It was just one of those weeks…
School was busy (3 tests, a case study, a chemistry lab report & quiz, a cardiac rehab assessment…the list goes on), my anxiety was high, my depression was starting to suffocate me, my stomach was in knots, I was restless, and couldn’t seem to get a good night’s sleep. I had a few emotional breakdowns and I was unable to shake the feeling that life is just too much to handle sometimes. Oh…and my fish tank started leaking too. By Friday, I was just ready to leave school and start fall break. I was tired and weary; weak and frail; powerless and broken.
We all have days, weeks, months, and years where our lives get particularly difficult.
We lose loved ones; we receive a diagnosis that was never apart of our plan; we struggle with singleness and loneliness; we have to deal with brokenness in our families; we go through breakups, heart ache, and divorce; we don’t have the ability to have kids; we loose our jobs, we face anxiety and fear of the unknown; we have to live pay-check-to-pay-check; we are victims of abuse in every way, shape, and form; we are surrounded by violence, hate and prejudice; we are taken advantage of; we are criticized and humiliated; we are hurt and wounded; we are living under a corrupt political system; we can’t turn on the news without hearing something that either moves us to anger or moves us to tears; we live in a world that is incredibly messy, incredibly broken, and incredibly in need of some help. We aren’t immune to suffering. We are all in desperate need for deliverance from the disappointments of this world. How are we supposed to respond to a world that is becoming increasingly more difficult to live in? Is it possible to simultaneously have joy and sorrow in our hearts?
Each day as I get older and older, the Lord has made it clear to me that this world is not my home. It cannot possibly produce genuine joy in my heart if my hope is in the world because it is utterly flawed at the core. If I am placing my hope in my health, my physical appearance, my grades, my popularity, my career, my family, my children, my friends, my fiancé, my comforts, my ability to succeed, or the next president of this United States, I will be completely distraught because as good as some of those things are, they weren’t created to be my joy. The only way to experience joy unspeakable on this earth is by placing our hope in the God who promises to restore this earth and establish his kingdom. The only way you and I will be able to make it through some days is by clinging to the promise that in heaven, there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more sin, no more heartache, no more disappointment, and no more hurt.
Many of us don’t know how to deal with personal suffering and pain. Or, we do know how to deal with suffering “intellectually”, but when its our turn to take the hit we can’t help but try to micromanage our lives to make it all better. We turn to anything that will cause us tangible and temporary relief in hopes that we can fix the problem ourselves. Until I began recovery, I was unaware that many of my disordered eating behaviors were actually just defense mechanisms that I used to try to cope with my anxiety, depression, and pain. I didn’t know what to do with the emotions that I was feeling (and a lot of the time, I still don’t).
This past week, I wanted to turn to my eating disorder thoughts and behaviors to numb myself in the world. I was tempted in many ways to turn back to the only tangible thing that I felt would cause me some temporary relief…then I remembered where that left me 8 months ago…I remembered that my only source of true joy, relief, and hope, is found in the word of God.
Tuesday morning (or night), around 3:00 am, I was wide awake. My eyes were so tired but my mind would not shut down…this has become the norm in my life. I am really restless at night and rarely get the sleep that my body needs to heal and function on a daily basis. It has made full recovery increasingly difficult. I often get really frustrated because I spend each night in prayer, begging God to help me get a good night’s rest, asking him to take away my anxiety, and acknowledging that I have nothing to fear or worry about because He is in control of my future. I surrender my life to him and cry out continually, yet I am still waiting to be healed. I decided to open up God’s word in search for some sort of promise to cling to, something that would reassure me that I was going to be okay.
I stumbled upon this gem in 2 Corinthians : Paul writes, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” -2 Corinthians 6:3-10.
The word of God came to life in my heart, and this passage of scripture seemed like God was speaking directly to me. As a follower of Jesus, I have been called to endure troubles, hardships, distress, sleepless nights and hunger, and seasons of waiting for the sake of Christ. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and it isn’t okay…it also wasn’t fair, or right, or okay, that Jesus had to take on the wrath of God on the cross. Why must we endure suffering in this life? How are we supposed to respond?
It isn’t until we see Jesus face to face that we will be able to completely understand the purpose of the suffering in our lives and the lives of others. If I am being completely honest, I hate this. I hate it when I can’t see a purpose in my brothers and sisters or myself experiencing tremendous pain. If it was my decision, I would do it differently….but, I am not God. I have a limited understanding of freewill and the intentions of others; I know that I can only see small pieces of the puzzle while God has already completed it. It all just comes down to faith and trust. I know that my God is a good father, I know that His promises are true, and I know that He works all things together for my good, because I love him (Romans 8:28). If you are a follower of Christ, you are called to cling to Jesus in response to your suffering. I am called to cling to Jesus in response to suffering. Jesus promises that, “The sufferings of this life do not compare to the glory that is to be revealed to us later on” (Romans 8:18).
