Learning faith

It’s been almost three months since I had the operation that we hoped would fix the cause of my chronic pain. After the post-op pain subsided, I had a few good weeks and I thought I’d gotten my miracle.

But then the old, all-too-familiar pain came back with a vengeance.

It was a strange process coming to grips with that. I know for certain that God orchestrated my having the operation done in the first place; there were just too many things that should not have worked out that somehow did. That was a miracle in and of itself — one that gave me such great faith that God was about to grant me relief. I can only think of one or two other times in my life when I’d been so sure that God had wanted something for me. And yet it seems I was wrong this time — not for having faith, but about what God wanted.

The strangeness was in trying to reconcile knowing that God had made that operation possible for a reason, and knowing, because of so many other ways I’ve seen Him work, that He is still good and that He didn’t make a mistake, but at the same time, not being sure what He actually was doing, if not what I had expected. He’s not toying with me just for a laugh, and He’s not punishing me because I should have had even more faith than I did.

It’s easy to trust God when He says “yes” to things that we’ve prayed for. I’d even say that it’s not really trust until His answer is “wait” or “no,” because by definition trust is believing in something uncertain. If God said “yes” to everything we ask, first of all we’d be in big trouble, because we make some pretty short-sighted requests in the grand scheme of things, but secondly, we wouldn’t be forced to see how small and incapable we are and how great, all-knowing, and all-powerful He is.

[I have to take a moment here to plug Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, which is one of two books I’ve ever read that changed my life. It’s a true story that exemplifies my second point about trust.]

So basically… I now have a huge opportunity to grow in my faith. I told the doctor while I was in pre-op that even if the procedure wasn’t successful and even if I suffered complications, it would be worth it just to have a legitimate explanation for my pain after two-and-a-half years of almost believing I was crazy.

As it happened, I did get stuck in the hospital three days longer than I expected with complications, and the procedure was not successful.

However, I no longer have to convince myself that I’m making a big deal of nothing while I force a smile on some days and stay curled up in bed on others. After overcoming the initial discouragement over still being in pain, I’ve come to realize that knowing there’s a biological cause for my pain, something with a name, really does make a significant difference. I have that security, and for dealing with the rest of it, I have an ever-growing trust in God, and the more I trust Him, the more peace I feel.

That’s not to say that physically handling the pain has gotten any easier. I’m not taking meds anymore because 1) I want to learn to cope and function as normally as possible, and 2) Messing with pill bottles every few hours is really conspicuous, inconvenient, and reminds me and anyone else who happens to be around that I’m dealing with something, defeating the purpose of functioning normally. At this particular moment I’m curled up on the couch, breathing very shallowly and slowly because it hurts too much to take regular breaths, pushing myself to finish editing articles for the magazine, and doing an Oscar-worthy job of not letting on to my roommate that I’m in pain (again, for the sake of normalcy). This is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

But as always, His grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness. I’m not strong enough to do this without Him — whenever I have pity parties in the midst of pain episodes, it’s so much harder to handle, and I quickly descend into a “why-me” funk. But you know what? My life isn’t about me. If I didn’t know that God is using this pain somehow, in some way that I just can’t see yet, I don’t know if I could deal with it. But there’s a reason for it, and He knows what He’s doing, and He is good.

And that’s enough for me.

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Learning faith

11 thoughts on “Learning faith

  1. Camden Suggitt says:

    This might sound a little crazy, but I have been reading your blog postings about your medical troubles and your constant unwavering faith and there is something that I would love to talk to you about. Please email me so we can discuss. Thanks.

  2. Clare says:

    Your writing is a delight. Thanks for sharing the joy of substantive, elegant prose. And you will certainly be in my prayers.

    “All things shall be well, and all things shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” St. Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

  3. ohyeah59 says:

    You have enormous maturity for your age! Wish I had been as wise when I was 22 (38 years ago). You are a very rich young lady. These words from your blog entry are a nugget of gold: “He’s not toying with me just for a laugh, and He’s not punishing me because I should have had even more faith than I did.” God takes you much too seriously to ever toy with you. And He never actively brings calamity on one of His children to punish.

  4. While astounding that you were able to come to grips with such an unfortunate condition, I’ll offer my wishes that at some point you no longer have to.

  5. Jen says:

    I am one of the thronging hordes that found your blog from the 56 most awesome similes ever. I just stumbled on this post, though, and wanted to comment.

    I have a chronic pain condition, too, though it sounds like mine might be less disruptive of my life overall than yours. But I’ve been struggling for years with this “stiff upper lip, not letting on to anyone that I’m suffering” thing. I lived with a group of four other women in a three-bedroom house when I was in grad school, and often I’d hide in my room to mask the fact that I was in screaming agony. (Or just, you know, having kind of a crummy, painful day.) But those lovely, wonderful women kept reminding me: it was more of an act of charity — and painful humility — on my part to allow them to help me.

    Isn’t that somewhere in A Severe Mercy, too? That his wife showed so much gracious humility in allowing herself to be a burden on her husband towards the end of her life. It’s so hard for us to accept, and yet the people that care about us want to be able to ease our pain. There’s nothing more humiliating, really. But I think it’s the kind of painful humiliation that actually does make both us and those around us a bit better. If we approach it in the right way.

    Obviously, though, it makes a difference if you actually are surrounded by people who genuinely care for you. I hope that you are! Best of luck in your efforts to come to grips with this. Real faith is in the struggle, isn’t it?

    1. Hm, I have a few responses to that.

      First, had I not ever mentioned God, you would have continued to think that I was intelligent and articulate. I would have still believed in him, but you never would have known, and your opinion would have stayed the same. I’m curious why, if I seemed intelligent and articulate, belief in God cancels that out, rather than my intelligence and articulateness making you consider that maybe God has some validity.

      Secondly, if you’re interested in a genuine, mature, civil discussion, I will continue to respond. If, however, you’re only interested in personally attacking my beliefs simply for the sake of releasing your own frustration or whatever else the case may be, I will say nothing, because that kind of discussion is unfruitful even if God has nothing to do with it.

      1. Cephas says:

        Ignore the troll. He has said nothing of himself. He only spews what he hears from others: typical atheist stereotype.

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