Bear with me, I'm feeling a little long-winded this morning for several reasons. And it's entirely probable that this will be somewhat disjointed, but stick with me and hopefully it'll become joined by the end.
First, a quote from 2 Corinthians 1, which distills something I've always had a difficult time expressing on my own. People ask me all the time what my blog is about. Is it devotional or theological? Hmmm. Yes, I tell them, something between, I suppose. Both and rather than either or. It's a crazy quilt of my life as well. Sometimes about the ordinary happenings that don't seem to have much to do with God at all (though I refuse to admit that there's anything in which He has no part--can you think of anything? Name one. I dare you, I double-dog dare you!). So I began 2 Corinthians last night because I've had this sense (see the following paragraph) of what I need to be studying next, and there it was, in a bold statement, exactly what my blog is all about. "Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God's grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand." (2 Corinthians 1: 12-13
So, last night I realized that what I've been doing is turning my back on rather than facing straight into the eye-teeth of the storm of this season and (ultimately!) standing firm in faith. I've been like Job's wife, who asks, "Are you still maintaining your integrity?" (though not quite getting to the second half of her sentence, which is "Curse God and die.") When really, the ring of truth deep within, the ring of the Spirit in me is telling me to say with Job, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2: 9-10) I've been wasting these sorrows God has given to me/us. I've been complaining like an old fish wife about them every which way but up, and though I'm surely old and wrinkled, I'm no fish wife, but a fisher of people, as Jesus called us, and THAT should be my starting place when I face trouble--no matter what those troubles are. So I started reading 2 Corinthians.
There are, as Eugene Peterson would put it, 'Biblical locations' for whatever we experience. If we are
looking for how to live in the Body of Christ, we could do no better than to take a good hard look at Ephesians, to let ourselves marinate in it for a long season. If we need to reclaim the land of worship, of course, the rhythm of the Psalms is not only our textbook but our life's blood, but there is much to be said for Colossians 3, and the whole book of Hebrews. And, obviously, if we're feeling out of touch with the Incarnate One, we must--we must--walk in the gospels and let them seep into our pores. There are shorter pieces, too, of course--these are just off the top of my head. So, 2 Corinthians is Paul's great treatise on suffering. Along with Hebrews 11, it is the most comprehensive look at suffering in the New Testament and sits right on the shelf beside Job. And for me, it's vital that those eye-teeth I stare into are Christ's, if you know what I mean. That is, I need the cross in front of me as I think of suffering in the abstract, and my own in particular. So 2 Corinthians it is.
This led me this morning to remember a particular Sunday afternoon that Beve and I spent in a hospital ICU with Beve's beloved sister, Glo. She'd been there since early that morning with an excruciating headache. While we were visiting (and she was, it must be said, her typically cheerful, joyful self!), a neurologist (who happened to be female) came in, sat down in a chair and with red-rimmed eyes, haltingly told Glo that she had not one but three brain tumors, one in a rather precarious position in her cerebellum. The doctor was so shaken that we, of course, were affected deeply, though we naturally would have been shaken, in any case. The word 'brain tumor' has a way of doing that to people.But the doctor's obvious fear infected us even more, because she didn't hold out ANY hope that Glo could survive that one tumor--instead she simply laid out how terrible the treatment would be, and what Glo needed to do to prepare to die. She asked if Glo had children, and when Glo said yes, the doctor cried in earnest.This was as complete a death sentence as one could get. Finally, she left and when she did, Beve and his sister looked at each other and began to weep. Clasping each other like they were little kids back in their shared room on M street in Springfield, Oregon. I stood there, watching them, tears streaming down my own face. We didn't think of hope because a human doctor--and her human tears--had told us there was none. The end.
About an hour later, a neuro-surgeon came in to explain the surgery to remove that large, precarious tumor to give her even the smallest chance of survival. He was the best neuro-surgeon in the hospital (which is a VERY good hospital in Seattle!). Glo, a nurse, listened, asked about a thousand questions, and I took copious notes. And right as he was speaking, the oncologist came in. And suddenly, it was like...well, to be honest, it was like God himself had walked in the door. I'm not kidding. The neurologist had returned, the neuro-surgeon was talking, a nurse was in the room, and they all stopped talking the moment this rather rumpled man walked in and rapidly began to talk. He already knew what kind of tumor it was--without even seeing it. So rare he'd only seen one other case, but he had a plan and that plan was good. He'd spent all afternoon talking to people around the country, laying out a protocol and was ready.
By the time he left the room, the emotional temperature had gone down about 50 degrees. Everyone was calmer. Then the nurse told Glo how lucky she was to have this man as her doctor because he's the best--the unmitigated best in the city, maybe the country.
But this plan meant suffering. A whole lot of suffering. More than anything our Glo with her PhD in suffering could have imagined. But that plan also saved her life. At least for a few more years. She didn't die from that cancer. She lost her hair, lost a whole lot of cognition but she would tell you, if she was alive to tell you, that it was worth it. Those things she lost were worth it for the time she gained with those she loved.
Glo was a person who didn't waste her sorrows (this is a phrase, by the way, taken from a title of a book by that name by Paul E Bilheimer). She took every one of them and allowed God to use them for good and not for ill. She knew the great work of God depended on her allowing Him to use what He would in her life. If healing could have done it, He would have healed her. But if suffering was what was necessary--for her, and through her, for the world she touched--then, so be it.
This is what I want to learn. Again. And again. Mere cessation of suffering and stress will never give God glory. Healing might--depending on our circumstances and how we then proclaim Him to the world. But suffering also might. The bottom line is, to that He be formed in us, one way or another, and then, through us, proclaimed to the world.