Why? Why should we fight for joy when it is time-consuming, draining, and exhausting?
So that others may come to know the Lord.
The best part is that we don’t have to do anything in our own power to fix ourselves, muster up some joy, or put on a fake smile 24/7. People aren’t attracted to church-going people who desperately try to seem like they have their lives together. In fact, this actually turns a lot of people off. Christians are often called hypocrites because we try to act like we have everything tied together in a nice little package and Jesus is just the bow on top. He enhances the great life that we already have without him, right? Absolutely not. Yet how many of us, if we are being honest with ourselves, find ourselves getting super frustrated when our lives are not panning out quite how we had planned. Scripture is clear that is is in him that we live and move and breathe and have our being (Acts 17:28). Through out the bible we see God using the weak, poor, and powerless to change the world. Why are you and I any different? I have spent hours in prayer begging God to completely take away my anxiety and depression, and I have full confidence that if it is in his will, he will do so. There is no one more powerful than God our Father. I know he has the resources to heal me…so why hasn’t he? It was very hard for me to come to the realization that my anxiety may simply be a thorn in my flesh, which has kept me totally dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul asked God to remove the “thorn in his flesh” 3 times…but God didn’t. The thorn in Paul’s flesh was something that Satan wanted to use to inhibit Paul from being productive in God’s kingdom. God didn’t leave Paul hanging by not answering his prayer. Instead he said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response? Joyful praise to God, boasting in his weakness because he understood that the power that was within him was greater than anything Satan tried to throw at him. I see victory over my anxiety when I am consistently on my knees, begging God to use me for his glory, despite the fact that I am utterly powerless on my own. I thank God for all he has done in my life, and ask him to once again sustain me with his power.
The lost world is attracted to people who have hope in situations where it makes absolutely no sense to have hope, a hope that couldn’t possibly come from anywhere or anyone else but God. It is okay to be upset, it is okay to be overwhelmed, it is okay to be broken, and it is right to long for eternity. It’s okay to be frustrated with the state of our country; it is right to become angry when our brothers and sisters face persecution; it is good to recognize that this world is completely lost without Jesus. Jesus didn’t expect anything more than this. In the midst of our suffering, the Holy Spirit enables us to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” even when it requires relying on God 24/7, 7 days a week. Jesus can produce the fruit of joy in us when we are fully dependent on him and fixing our eyes on eternity. Don’t miss what I just said…
Jesus can produce the fruit of joy in us…it not up to us to create our own joy.
I love the way that Paul ends the passage above: “…poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything.” There are many people that I know who possess “everything” in a worldly sense. They have nice houses, families, cars, and clothes. Money has never been an issue and it never will be. And yet, in reality, the bible regards these things as “nothing”, “rubbish”, or “loss” compared to the sake of knowing Christ (see Philippians 2). Everything, in the context of this passage, means eternal life with Jesus, a reward in heaven, glorious riches, full restoration, life, redemption, and hope. Even when it goes unnoticed or unseen, followers of Jesus possess a treasure far greater than the things that this world has to offer. We possess the knowledge of the gospel that others do not understand. We have been reconciled to God and have been saved from the depths of hell and the grave. God loves all of his children, and he does not wish that any would perish; This is why we are called to be, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The best way to share the gospel with other people is by boasting in our weakness and exalting the God of the universe. One of the biggest ways that people come to know the Lord is by seeing Jesus shine through the life of a Christian who has not been shaken by the storms of this world.
Recovery has taught me to start each morning in complete dependence on God. One of my most recent prayers went something like this: “Father God, I am so weak. Each and every day I am realizing more and more my need for you. I need the same power that resurrected Jesus from the grave to sustain me in this day. I am powerless apart from you. I have no desire to go to class, no desire to be around people, and no desire to fight my anxious thoughts. It all just takes so much energy, and I don’t have any. But God….in my inner being, I desire to please you more than anyone else…even myself. God I want you to be glorified in me despite my weaknesses. I have no joy and happiness, and I feel like I am sinking. Please produce joy in my heart today Jesus, so that others may know you. I understand that you must become greater and greater, and that I must become less and less. Please reveal your glory to others through my life today Lord. God I praise you for the opportunity to live another day…I often take for granted the beautiful life you have blessed me with. Please continue to teach me to number my days and live as if there is no tomorrow. I love you Lord, please lead me in this day. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is only by the grace of God that I am able to speak these words to you. His grace has been sufficient for me each and every day, and it is for you as well. We are all broken, imperfect, and subject to pain and suffering. The good news is that the hope that we have through Christ far outweighs all of it.