It’s day 1,484 by my count.
I’ve gone to bed a handful of times thinking that I wouldn’t wake up. The second that particular thought invades my mind, I watch my fear grow into a monster. Every pulse in my skull feels like a notch on a prison wall, taking a chalky tally of days that I’ve been locked inside my pain.
I’ve been sick for the past four years, plagued by a disease that my doctors have been unable to define and appropriately combat. My head throbs, echoing off the walls of my mind. My heart pains me as it tightens and contracts, its poorly synchronized beat fluttering within the cage of my chest. Any bit of energy I have is apportioned to efforts made getting up and out of bed at some point in the morning, my injured joints creaking like floorboards in a decrepit house. Rays of light slice through the night sky as another day dawns, and it’s nearing high tide in my personal ocean of mental illness; my thoughts suffer a barrage of waves containing memories of depressive battles and anxious skirmishes lost.
I feel so alone. No one watches as I wade out into the ever-deepening waters of the fight to want to be alive.
Having an unidentified autoimmune disorder is crippling. Ever since my second year in college, I’ve been trudging through the desert of personal suffering. The dunes of pain, self-doubt, anger, frustration and fear pile high as the clock continues to spring forward, taking me through seasonal cycles of pain until I fall back to seemingly-unfulfilled promises and deep-seated distrust. The wintry chill of loneliness leaves me begging for warmth; summery heat shoots through my body like fire, carrying with it the fear-inducing discovery of troubling new symptoms.
Suffering ranges from bad health to faulty relationships, from decades-long civil wars to losing a loved one; it is something with which we all will become well-acquainted in this life. It doesn’t take prisoners, but rather makes us prisoners of our own anguish and turmoil in order to spoil what bit of life we have. It seeks to ruin and rot the heart of anything good, drying out the wells of hope from which we regularly drink when things take a turn for the worse. It seeks to kill and destroy that which Life and Love seek to make new. It seeks to keep us locked up in our prison cells, filling our hands with false hope and wishful thinking. Suffering is a brutal foe that has an insatiable craving for the last word, and trying to face this beast on your own will lead to imminent agony.
We as humans are naturally inclined to view suffering as a hindrance, something that holds us back from fulfillment. For the Christian, suffering is a means by which we understand that true fulfillment is at our disposal at all times, irrespective of our circumstances.
Personal experiences, accompanied by the proliferation of media exposure and consumption throughout the world, make it easy to sense the darkness that exists here. It is an overwhelming force that we tend to speak of in ambiguous terms, but once it becomes personal, we have a chance to grasp this bit of difficult truth: the hardest fight in this life is not warring against darkness itself, but believing that God is good even in the midst of that darkness.
Believe me—He is good.
Personally experiencing the underbelly of the monster that is suffering has provided me with a deeper appreciation for the fact that Jesus went through the very same things. He felt the same anguish, grappled with the same deep depravity, and did it all for love. A love like that actually changes things. A love that true is scandalous beyond understanding, yet radical enough to spur me into life-saving belief. A love that far-reaching stokes the fires of faith to bear arms with heavenly weaponry, understanding that I’ve already won even if I fail to land a single blow on my own.
My situation is depressing, to put it frankly. I may never get healthy again. But if it wasn’t for a bedrock of hope in the Creator of love itself, I wouldn’t have survived up to this point. And the miraculous truth is that this hope is for all of us.
Listen: You were created to know this love, to have it for yourself, and to feel and know satisfaction by coming to walk with Christ in his love for you. We don’t need fake realities or half-truths that don’t keep us eternally focused. What we need is a God who sees what we’re going through and actually does something about it. One who keeps buckets full of the liquid pain pouring from our eyes and promises redemptive resurrection out of it all.
To the Syrian believers who fled the only place they ever knew to be home: you need a strong Peace.
To the single mom raising four kids on her own, sacrificing everything and struggling to make ends meet: you need a great Helper.
To the woman grieving the wicked wounds and deep scars resulting from sexual abuse: you need the gentlest Healer.
To the person who received a grim diagnosis of an unexpected illness: you need the One who looked a grave fate in the face and drop-kicked death into enduring defeat.
He went through the worst pain for us, not to help us escape pain in this life, but to teach us that He is going to use our pain for ultimate good. He may not give us a direct way out, but He will lead us on a path through. He will provide us with an intimacy with Himself that we never could have imagined.
I have the power to allow my suffering to develop a deep craving and longing for the the one true God, but that’s a conscious choice I must make. With suffering as my compass, let it point me to the truest North there is. As I set my eyes set on the beauty and joy of what’s to come, I will choose to make every effort to lift my drooping hands, strengthen my weak knees, and take another step toward the end. If I live to see tomorrow, praise God; if I die, so be it. I know that Life awaits.