Though I have dozens of short paragraphs and unfinished thoughts unwritten in my diary, scattered throughout the days and weeks of this episode, below was my last full-length entry. This will be my last one on this subject. If you have followed along, my hope is that you have gained a psalm-like voice for your own sorrows, that you see that the Lord is calling you to himself as you feel abandoned and cherished by him – all at the same time, and that you not alone.
Today’s date is Jan. 28, Friday, about 3 pm – exactly six weeks since this tour-de-psalms began on Dec. 17, 2010. As I write, sitting in the Surgical Operation Waiting Room, Cheryl is in her second surgery this week to remove left-over pieces of the stone in the right kidney. If all goes as explained, we should be home tomorrow. We look forward to the tubeless silence.
Danger in THE SERENITY ROOM: There is at Least One False Savior in There
The heart is filled with irresistible urges for refuge and so are the psalms. But what the heart seeks for safety is not always safe. False hopes and trusts are always offering their wares for our heart, but seasons of fear and sorrow bring a special vulnerability to the equation – You are looking for quick relief from pain. As the first nights slowly ticked by, I began to face the possible reality of being a widower at age 46 – never really thought so deeply about it until now; never had to because nothing has ever come close to such forced meditation. I felt lost and unidentified – like looking in a mirror with no reflection. You’re gone.
I began to think ahead, prepare my mind, imagine what would I do, how would I parent as a single dad, how I would handle bits and pieces of my life that Cheryl has always taken care of – like balancing the check book and feeding me (two things that someone must do for me)! I tried to look on the proverbial bright side of things and I tried to not feel so hopeless and despondent as if my future without Cheryl was not a happy possibility. I found myself anesthetizing my ache by imagining all the good that could come from Cheryl’s death (Please hold on to your booing and your tomatoes until you hear me out).
My future-gazing went something like this, in a matter-of-fact kind of way – sort of like a syllogism that reaches for a logical conclusion:
Major Premise: God is Good, Kind, and Generous (see, I was being a good theologian)
Minor Premise: Because God is all of the above, he will turn my sorrows into dancing (good so far)
Conclusion: God will make me happy again with another wife, more time for personal pleasures, and less time in the garden, because, I will subtly bring up gardening as I e-harmony for a new wife online. Any hint that she likes gardening will cause an immediate internet disconnect – oops. Happiness secured.
But as my mind was meandering along this route the false Savior was exposed, hiding in the background like a thief to steal my joy in God and thus steal glory from God. What alerted me in this night-watch hour were the psalms as God’s Spirit woke me from my delirium: My happy future without Cheryl was a Christ-less one, forged in my mind in less than a minute. Was it a Christ-less one because I would deny my faith if she dies? No – not that I could foresee. But it was a future without Jesus because I began to equate happiness with a new wife, broader freedoms for personal pursuits, less time doing the things that are way beyond my preferences. In other words, I was putting my hope for a happy future not in knowing Christ more fully in my loss, but knowing Me more fully in my personal pursuits. Ok, now you can boo and toss your salad to me.
Not that my heart embraced this sordid conclusion, but it was there – and I hated it. It was a lie that the world, flesh, and the devil has hoodwinked the world with, and to my shame, me too and too often. What saved me? The true Savior as he walked me through his blessed hymnbook:
“Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” – Psalm 43:3-5.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” – Psalm 27:4-5.
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” – Psalm 16:11.
The false Savior in THE SERENITY ROOM was me. And the false gospel message was the promise that I can make “lemonade from lemons” and believe that I can be happy again because God will give me all the things that bring me pleasure. Please don’t misunderstand: I do not mean to say that God is not concerned with resupplying relational and material gifts in the midst of earthly loss; He is concerned with our temporal happiness and will, if he deems it best for us, supply these needs. But our wise and loving Savior is most concerned with what brings us the most joy – Him! And all temporal losses are gain, if the loss is the means by which we come to know Christ more fully than if we had not lost.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:8a, 10-11.
Here’s a question for your heart and mine when we are suffering and about to lose or think we’re going to lose something dear and precious to us:
Is the deeper fellowship of Jesus Christ the future gain of your present loss? If not, then you and I will waste our loss. Why? Because the red-ink spiritual economics of loss, without knowing Christ more fully as the goal, is only more negative loss. However, God does not withhold the positive economics of suffering: Christ + Loss = More of Christ. All glorious gain!
It’s just a little after 5 pm. I just met with the surgeon: “Cheryl’s kidney is clean – we’ll cork the drain tube late this evening, pull it tomorrow morning and send her home around noon.”
The Lord is worthy of our hope and trust – all the time!