“You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith – more valuable than gold, which though perishable, is refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Have you ever experienced something so difficult that it brought you not only to your knees, but flat on your stomach, face firmly planted on the floor as you whaled in pain, anger, and unholy thoughts? Have you ever experienced something so profound, so life-shattering that the thought of pressing on or pressing forward was a punishment in and of itself? Have you ever experienced something that forever altered your life perspective and the purpose you understood you were to hold here on earth? Have you ever experienced something that made you fundamentally question the goodness of God?
Nine months ago, I was diagnosed with an illness that left me unable to work, think, and walk from my bed to the bathroom five feet way. It was an illness, that for a period of time, destroyed my temporal body and wreaked havoc on my mind, personality, and spiritual foundations. It not only invaded the vulnerable spaces of my flesh, but it found refuge in the “leaky” parts of my spiritual being.
In a highly notable way, my experience with Lyme Disease and other co-infections upended my perspective of God – temporarily moving me toward a negative schema that ignored the good God had faithfully produced in my life for 36 years. In the early stage of diagnosis and treatment, I sat in the intensity of “pain’s fire.” Lyme kept me trapped in the difficulty of the moment; trapped in the darkness unthankful for the small things that brought or had once brought joy to my life. In a very insipid way, it distanced me from my Holy Father – slowly giving itself over to be a weapon of the enemy. It was a weapon where I allowed the demands of sickness to be my focal point; an unwarranted idol.
Like many afflicted with an illness, physical and emotional pain highlighted both my days and nights. On numerous occasions, I remember desperately crying out to God, praying and hoping that the pain would go away – that He would take it to a place “as far as the East is from the West.” In the fire of the night, I would yearn for a healthy body; the body of purity and “perfection without sickness” that can only be obtained in heaven with Him. I yearned for the ability to be independent, functional, and capable of doing what I wanted. In my brokenhearted cries and questions, I prayed for Him to help me accept the failing nature of my body so I could once again appreciate wellness and appreciate it that much more.
But the Lord didn’t deliver the desired answers I wanted to all those late night requests or even the ones that emerged during the day when the sun was high in the sky and the wind rustled the branches outside my bedroom window. In the fire of the night and in the light of the sun, the Lord – instead – helped me begin to understand that the way my body felt – its inability to function/its current destruction – was NOT a punishment from Him, but instead a vehicle through which He was trying to speak to me. Lyme Disease was actually a gift from Him wrapped in a big, off-color box with a tattered, green bow. It was a gift He was inviting me to open, to explore. It was a gift I could unwrap by humbly putting aside my first impressions of suffering, and instead curiously put on my “first love” – Jesus.
By opening the gift, I learned – truly and most deeply – that when I call out to Christ, He hears my voice, my desperate pleas, and my need to be in His presence. More than ever, I came to understand that when I’m His presence, He DOES answer the questions of my heart and that my constant yearning FOR HIM produces a closeness TO HIM that nothing else can shatter. I came to understand the paradoxical wisdom in pain – that it’s a rope of hope intentioned to draw me to God, not away. It is a tool used by the Father to subdue our hands and hamstring our minds so that we have no options for independence; only complete dependence on Him. It’s a passage He uses to move us from death into life; a way He may choose to resurrect our bodies and spirit with His love and comfort. It is a way He chooses to “save us” over and over again.
In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus speaks to Peter reminding him that the enemy seeks to sift him out like wheat. Similarly, we see the same request made by Satan in regards to Job’s life. In both circumstances, God allowed the testing of these men. He allowed the enemy to test the depth, limits, and boundaries of their spiritual commitment to Him. Our Righteous Father allowed Satan to use painful circumstances to test their allegiance to the One who had established and predestined their lives since the beginning of time. God allowed the pain to refine the edges of their faith. And just like Job and Peter, God used Lyme to test and refine mine.
Today, when I think back over the last eight months of fiery nights and intense days, I have a tremendous amount of praise for my Father. I am grateful for His sovereign ways, His omniscience, and His faithful presence on both good and bad days. Today, I give Him praise because I can walk with ease and limited pain. I can think clearly, as my memory doesn’t fail me as much. And the infections that once wreaked havoc on my mind and heart – leaving me without employment and on disability – are just about eradicated. I sing His praises because He faithfully met me in the middle of the night testing my desire for Him when all else had been stripped away, when I didn’t know how or if he would deliver healing, and when He tested the state of my heart’s truest yearnings. Today, like gold, I am refined — I’m walking out of the fire without a hint of smoke on my clothes or soot in my lungs. I have a newfound joy from walking confidently in the presence of the King – the one who saved me not only from Lyme Disease, but from myself.
Worship for Encouragement