I can hardly believe that 250+ people have read my previous post, 15 Years, in two days. In my insecurities about my ability to write well I fear it may be obvious, but I didn't set out with a clear path for that post. I knew it had been 15 years since my baptism. I knew that Adam and the song The Freshmen were rolling around in my heart. And then it all just kind of rolled out.
I was re-reading the post and, to tell you the complete truth, I felt like I was reading something written by someone else. It felt so raw, so real. I kind of forget that this is my story, that woven into the life of the grown woman that I have become is a history wrought with pain, sometimes horror, and in other parts my own gross sin.
Here's the thing: when I became a Christian that which most appealed to me was that I would get a clean life. It was like hitting "reset" and then I wouldn't have any more pain. I would marry a nice man and have nice kids and a nice church and a nice life. Don't they tell you that? The preachers and the Christian radio DJs? Just trust Jesus and he makes it all ok. Worship him enough and everything will go just fine.
Maybe it's good that no one told me the truth. That you still suffer. You still sin. You still are sinned against by others. Life doesn't get clean and perfect. If you are not a Christian and this is the lie that people are trying to sell you about why you need Jesus, because he'll make life all good and stuff, you are right to reject that person and their lies. And friend, if you are a Christian trying to pretend you have it all together and you think that's how people will see Jesus get glory, please, for the sake of the Gospel, STOP IT.
The Christian life is wrought with suffering. There are many books by authors with far more scriptural authority and writing talent than I who can speak to this; they rely on the Word of God for what he has to say on the subject. I'd love to list some that I can recommend wholeheartedly.
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God [John Piper and Justin Taylor]
Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free [Tullian Tchividjian]
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering [Timothy Keller]
The Problem of Pain [C. S. Lewis]
Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life [R.C. Sproul]
I have been thinking a lot lately about suffering. By the sovereignty of God, he's using the painful news of Roger's autism to bring to the surface a lot of my own past. You see, I wrestle with this grief of how Roger will suffer because of his having autism, the impact it will have on his childhood and upbringing and entire life and the role Jason and I will have as his parents to shepherd him toward the Gospel. The Gospel says that, though autism is part of living in a broken world with broken bodies, Jesus is our shepherd who walks with us. His Holy Spirit indwells us. He endured every suffering so he can identify with us. Our identity is not "autistic person" or "autistic person's parent" because it is blood bought Child of God with the imputed righteousness of Jesus.
And, grace of all grace, as we go with him through the various trials, Jesus perfects his joy in us. But I had none of that growing up; those who should have protected me wounded me deepest, literally and figuratively raped me, body and heart and mind and soul. Seeing Jason's and my response to weep over our sweet boy and fight for him and pray with him again and again and again makes it all the more raw that I had none of that. My current suffering makes my past suffering a trial which I feel I cannot bear.
And I cannot bear it.
This is so precious and beautiful to me:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. [James 1:2-4 ESV]
Did you catch that? The steadfastness of cleaving to Christ leads to a place in which the Bible says we will be "perfect" (teleios--see picture below) and "complete" (holokleros, or fulfill--second picture below). Basically, though circumstances don't change and life doesn't get perfect and painless, by a miracle of grace we get to experience peace as we grow and mature throughout life, complete and whole and at rest, until we're home with Jesus one day and are perfect.
How does this happen? I think it's no mistake that this is the very next verse:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. [James 1:5 ESV]
There's no magic formula. There's no amount of obedience or spiritual discipline that gets you there. You ask God! Wisdom is the ability to see life from God's perspective, and so essentially God is giving you himself when he gives you wisdom. And he delights to give himself.
