Living on a mountaintop, the weather seems slightly exaggerated. I was sitting on my front porch recently watching the wind whip through the trees, turning the leaves under. Normally when leaves turn under, it means a storm is approaching. I love it when leaves turn under. I love dramatic skies and when the wind rouses the ocean waves so that they break on the beach with more force and foam. I love storms. In nature, that is. Metaphorical storms in my life, not so much. Yet I have recently begun to realize how much Scripture refers to storms of life. The Bible considers them to be a certainty. Psalm 34:19 says, “The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time” (NLT). There is no might or maybe, troubles are a given. And they are many. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
I come from a family that is acquainted with hardship. The New Testament is chock full of suffering. So why was I shocked when a major storm broke over my own life?
First, I think that the modern church sometimes does an inadequate job of teaching on suffering. 2 Timothy 2:3 talks about enduring hardship like a good soldier in Christ Jesus. My colleague and friend is a former Marine. Hers was not an easy life or career choice—a soldier’s life is often difficult. Yet too often the church portrays the Christian life as being more like a social club than a battlefield. Recently I have begun listening to sermons each morning on the Fresh Life church app. Fresh Life is a church in Montana founded by Levi Lusko. (Lusko is known for writing a popular book about the sudden death of his daughter, Lenya.) Fresh Life teaches its congregation to “train for the trial.” The church is acquainted with suffering, and its members are taught to anticipate it. What a concept! What if when the awful diagnosis or the shocking phone call came, what if you could say, “OK, Lord. This is not what I want or what I would have chosen. But I have trained for this with You. You have already prepared me. Lead me into battle, Lord. Your will be done.” When the storm howled and broke over in my own life, I remember feeling so hurt that God would let something like that happen to me (!). Now I realize that I had a novice and an unrealistic and unbalanced view of Scripture.
It is amid these thoughts that Mulholland’s book, Invitation to a Journey, really speaks to me. Mulholland writes about how the Father does not shield us from the uncertainties of life. “[The Christian life] does not protect us from life’s damaging blows and disruptive events. It does not exempt us, in Paul’s words, from being held in disrepute, from being hungry and thirsty, ill-clad, buffeted and homeless, from being persecuted and slandered, from being treated as the dust and dirt of the world (I Cor. 4:10-13).” It did not protect me from becoming legally blind at age 32 and being diagnosed with an eye disease for which there is no medical cure.
When I got the diagnosis and was told that the vision loss was permanent, I carefully drove myself home and then realized I was too upset to let myself out of the car. I called my husband who told his boss that he had an emergency and had to leave work. He arrived home twenty minutes later and found me slumped over the steering wheel sobbing. I was crying out to God in the depths of my despair, and as I looked out the driver’s side window, I saw a vision in my mind’s eye of a father leading a small child by the hand. The image was so strong, I felt that I could almost see the pair standing on my porch, the large, strong-looking dad and the tiny trusting child. John 21:18 records Jesus telling Peter that there will come a time in his life when someone will lead him by the hand where he does not wish to go (when Peter was being led to his own death). I felt like God was telling me that for a season of my life, I would be led where I did not wish to go. And I was. Countless appointments all over the eastern US—Asheville, Duke, UNC, Johns Hopkins. Being put through an MRI machine to check for a tumor, then hearing the Neurologist in Raleigh say that she was sorry I didn’t have a brain tumor. (“It would be better for you if you had a brain tumor. If it was a tumor affecting your vision, I could do surgery and remove it, and your vision could be restored. But there is no fix for what you have. And you need to get to Duke University Hospital as fast as you possibly can.”) I made two trips through the operating room at Duke for four surgeries. I did not want to go any of those places. But the beautiful part is, I was being led there by a Father who is Good, and His plans for me are good. He was always with me, holding me by the hand. And this is just something that I am passing through. It’s not permanent, just as Peter’s crucifixion was not permanent.
Mulholland aptly puts to words the journey that I have been on since I was diagnosed in February 2014. “We labor under the anxiety that causes us to attempt to retain control of our relationship with God and to control our limited world. Peace that keeps our hearts and minds surpasses this type of self understanding (Phil. 4:7). Such peace is a deep integration of our being that comes from the release of ourselves to God, that illumines us to the presence of God within.” I have moved from anxiety (which was so deep that it was more like fear and panic), to a place of surrender and peace. Thanks be to God. I am learning to relinquish my attempts to control my relationship with God and my limited world. As I do this, I am awakened to a very real sense of wonder in the God of the Universe. By letting go of my need to control, I can truly experience Him as He truly is, and I can truly be who I was created to be. I still contend daily for my healing, but I do so knowing that I am surrounded by His loving embrace and covered by His promises. It’s not always easy (heavens no), but His grace is always sufficient.
Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement and death will be part of your journey, but the Kingdom of God will conquer all these horrors. No evil can resist grace forever.