I am going to be raw and honest in this post. And I hope I’ll be a little bit encouraging too. I am emerging from a brutally hard season in life. But even as I emerge with my feet on more solid ground than I’ve felt in a long time, I still face a life that was not the one I envisioned as an earnest Christian teenager in youth group and then Bible college. I don’t like to talk about the details of that season publicly, because despite my freedom to share myself, public writers must grapple with the effects of their story on the others in their lives who haven’t signed up for publicity and don’t benefit from the sharing. I feel free to share privately things that I won’t share publicly and have worked to be upfront and honest with those whose ministries intersect with mine. I am at peace with how I’ve been able to work that out so far.
The bottom line for my life is that I am looking toward a life of persevering in some very hard things for the long haul. And no amount of peeling off layers of myself to get to my core heart is going to rescue me from the twists and turns my story has taken. But don’t hear fatalism in that last sentence. Like the woman diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, there is a precious jewel hidden in the layers of suffering and self-sacrifice with what seems a permanent blight on one’s life.
I have several of these blights on my life physically, which I will use to talk about lessons learned from spiritual and emotional blights as well. I have been a type 1 diabetic for over twenty years. But this year, for the first time, I showed the first signs of damage to my eyes. In conjunction, my body showed symptoms again of ankylosing spondilitis that had previously gone into remission. So I started up the first line of medicine, the easy one with the fewest side effects, that had pushed it into remission the last time. But the doctor called me Wednesday. Blood work showed problems. I will likely have to discontinue and start another one that has even more side effects. (And, yes, I see a chiropractor, talk with a naturopath, and eat a mostly gluten-free diet.)
It’s becoming natural to think of dying to myself as I face more and more physical issues that evidence the fact that my physical self is truly dying (though not any time soon). It’s actually helpful that, unlike a hard marriage or family relationship or ministry commitment, I can’t escape these physical symptoms. I can’t run from them, so I have to face them head on and figure out how to live abundantly in light of them. And that learning has equipped me to persevere in the other issues in my life that I could run from if I did not feel constrained by God’s instructions through the Word.
My dad has been a great encouragement to me. He has chronic heart failure, and we almost lost him last March. But he recovered enough to get out of the hospital, and after a day at home, he drove back up to his farm to sit in the office and “tend to business.” He bought a Gator (a farm utility vehicle like a golf cart) to drive between the tractor shed and the Quonset hut, where he restores old tractors. His hip has been bothering him, and he moves slowly. But he moves, one slow step in front of the other. He gets 10% done in a day compared to his prime years, and I fully expect to find him slumped over a tractor one day. But I applaud him for his perseverance. He models for me how I want to face both my physical limitations and my emotional ones.
Sometimes, obeying God is hard. Many days, submitting to God’s laws feels restricting. It is one thing to honor our faithful God by faithfulness in relationships when the relationships are easy or affirming. But God is faithful to us when we are faithless (2 Tim. 2:13). He persevered with us when we turned away from Him. Jesus followed through on doing the right thing at great cost to Himself.
But that sounds … hard. And herein is the great paradox that Jesus Himself taught us.
Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
This is a true statement from Jesus. God doesn’t need me to affirm it for it to be true. But it is true nonetheless, and I can attest to that from my own experience. And this truth encourages me to persevere, stumbling physically and emotionally at times.
There is great talk of self-love in Christian circles right now, the kind of self-love that promotes a perceived circumstantial happiness. When I hear of Christian bloggers or authors or even just professing Christians in my own private life diverging from orthodox Christian faith or values because it is “too hard,” I feel a depressing weight on my shoulders. Their quest for happiness outside of orthodoxy demoralizes me in a way that a combative atheist never could. They demoralize me in a way that even my own particular burdens of suffering do not.
I opened up the psalms Thanksgiving morning, in the calm after prepping before thirty-something family members descended on my grandmother’s newly remodeled home into which I had just moved. It was Psalm 19, and David’s words resonated deeply with me as I contemplated yet another “Christian” author/blogger finding themselves in a way that was markedly divergent from an orthodox understanding of Scripture.
David reflects –
7 The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,
reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful,
making naive people wise.
8 The Lord’s regulations are right,
gladdening the heart.
The Lord’s commands are pure,
giving light to the eyes.
9 Honoring the Lord is correct,
The Lord’s judgments are true.
All of these are righteous!
10 They are more desirable than gold—
than tons of pure gold!
They are sweeter than honey—
even dripping off the honeycomb!
11 No doubt about it:
your servant is enlightened by them;
there is great reward in keeping them.
12 But can anyone know
what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
Clear me of any unknown sin
13 and save your servant from willful sins.
Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.
14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart
be pleasing to you,
Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Dear friend who is struggling with a weight on your shoulders, one that may seem lighter to bear if you walk away from God’s instructions – DON’T BUY THAT LIE. It was the first lie ever told, and it remains Satan’s great summary temptation. “God’s instructions are a limitation. They will keep you from all you are meant to be.”
No, it is not true. Embrace the path of suffering in obedience to God’s instructions. Lose your life. Let go of yourself and your expectations. And trust God to meet you in it, redeem your story, and give you a place of import in His larger story. As you lose your right to your story, you emerge in a much greater One, and what you will find is WORTH IT.
If you are wresting through such a losing and finding, I highly recommend Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. It is subtitled, The True Path to Christian Joy. I loved those meditations, and I can give testimony of their truths. Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting was also a great encouragement to me as I wrestled with these truths.
I have walked a hard path, and I continue to walk a hard path. But God gave me manna to sustain me at the hardest points and has blessed me abundantly even through the taking away of things I thought I couldn’t live without. He has proven Himself to me, and He has proven the goodness of His words. When others encouraged me that I was not constrained by God’s instructions, I found instead abundant grace and help when I felt convicted that I was. But it requires faith to stay in that process. I can not produce such faith in you. And you can’t produce it in yourself. Lean into the One who can, and may you look back in future years in praise of the One who turns stones into bread, water into wine, and loss into life abundant.