The worst suffering in the whole world is my own suffering… Paul Borthwick
As some of my friends and family around the globe know, in January of 2017, I came down with shingles along my trigeminal nerve. The left side of my face was covered in a rash from my jaw line up into my hairline. The pain was incredible. While there were a number of factors, the bottom-line that resulted was a damaged nerve with pain that has persisted 24/7.
Thankfully, the level of pain has not been at the same extreme point.
The pain begins at the same origin point (center left bottom tooth) and can run all the way up to about the top of my head. I can have a ringing in my ear, a feeling of “itchiness”, and other random ‘what the heck was that’ moments that happen anywhere in that impacted zone.
I can deal with that whatnot. The frustrations that also join the party are actually a bit more annoying. I can’t chew on the left side of my face. I shouldn’t chew things like chips or other crunchy items. (I really can’t chew on the right for long without the pain increasing.) I can’t hold the phone on the left side of my face, sleep on the left side of my face (without an odd form of propping I figured out), or shave without a lot of jolting, shock-like pain.
Beyond those annoyances, there is one thing that befuddles, perplexes, and frankly, agonizes my heart, my mind, my emotions… WHY?
My calling (ministry) involves talking. I teach. I preach. I counsel and encourage pastors and lay leaders. There are days when my speech is impacted as the swelling on the inside makes me a bit “slurry”. Other days, I have trouble with conversations because it starts to hurt after the start-stop nature of dialogue. Since a big part of the ministries I serve require speaking, it’s frustrating.
Honestly, that is probably the most challenging part. I need to be on the phone. I need to be visiting people. I need to be out and about, having conversations, and doing what I’ve been called to do. And yet, I’m hindered. And it hurts.
All of that said, there are still a lot of GOOD things. For example, most people have no idea that I’m in pain 24 X 7. (I’m happy about that because I don’t want to look like I feel!) Or, if I am careful about what I order, they don’t know that I can’t chew well. It may look a little odd if I order a sandwich and have to cut it up, but maybe I’m just strange. (Think Seinfeld + Snickers bar.)
Now that I have said all of the previous thoughts, what then is the conclusion of the matter? The Teacher at the end of Ecclesiastes summarized it by saying “Fear God and keep His commandments.” That seems like a pretty good conclusion to me also. To be clear, that does NOT mean I think I’m being punished. It simply means this: GOD IS SOVEREIGN. I trust Him and I choose to walk in faith. If that means I walk forward for the rest of my life with this, so be it. If it means I am healed tomorrow, so be it.
I’m not being naïve. I’m not choosing to put some form of fatalistic hope in an unseen deity. I’m simply trusting my Heavenly Father. I’m a little child choosing to step off the edge of the pool – knowing that my Father is right there, arms open, and ready to catch me.
I also know that I will fail. There will be days when I try to say a word, and my mouth won’t twist the right way and let it come out. There are days I might give in and have a moment of grief, or anger, or crawl under my desk. But I pray that those moments will be fewer and fewer as I trust more and more.
The quote above comes from a book called The Fellowship of the Suffering. The preface begins with a question:
What causes you to suffer?
And I think of my wife who had a tumor in her spine but overcame it through God’s grace. I think of my son who deals daily with Tourette but has overcome challenge after challenge in God’s grace. I think of my tough-as-nails and pretty as a princess daughter who battles mighty dragons but continues to overcome in God’s grace.
Whatever that cause might be, Father is right there for you too. He loves you. If you have received the gift of saving grace given through the death of Christ on the cross, then you know that Love in a profound and powerful way. And you should also know that the Father will never leave nor forsake you. Your ability to overcome in God’s grace is exceedingly, abundantly powerful.
I’m going to share a few thoughts in the days ahead based out of the Book of Job. If you aren’t familiar with this Book of the Bible, it tells of a man who enduring incredible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. While he suffered, he continued to recognize that God was present. Even in the depths of his agony and frustration, he sought help from his God.
And so, as I end this testimony, I hope you will join me in walking forward, trusting God. If I can pray for you, please let me know. I appreciate your prayers for me and for my patient and loving family. I appreciate your prayers for Lay Renewal as we seek to continue to serve the Church. There is no hurdle that is too great if God is for us. In that fact, I rejoice!