It’s been roughly a year and a half since I last sat in a hospital and typed a post on this site. Didn’t think I would be here again so soon watching another loved one suffer. As I sit in the hospital tonight, a lot of similarities exist. Most notably, the swirling of emotions, thoughts, and feelings, that I try so desperately to process. The underlying fear of the unknown that threatens to convince me of the worst. The medical and professional knowledge that speak logic and reasoning. The presence of God’s Spirit that softly whispers truth and encouragement. Then, the similarities I want to forget…sleeping on a hard make shift bed, IV alarms going off, nurses all hours of the night, pangs of broken, interrupted sleep, my brother home from Seattle and our parent lying in a hospital bed.
This summer I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time with my father. We’ve discussed deep longings of the heart and soul and where God seems to fit into all the pain and suffering. We’ve shared devotions, scriptures, emails, and passages in books. He has been real with me about how the deep suffering of losing mom has changed him, caused him to question God, and created a profound longing in him to go home to be with Jesus. He’s compared himself to Job, and expressed his longings to be out of his season of “stripping”. He kept asking this summer, “What does God want from me? Do I not serve Him enough? Have I done something wrong? What have I done so wrong to require this chastisement? I’ve given. He’s taken the only thing I found joy in. What more will He take? How much more stripping will He do? Am I not already bare?”
Two weeks ago, dad awoke with an excruciating pain in his back. He went the typical route of treatment he had before: adjustments, ice/heat, anti-inflammatories, all with no relief. Next a round of steroids, additional assessment of muscular imbalances with corresponding exercises, and still the pain increased. Fevers, nausea, and weight loss finally sent us to his primary care physcian for further evaluation. MRI was the next step in order to determine a cause, yet dad could not tolerate lying down; he had been sleeping sitting up for approximately a week. So with MRI order in hand and stronger pain medication, he left the office hoping to get his pain under control. Yet once again, his pain continued, increasing in severity daily. With his pain not abating, he wound up in the ER Friday morning, hoping that they could provide enough pain medication in order to assist him with being able to lie still for the needed MRI. The initial IV pain medication given was not successful. For 3h I watched my father restless from unrelenting pain. Four times I tried to alert the staff that he needed a different pain medication and once I turned away the MRI technician. Finally, after being given the strongest pain med they had, it was under control enough for him to endure the MRI.
It didn’t take long for the MRI results to come back and as soon as they did, the physcians were on top of it. Diagnosis was not simple, but in fact complicated. MRI revealed 2 abscesses in muscle, 1 near the spinal cord, and an infection in the bone of the spine. I felt my strength immediately leave my body as we were being given the findings. Unfortunately being in the medical field, I knew the potential end results of infections such as these. I knew how utterly critical it was that treatment be started ASAP. Dad had hoped the MRI would only reveal typical wear and tear of the discs and joints, but instead, he learned he had a raging infection that could be fatal if not treated. So instead of going home, as he had anticipated, he was being admitted for an unidentified period of time.
Again, his questions began. “Did God really feel like I needed more suffering? Has there not been enough? Now this? Is there really more to strip? When is this going to end?”
Have you ever found yourself asking these questions? I know I have. If we are honest, I think most of us have. So the question “Why?” beckons an answer. Why does God allow such tragedies? Why does He not stop the suffering? Why does He seem to forsake us during the trial? Why do the tribulations seem to compound on top of one another?
Have you ever heard of Job? He lost everything. His home, his children, his livelihood, his possessions, all but his not so sweet wife. Three of Job’s friends tried to convince him of the reasons he was suffering, all to which God revealed were incorrect. It was not to punish him or teach him a lesson. It was not because Job had not served enough or had unconfessed sin. It was not because he needed to repent more.
What about God’s character throughout Job’s or our suffering? Is He really who He says He is? Is He really loving? Does He really care? Does He really exist? Job’s wife encouraged him to curse God and die. Suffering causes us to question God’s character. It causes us to feel like He is an angry God ready to punish us if we make a wrong move. We begin to sense that nothing is off limits to this testing, not family, not our health, not our possessions, not our mental well-being. So what keeps us from despair? Where is hope to be placed? If it’s not in our ability to control and protect the afore-mentioned areas of our life, then what’s the point? Why try? Why care? What is the seemingly futile point of stripping and suffering? I think Job learned why and I think we can too.
I am going to offer a reason that may sound ludicrous, may sound like all of my stripping and suffering has caused a few screws to come loose…….Stripping Sets you Free!
What you may ask? She has lost her mind, your thinking. Well, I did lose something, but not what you would assume. Over a 15 year period, God stripped me of all the idols I didn’t realize I possessed. My idols, were seemingly innocuous: my strength, my health, my emotional/mental stability, relationships, career, people. I didn’t realize how much identity, hope, and sense of worth I found in these areas of my life. I was stripped in all of them and more. I faced a lot of my fears head on, experiencing them in their entirety and you know what happened? Fear lost the vice grip it had on my soul.
My bondage was broken to who I thought I should be, who I thought I once was, and who I was becoming. My hope, my reason to forge through this life was no longer dependent on my health, my strength, people, relationships, life, or any type of earthly stability. You know what I found in it’s place? Freedom! The freedom to live in a deep, fulfilling, meaningful, intimate relationship with Jesus. The freedom to not have it all together. The freedom to fall at His feet and pour out my emotions, my needs, my desires. The freedom just to be, just to exist in the moment and not have to figure it all out. The freedom to see God’s glorious character shine through as He met each and every need and then praise Him for doing so. I think Job says it best:
“Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do anything,
and no one can stop you.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me.
4 You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
I have some questions for you,
and you must answer them.’
5 I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”
~ Job 42:1-5