Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 8, final.

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!



Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 6

January 6, 2011

It’s been a whirlwind of a week since I last wrote you. We’re still out of the hospital and waiting for the 11th to see the surgeon. Cheryl is steady as they had hoped; no evidence of infection getting out of control, temp is steady, pain is minimal – in fact, Cheryl is feeling very well all things considered.  The nephrostomy drain tube remains and will remain throughout the ordeal. Our church family is full of good works, helping us to bear our burden, as are countless friends and family throughout the Church of Jesus Christ who are praying for us.

There really is nothing more to say at this point until next Tuesday (“no news is good news”). There are several forks in the road that the surgeon may take – all of which the Lord knows already and he has promised to not leave us nor forsake us. We still covet your prayers:

  • That we will not waste this trial, but rather prove that Jesus Christ reigns and is worthy of our trust;
  • That though the Lord afflicts us, we will not lose sight of his good intentions;
  • That the effects upon the lives of others will be to the praise of the glory of His grace;
  • That our faith will not fail;
  • That though the outward man is wasting away our inner man will be renewed;
  • “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (psalm 73:26) – that we would believe it;
  • That the surgeon next Tuesday would do what is best for Cheryl;
  • That the infection would stay put and not escape until the doctors have safely removed it, either with the stone or with the kidney;
  • That from Him, through Him, and to Him, would all beauty and praise be to Him from His people (Rom. 11:36)


And now, let’s return to THE SERENITY ROOM

I saw others tortured in there – alone with themselves, with others, but painfully alone with their fears. Taking a break outside of Cheryl’s Intensive Care room, you can peer into that room down the hallway. The door has a full length window with a blind to close for more privacy . . . it’s usually open. I often looked toward the room during the day, dreading it and desiring it at the same time. Dreading to wrestle with my fears in the presence of the Lord and inwardly fascinated with the prospect of being so near Him. As I said, I sometimes look toward that room. Once, I saw and heard a family arguing about what to do with their loved one. On another occasion, I saw another woman weeping, refusing to go back and attend her dying loved one in the sanitized catacomb. As she stood just outside that room of torment, an ICU nurse approached her: “You have to do this – you are all that she has. I’m sorry but you have to go through this with her.”  I felt so sorry for her. I wondered if she knew Jesus.

The apostle Paul said, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). What was happening to me was and is happening to an unknown massive host of people around the world, even most of you in my own church family. It is common to suffer, to be in torment, to be confused, pressed, and weighed down from many sides with only the prospect of it getting worse.

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?                                                              How long will you hide your face from me?                                                                              How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?              How long shall my enemy (the fear of my wife’s death) be exalted over me?                       Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;                                                                       light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,                                                                   lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”                                                                     lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.                                                                         But I have trusted in your steadfast love;                                                                                 my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.                                                                                   I will sing to the LORD because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 13

THE SERENITY ROOM is common to man but what is not common to man is the steadfast love of the Lord as he weeps with you in your torture chamber. The difference between you dear saint and the one who does not know the Lord, is not suffering – for all suffer, but that you are not alone – He is there throughout the night with you. And though that is what makes THE SERENITY ROOM all the more horrifying at first like it did for David in psalm 13, in the end there is rejoicing to have been with the Lord, to have known a deeper level of trust that you did not have before entering that room. This does not mean that in one night the rejoicing may come through, it may be weeks or months or even a lifetime of weeping, rejoicing, weeping, rejoicing – dread and desire. But what is sure for all those who know the uncommon union of suffering and rejoicing in and with the Lord, your heart will rejoice, the grace to escape the total failure of your faith is certain, and your salvation will cause you to sing prayerful songs because – can you believe it?!?! – he has dealt bountifully/extravagantly with you. I need this and so do you!

I kept my guitar with me in the ICU room with Cheryl every day. Why? Because I needed to sing and play to the Lord and to Cheryl. I needed to believe that the Lord was being gracious with us – so I sang and played, and as I sang and played my guitar just 50 ft away from THE SERENITY ROOM, it was proof that my enemy was not prevailing over me – but that Jesus Christ was my Triumphant King who rules over all.

Keeping you posted on the Lord’s bountiful work,