NOT forget those who might otherwise feel forgotten. Perhaps not the most exciting testimony, but likely a quite fulfilling ministry. After all, some 100,000 Americans experience chronic pain at any given time. It’s a fact of life in a fallen world. I’ve personally found that there is a good deal of peace in knowing that some good could come from my suffering, that it won’t be for naught. I hope that you will also find peace in that today. Whatever you may be going through, God has no intention of wasting your pain any more than he does mine.