The first of a three part series on suffering.
“We fear God will let us down. So we fall back into scurrying about to fill our emptiness with our own resources. But God graciously lets us wear ourselves out, and these efforts come to nothing. Life exists not in us, but in Christ alone and Christ fully. We live in him.”
“There will be times in life when we feel that everything is falling apart. But such times can crack open our hearts to depend on the living Christ as never before, to always place our endless need before his endless supply.”
-Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Friends, this website was quite for a long time. But 2015 was a hard year.
It could have been worse. I’m not out of work (although my job title has changed). I’m not dying of cancer (although a friend did just that). I’m not falling into depression (although I’ve received heath diagnosis that has been momentous to wrestle through). But suffering is suffering, and I’ve experienced some these past months. Everyone experiences trails. These occur in differing degrees of intensity, but how one chooses to handle them can be consistent. So I intend to share some of my experiences and what the Lord has taught me through them over a series of three posts, titled “Stripped”, “Pruned”, and “Sustained.” May they encourage you and may they magnify Him.
In February I received a mental health diagnosis, revealing major weakness that run to the very core of who I am as a person. Initial results of the diagnosis had me cancelling travel plans to visit a university and compete in scholarships, but such losses were least of my concerns as the long term effects of a medical trail sunk in. Not only was my brain and body being rewired by medication, but I was forced to reckon, often in public, with hard truths of who I was and how much I had to learn. It was humbling, strange, and scary.
In the months that followed, as the meds sapped my energy and rewired my personality, I had to let things go. First to leave was my internet presence. Writing reviews, applying for school, and posting articles on this website faded as my energy level allowed for not much more than three things; work, sleep, and rest at home.
Then, in the space of one brutal week, three heavy blows were struck. On Thursday, a relationship with a very close friend changed, leaving much that I desired unfulfilled. The following Tuesday I received the news that, due to failures at work, my job, which meant so much to me, was also to changed. And then two days later, we received the news that a young friend had died of cancer, a loss that struck heavy like humid skies.
During that hard month of May, I listened again and again to an album Josh Garrels had recently released. One song, “Leviathan”, seemed written just for me.
“All my life, all I’ve done.
Falls apart, is undone.
Built a tower you tore it down.
I am weak. You are strong.
Who can tame Leviathan?
Yaweah gives and takes away.
Will you curse of bless the Name?
Trails test us like the flame.”
I was confronted with my own inability, but I began to see that such confrontation was in fact a gift, a realization that I, contrary to all of my self-imposed greatness and ability, am not God. I am only a man, and a broken and damaged man at that. God may have given me talents and abilities, successes and opportunities, but when these gifts puffed me up, they were taken away by the very hand that gave them. So these humbling circumstances were, in the words of another Josh Garrels song from that album, “wounds from a friend, severe mercy.” As I learned, and hope to share in more depth next time, such wounds are only given out of love, only to those whom the Lord cares for enough to discipline (Hebrews 12:6-10, Revelation 3:19).
Here is another realization that came from this period; If I am not creating, or producing something of value, I despair. If I am not achieving something, or working towards a goal, I worry that my life has no lasting value. So to pretend that my efforts amount to something, I keep a list of every book I read. I watch movies only if they are worth watching (and preferably only if they are on my IMDB watchlist so I can check off one more thing). I’ve never cared for sports trophies that so easily dust, but achievements like internships in high school, career success at a young age, and even the existence of this website were mental belt buckles that my mind had prized and polished again and again.
All this toil. But what does it amount to? In the end, none of these things matter before God. All of them will fade like dust, and be revealed for their selfish motives. Only my position as redeemed in Christ can save me on judgement day.
“Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.”
So if my achievements are taken aware, is Christ enough? In him I am to find my identity, not in my position at work. My persona is not to come from being someone who is educated, or artistic, or creative, or sophisticated. My worth is not in my skill at words, or speaking, or understanding, and even the ways that these skills are being used. It is in Christ.
The words of Jeremiah Burroughs sum up this entire experience well. “[The Lord] often makes the fairest flowers of man’s endeavours to wither and brings improbable things to pass, in order that the glory of the undertaking may be given to himself.”