Life in pain, hope through death

I tend to believe God has kept me alive for a reason. It’s not that I’ve been close to dead at any point, rather I’ve been close to suicide a number of times. And what’s one more person in a world of more than seven billion?

I am left believing there is something I am uniquely suited to. Why else have the powers of darkness been so set on, if not my death, then at least my incapacitation? Yet God keeps bringing me through, drawing me forward. I don’t believe I could have come through all I have in my own strength. If I won’t be brought to suicide, then why not pull me down, slow me down by giving me the heavy weights of chronic pain to drag through life? Which brings me back in a circle, back to the question of healing. Will God heal me? I don’t know, and I am struggling to even want to hope. But God is bringing me to a place where I can trust that whatever happens, God will help me in it. El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient Nourisher will provide what I need, will enable me to be and act in that place.

pain

I have made the choice for death a number of times in my life. But am I willing to choose abundant life?

I feel free to choose death because I know that way lies God, lies peace and freedom from suffering. But what about choosing life? Am I willing to bear suffering if it will further the Gospel? If it will help build relationships with God? Doesn’t God also lie this way, pressing through pain and suffering and into life? Aren’t we called to reflect our Living God into the world? Can’t we do that best by living full abundant lives in the midst of pain and suffering? Isn’t that the best way to live out the upside-down kingdom? To bring life, to bring love and peace to this world trying to push us towards death and silence, towards despair? Isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross? Being lifted up in pain and the cloud of fast-coming death, declaring in that space, “here is life!

Am I willing to do that too? To stand in my pain and clouds of despair and declare life? To be willing to live in this pain because the message of life and freedom is clearer because of the contrast?

Am I willing to continue hoping and praying for God to break through and transform my life and way of living if that will further the Gospel more than continuing in this life of pain that I know too well?

Because either way, by pain, by freedom, by death, LIFE is here and here in abundance when we live in Christ.

When we put on Christ, like clothing, like glasses, and live our lives with our actions shaped by our faith, with our sight and understanding filtered through the eyes of God. Am I willing to lay down this life I have worked so hard to carve out for myself, whether that means healing or pain, because I would rather be with God, whatever else?

If I am willing to die for God, can I also be willing to live? To live the life God asks me to, no matter what form that takes? Paul says that to live is Christ (see Philippians 1:21). To what length will I not go for my God?

The answer to that question will tell me what I haven’t surrendered to my Master.

To be brutally honest, whichever path happens doesn’t make a difference. Either way I am trusting God to show me how to live, to provide what I need to be obedient.

I’ve felt challenged this week to assess how well I am living for Christ. And the answer feels like not very well. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul writes: “I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” I have received the call, but I am not living worthy of it today. I know that I could and should be doing more and better.

With a critical eye I tell myself I am lazy, that I should be doing more than I am, that I waste too much time, that I don’t put as much energy and effort in as I should, that I am not enough.

But I can tell that is my tongue whipping me, stomping me down, not encouraging me and building me up, not speaking love and light. I’ve learned not to listen to that voice anymore.

I know that I have to balance myself or I risk more pain and fatigue, putting me out of action entirely. But am I using that balance to do what I want to do, or what God wants me to do? Am I balancing myself for my own sake, or for God’s? Am I pushing myself out of balance because I want something, even when it costs me extra?

I see the evenings I have stayed up late because I just want some time to myself, to do the things I want to do, to just have time vegetating in-front of the tv. I spend myself on things trying to make myself feel better, or to distract myself from the body I live in, yet when I stop to think, these things do nothing to make me feel better, they make me feel worse, and that worse lasts longer than just while I do these things. It gives a fatigue or brain fog hangover, costing me time and energy I could be using for God, being obedient.

I don’t do the things I know make me feel better, replenish my soul. When my heart cries out for God’s easy rest, I don’t go to bed early, I don’t spend my evenings worshiping God, I don’t feed this body the healthy food it needs, instead I feed the darkness inside me, my ego, my will. (See also Romans 7:15). As if I could win against God.

Managing my pain and fatigue enables me to live and do whatever my God asks of me. Early bedtimes, healthy diet. That’s what obedience looks like right now.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7,10-11, Paul says “We have this treasure in earthen vessels… always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

I have pondered over these words for a long time, and after reading of Mother Teresa’s experience and willingness to bear suffering for her Lord, I have wondered further. Am I to accept my pain and limitations, bearing them as part of Christ’s suffering and death for me? To carry them as a reminder of my holding both Christ’s death and resurrected life in my flesh?

So often we claim as Christians that the work was completed on the cross, so why should we have to continue bearing Jesus’ suffering now?

Right now, I think I need the reminder; I think I need it seared into my flesh. Pain reminds us to protect injuries, to not walk on that broken ankle. It reminds us that we are dead in the flesh, that the life we live is Christ’s. We live the resurrection (see Romans 6 and Galatians 2:20).

Living for Christ means being vulnerable, risking our equilibrium, chancing a little bloodshed, opening ourselves to pain. But we are not risking our own lives, our own blood. This life we live is Christ’s, ours is already dead and gone. When we bleed, we pour out Christ’s covering over sin. When we hurt, we live Christ bearing it all on the cross, taking it down into death for us, that we might live and share this abundant resurrected life with the world around us.

Living my life managing my pain and fatigue is not incompatible with hope and prayer for healing. I can live in both death and resurrection, sharing in Christ’s that my Messiah’s life and death would be present in my life, that I might bring the gift of death and resurrection with me in my body to share with others, to bring hope, light, and life where there is only darkness, death, and despair, because living in Christ I carry both.

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