The biggest response to Monday's post has been people saying how blessed they are to just read something real. Truth be told, I don't want to be any other way. Right now I couldn't even if I did want to. That means sometimes when people ask me how I'm doing I simply say that things are hard right now. If that makes them uncomfortable, I can't save them from that. But the Bible is clear about lying, and if I pretend I'm not hurting then I am lying. Pain and suffering is difficult for other people to handle, and they want to squirm out of their own discomfort by trying to make me feel better. The worst response is, "Well we know God does this for his glory." That is true, but it's empty. It puts the onus on Jason and me to hurry up and be ok already. Yet that isn't what Jesus wants from us. There is no feeling better right now; rather, there is only crying out to Jesus for wisdom as we wade through this swamp of suffering. Those most precious to us are those who take seriously the Bible's wisdom to "weep with those who weep." As we cry out to him in this grief his glory is best seen as we mourn but not as those who have no hope because Jesus mourns with us and will not leave us to buck up and look good so he gets glory. His glory is seen as we cling to him through our grief.
Right now, the burden to write is heavy on me. I sit here at this screen and the words pour out. There's no clever planning or rhythm or constructing posts to elicit emotional response. I just let the words come as they will. The fact that Jesus then uses this for his glory, to comfort those of you who identify with my suffering? That's amazing.
And my heart is tender. One friend, whom I nannied for on a temporary basis for a few months last summer, is having a benign tumor removed from her sweet 18 month old son's brain. Another, whom we have never met but share many mutual friends with, had a son take a nasty fall and get a scary concussion and skull fracture. Another family has a sweet infant girl whose skull is possibly fusing together too early and may require surgery. This is all just in the last two weeks and just at Mars Hill Bellevue. Suffering is a part of life, but we don't suffer alone. And my heart is feeling for those families in a way like never before. I read the blog post of the family whose little boy suffered the skull fracture and I wept. Our children are so precious to us and any pain, any possibility that they could leave us or suffer debilitating, lifelong injury creates an awareness of our desperate need for Jesus like few other things ever can.
I have a post about Roger that isn't quite ready. I'm hoping for Friday, but it's very tender and raw. It's an open vein with the bandage taken off, exposed to you all to see. But--and I'm a bit sorry for how melodramatic this sounds--when the words are on the page and I click "publish" there is a peace that floods my soul. It really would be enough if this suffering were purely for our little family to know Jesus' faithfulness in a way we haven't before. That's only a sliver of what Jesus has, though. He wants to burst past the walls of our little condo and into the homes and hearts of people he loves, stretching past cities and states and countries and even continents.
I'm terrified to say it, lest you think, "Ugh, she's the worst," but let's just be real here: Jesus has given me a gift with words. It's not humility to deny it. That would be stupid. Instead, it's a gift that continually shocks me as it blesses others because of the pure joy I find in writing. I always wanted a singing voice so beautiful that it would cause others to be rendered motionless and just cry at the raw emotion every note wrought up from their soul. That seems not to be in the cards for me, but this, these words you are reading that didn't exist until they flowed from my fingertips? This image of God as creator? I do have this gift and it's time I embrace it and quit worrying that people will think of me as proud if I accept that Jesus can use me to touch others through the craft of words.
So now let me end with someone else's words :)
I have written before about one of my favorite, favorite worship songs, My God, My Father. Though I never would have chosen this pain for my baby, my firstborn and (so far) only son, I say:
My God, my Father while I stray
Far from my home on life's rough way
Oh teach me from my heart to say
Thy will be done
Though dark my path and sad my lot
Let me be still and murmur not
Or breathe the prayer divinely taught
Thy will be done
But if my fainting heart be blessed
With the Holy Spirit for its guest
My God to thee I leave the rest
Thy will be done
If thou should call me to resign
What most I prize never was mine
I only yield thee what is thine
Thy will be done
Renew my will from day to day
Blend it with thine and take away
All that now makes it hard to say
Thy will be done
Then when on Earth I breathe no more
This prayer oft mixed with tears before
I'll sing upon that joyful shore
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Though I know this song so intrinsically that I can sing the words as easily as spell my own name, I cannot write or sing or think of it without weeping. Every lyric hits me as fresh and new. I pray it soothes your soul, too.