Lessons from the Valley
It has been eighteen months since my first serious bout of dizziness and nausea (during a men's breakfast) which has since been diagnosed as Ménière's Disease, a condition of the inner ear that causes hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and the reoccurring symptoms of vertigo and debilitating nausea.
This condition has caused me to experience weight loss, fatigue and almost daily bouts of nausea, all of which have forced me to retire from my staff ministry position with the church and reduce my workload with BibleTalk.tv to administration and production of new material when I am well enough. I can no longer travel, speak at events or visit churches in order to raise money or awareness for the BT ministry. Of course, like many preachers I feel that most suffering is really a waste of time if it does not produce a lesson or sermon of some kind. In my case, it is an article about what I have learned from this constant, incurable and largely untreatable condition, so here goes:
There is no use asking God why.
Wanting to know why is presumptuous because it assumes that I could take in and understand the mind of God. I can barely understand why I do things, let alone why God does what He does.
Wanting to know why also maintains my focus on the illness and the discomfort which will not go away even if I know the metaphysical reason for my condition.
We all die from something or a combination of things and I believe wanting to know why God has ordered things in a certain way is a form of denial – we think that if we know the details, the inevitable outcome will change or be avoided.
I have learned not to ask why but rather to ask how. How do you want me to live with this burden, God? Or how can I continue to be fruitful despite this distraction, Lord? Or how can I be brave, Father, when I have been reduced to such weakness?
Lesson one, therefore, is that asking "how" is a more productive question for God than asking "why?"
Suffering clarifies your spiritual vision.
One change that being nauseous for several hours at a time produces is that this experience slows you down to stillness. When you are on the verge of throwing up, you don't want to move, talk, touch others or be touched – you just want quiet and stillness until the wave of nausea finally washes over you.
This practice of forced stillness, however, has yielded some unexpected benefits. One that I especially appreciated was that in the stillness, my enemies grew smaller, and their offenses diminished both in gravity and impact. I found that it was much easier to forgive people and let go the old hurts which quietly slipped away, especially when my suffering was great and the accompanying stillness was pronounced.
Forced stillness brought on by suffering also revealed the wisdom of God's Word in so many ways. For example, Jesus' admonition in Matthew 6:34 to live our lives one day at a time became a clear reality when, because of an episode of vertigo and extreme nausea, I was forced to live from minute to minute. Living at this reduced pace naturally draws your mind and spirit to contemplate God because He is best discovered in stillness (no matter what brings you there) not in the frenetic pace of life set by the evil one of this world.
Living by faith is a lesson learned in the valley, not the mountain top.
I have been challenged to live by faith before in my life. I recall two examples, one, when I left my secular job to go into ministry, and two, when Lise and I left a comfortable and wealthy congregation in order to go work in the mission field with no guarantee of steady financial support. However, during those times I had something to offer God in faith and that was a healthy body which was ready, willing and able to serve. Living by faith, however, also requires you to live in this way when you have little or nothing left to offer and you must depend on God to sustain you minute to minute where the exchange is your belief for His complete provision.
Some can teach eloquently the foundational truth of our religion – that we are saved through grace by faith. However, as I am learning, the reality of this grace/faith exchange is experienced fully when we are reduced to stillness in the valley of suffering.