I spent this past Thanksgiving coughing. Or trying to cough, and failing miserably. As someone with a disorder known to cause respiratory issues (among many other things), this was a scary time.
I had been doing so well in other areas: walking farther, riding better, even helping fold laundry with my clumsy hands. I was looking forward to a refreshing holiday of pumpkin pie, a walk, and Christmas decorating.
And now, on Thanksgiving morning, I was being admitted to the hospital with hypoxemia and difficulty handling the thick gunk filling my lungs. Instead of enjoying good food and fresh air, I was sitting in a chair devoting my full attention to keeping my airways clear.
Over the years, I’ve been through many valleys health-wise. Of all those valleys, this one probably had one of the steepest entrances and rockiest interiors.
And among the rocks, I discovered that I was not very prepared.
Sudden hard times like these demand answers to some very important questions: What kind of God do you follow? What gives your life meaning? Where will you look for comfort and help that actually deliver? And they’re asking for your answer – not the answers of your family or friends or members of your faith community. They’re not even asking what your answer should be, but what it is.
And I found that I did not have as strong a grip on my answers as I could have or needed. I had let them slip, setting them beside me (albeit close by) instead of keeping them in my hand at the ready.
Ironically, this was my first health crisis in which I could give the doctors a name for my pre-existing health condition and explain the latest findings on it. And thanks to that information, we were able to form an aggressive plan to treat my cough and minimize long-term damage. There was very little uncertainty about how my present illness and my long-term disorder might interact and how we could resolve the situation.
As much as I appreciated this knowledge and owe my health to it, it could not meet all my needs. It could sustain my body but not my soul. In fact, it made my spiritual uncertainty more glaring by contrast. No, I needed to be able to answer the hard spiritual questions to truly survive and thrive.
I remembered how, back in high school, I had strained a hip muscle multiple times. The ensuing days of pain and restricted activity had caused a lot of frustration and tears. Yet I had managed to find comfort in the belief that a sovereign, omnipotent, all-wise, and loving God was right there with me through it all.
So what was different now – notwithstanding that clogged airways are more directly life-threatening than a musculoskeletal injury? What was I missing in my understanding of who God is?
Maybe, as I’ve gotten older and learned more about God, I’d forgotten that He will be who He will be. That, in C.S. Lewis’ words, He is not only good but unsafe. He will do whatever He wants and cannot be predicted or manipulated. He gives, and He takes. All while somehow working everything out for a good, higher purpose.
Yes, He is a loving, faithful, compassionate God. But He is not going to fit into a box. The better we get to know Him, the more there is to learn.
So, can I trust and find peace in such a God?
I can’t deny what I and others suffer. But God never promised a lack of suffering. He didn’t even promise lack of dying (at least until Christ’s second coming). In fact, He stepped right into the middle of suffering. On Christmas Day 2,000 years ago, He was born into it. He sweated, wept, and bled among us. And then He died (though that wasn’t the end of the story).
No one could have foreseen that, though He announced it in advance through prophets. His own disciples had to be set straight on what they thought His mission was. But He did it. Not only to set in motion the end of suffering and death, but to ensure that in the meantime we never have to suffer alone.
Yes, we’ll suffer. But this is a God whom suffering cannot stop.
So I’m going to look to Jesus, God incarnate. I’m going to more rigorously read the Bible, where God has been known to speak. Where He promises that “neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.“ (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)
When I find myself walking through fog, and hear Someone walking beside me whom I cannot see, any more than I can see my own feet, I’m going to ask Him, as many times as I have to, “Who are you?”
And I’ll believe His answer, even when I don’t quite understand.
What has God taught you through tough times? In what ways can you seek Him in the midst of hardship?