For the past several weeks I have been in the grip of yet one more attack of gout. For those of you who have never experienced this disease, give thanks. It is right up there with the pain of childbirth, migraine, and gall bladder colic. My foot feels as if it is on fire, and literally throbs with pain. My flesh is so tender and swollen that I cannot even brush my fingers across it without gasping, and even to consider trying to get my foot into a slipper is madness.
I have to be creative in my self-care. Take walking: I have been learning patience as I must carefully place my foot on the floor on its side, and slowly, deliberately and carefully inch my way across the floor to get to the kitchen or the bathroom. Stairs are a unique challenge, and lead to resourceful solutions which are not always dignified.
Food preparation requires me to stand like a flamingo with one foot lifted slightly in the air, the rest of me propped up by my cane and leaning hard on the counter as I frantically spread tuna salad or peanut butter on bread, one-handedly, and call it lunch. I have permanently moved my Kindle, phone and computer (and easily accessible plugged in charger cords) to the coffee table next to the sofa in the den and the TV remote sits next to them. As long as I can keep my foot elevated, it is bearable (just)… but I am learning to be frugal in my needs for anything which requires me to be ambulatory.
This time my medications are slow to work, and I am relying on prayer (my prayer and the prayers of others) to give me courage and patience and to hold on to the determination to remain cheerful. I begin to appreciate Job’s ambivalent feelings toward the advice of his “comforting” friends. However, I used to have a dear Irish Catholic friend who loved the Lord faithfully, and who used to say about pain, “Just offer it up to the Lord, dearie “. That is truly profound wisdom, and has become a lifeline from which I draw strength.
All of this to say that I have had a chance recently to think about suffering, and my respect for those who live with constant pain has no limits. Without meaning to be flippant, it is a small vision of hell on earth. I also don’t want to sound super spiritual, but I think that enduring a brief time of suffering is probably good for all of those who love the Lord. It has given me a very different perspective. I have been trying to find the deeper meaning in all of this.
What do most of us really understand about suffering? The most persistent thoughts I have had have been about how the Lord endured incredible suffering for us, and that He chose to take on that suffering freely, and that He did it when we were His enemies. I am having a hard time with just this amount of pain and it has nothing to do with anything except the gradual deterioration of an old body. I am not going through this for anyone but myself, let alone for others; especially not for those who would despise and reject me. However, God is love, and it is His nature to love… and love sometimes involves pain.
Let’s face it: love is always a risk. You expose yourself, give yourself away, and sometimes you are rejected or treated badly, and the next time you are more careful about taking that risk. You learn to be hesitant about trust. Yet, the Lord, even though He knows exactly what is in our hearts at all times, never hesitated to give Himself up, all of Him, for our sake. His love was so great that He was prepared to take the risk, in spite of the cost, in spite of the fact that He knew many would reject Him.
Sometimes there are people in our lives whom we love: teen-aged children who have gone off the rails and who seem unable to understand that we try to discipline them because we love them; or spouses who have become complacent and indifferent over the years, and whose closeness and best friend status we miss; or grown children who are caught up in their own lives and who seem to have relegated us to their past ~ not realizing that we are still alive and missing them. It is in things like this that there is pain in love, yet I have come to see that all we can do is continue to do our best to offer reconciliation, to continue to love, and offer the pain up to the Lord.
God’s love never changes ~ not when we are at our best or when we are at our worst. Because He IS love, He cannot be other than this. He has known and loved us from when we were still unborn… Psalm 139 tells us this. No matter what we do, He will never love us less, nor can He love us more. We may assume that our lives are too fragmented and broken to allow a holy God to love us; yet He does. It is His greatest wish for us to be restored to Him, and He has done everything possible to make sure that we have a Way of reconciliation available to us in the Person of His Son.
How it must grieve Him when we push Him away and are unable to believe how much He loves us; how we seem unable to trust Him to stand with us through all the hard times, and to be there for us whether we think we need Him or not.
As a young girl I had a favorite uncle. He was only a few years older than I and we were able to talk with one another openly. He was not a believer, although we had often talked about spiritual things. He was a favorite with the whole family, and everyone loved him for his gentle nature and easy going ways. During World War II he fought with Patton’s army in Europe, and then did another combat tour in Korea. War changed him ~ destroyed his innocence and broke something in him. Afterward I am sure he was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress syndrome, only in those days this was not recognized. His life gradually fell apart as he seemed unable to cope and ten years after the war he quietly shot himself. His suicide traumatized the whole family. No one had seen it coming, although later my mother sent me a photograph of him taken two weeks before his death. Looking at it carefully you can see that his eyes look past you into something deeper. There is a hiddenness in them; a kind of giving up, a blankness. When I look at that picture it still makes me weep, and it has been 55 years.
For years I was filled with feelings of guilt toward myself and simultaneous compassion and anger toward him because he seemed unable to trust us or to understand how much we loved him; how much we wanted him to be able to believe that we were with him, trying to help him. He must have felt completely alone, and suffered so much internal pain ~ but none of us knew how to go about healing him. He had hardened his heart, and hid from us within his own anguish. I think I understand an infinitesimal bit of God’s grief as He looks down at us, knowing how much He loves us, and how blind and indifferent we seem to be to His limitless love.
Christ is our example. Any suffering we go through is nothing compared to what He has suffered for our sake. No matter if our pain is physical or emotional, He understands and is able to say with absolute certainty: “I know what you are going through.” In spite of the fact that we can never love Him as much as He loves us, His love never changes. I am so humbled to be able to rest in the fact of God’s unconditional love and desire for our good in every condition. No matter what my circumstances I am eternally safe in the shelter of His love.