This is my comfort in my trouble,
that your promise gives me life…
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119:50, 71
Today was a very heavy day for me, following several, consecutive, emotionally difficult days.
While waiting in line to pick up my son and daughter from school (yes, I know reading in the pick-up line at school is not the safest thing, but I do wait until I’ve come to a complete stop again before looking back down at my book. And I’ve not had as much time as I usually like to sit down and read for longer periods of time. So, I try to grab every moment I can.), I came across the above verses in Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. The author is writing in the context of her own struggle with mental illness.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the relevance of the gospel to every person in every circumstance. I am a worst-case-scenario type of person, and I do not say that in a negative way. It is just that if I’m going to believe something about God to be inherently true, it cannot just be true in the cozy comforts of America. It must be true for people who are starving in Asia, for those who are being persecuted, for those suffering the ravages of horrific wars (as if there is any other type), for those who battle with mental illnesses.
Whatever extreme situation I can imagine, I want to grapple with what the grace, mercy, provision and sufficiency of God looks like there, in that place. I also want to think about what it means to be the body of Christ in a world where everything, including our best relief efforts, are affected by the Fall. And yet, where, as believers, we have the opportunity to allow God’s grace to touch and impact people in those same complicated situations. I keep asking myself, “What does that look like?” because I have found that it never looks as simple or obvious or idealistic as I would like to think.
In that context, I am currently reading several books that look at different types of suffering. Some, like the one mentioned here and The Gift of Pain by Dr. Paul Brand, are written from a Christian perspective. Others, like Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a long way gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah are not.
Since my car reading is quick and sporadic and I am reading Darkness Is My Only Companion in such little bursts, I tend to open it randomly and read a paragraph here and another there. Following the verses above, is this quote from the book’s conclusion:
It is good for me that I have been afflicted? Isn’t there an easier way to learn God’s statutes? How can I agree with the psalmist here? In the midst of all my ills, there have been indeed several concrete things that I can say that I learned, that God has taught me in his mercy and despite my misery.
Tonight, I find myself experiencing gratitude for what I am learning from the author’s deep and very prolonged struggles. Although my situation is different from hers, the lessons she shares are relevant to me. As I read her matter-of-fact observations and advice, which isn’t always directly relevant to my life, I was encouraged. That sounds trite, but let me tell you, in the middle of perpetual exhaustion from burnout, in the context of awful uncertainty about my housing situation, in being so overwhelmed by life and work as a single mom, being truly “encouraged” is very significant. Receiving courage to face the next moment when I’m not sure if or how I’ll survive the whole day–that’s an amazing gift.
I don’t always know how or why I arrive at the end of some days almost hyperventilating from pushing myself to keep going against all odds and other days, like today, surprisingly, I have a lightness in my spirit in spite of waves of exhaustion and overwhelming feelings that kept hitting me throughout the day. But, is it possible, that in both scenarios–ending the day completely unsure how I’ll make it another day or ending the day confident that just as God has carried me so far, so I can trust Him to continue to help me make it–God’s grace is there?
What does God’s grace look like when I awaken, literally crying out for help, just to face the day. What does His grace look like when I don’t see or directly feel His help? Reading these stories of survival against all odds, I see His grace, even when it is not acknowledged. And I thankful for how seeing that in the suffering of others has brought me back, again, to a place of worship and joy.
I’m not trying to sound super spiritual here. I do not experience this as a magical formula of “praise God and my troubles disappear.” Despair hits me in waves. There are many days where I am clinging to Him, not because I see His deliverance, but because I do not see any other option of how to get through. This week I have asked God many hard questions, and I do not think He has answered a single one.
Tonight, encouraged in an odd way by the stories I have been reading, I have joy and peace and I am grateful for the respite from battling to keep my head above water that comes with that. And so, in this moment, when it is easier to say, I want to affirm that God’s grace has been with me and active even in my pain, when I haven’t seen it. And I choose to continue to trust His faithfulness although longterm relief does not seem to be anywhere in sight.
Tomorrow, as I was yesterday, I may be back in a place of lament, a place where my heart is too heavy and I am too exhausted to recount the faithfulness of God. I am trusting, again, that His faithfulness and grace will still be there, in ways I do not understand and that do not fit my expectations for how I think God should be at work.