I am in a war, and I am weary. The enemy attacks every day, sometimes in the morning, more often in the afternoon but the deadliest attacks always wait for the evening and nighttime hours.
For many years both the quantity and quality of my sleep have significantly deteriorated. By January of this year, I averaged about two hours of fragmented sleep a night. My level of fatigue was so great that I would doze while eating, talking, sitting, standing, walking, listening, praying, worshiping and driving.
My battles, however, are not limited to overwhelming fatigue. Every day I experience wave after wave of excruciating nerve pain in my lower body. This pain is triggered by the very thing my body so desperately needs—sleep. The sleep that is essential to physical, emotional, relational and spiritual well-being is the door into a torture chamber.
For more than 25 years doctors attempted to control my pain through the use of nerve pain medications. Some have been helpful, but their effectiveness always diminishes over time. Toward the end of 2019 my mystified neurologist referred me to the Mayo Clinic.
In 2020 my wife, Gladys, and I made four extended trips to Mayo. In the beginning we were hopeful because our doctors were determined to discover and treat the cause. After scores of tests and consultations, we were informed that my pain remains an unsolved mystery. Pain management, the very thing that we had been doing for 25 years, was our only option. We wept.
As exhausting and demanding as this war with physical pain and fatigue is, the greatest and most intense battles are spiritual. We are weary with the incessant attacks of fear, doubt, depression, anger, frustration, despair, self-pity and confusion. We grow weary of crying out to our Heavenly Father hour after hour every day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
“Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” Did not Jesus say, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” So why does God seem to ignore our requests as well as those of hundreds of others who intercede on our behalf?
Why is God’s presence so hidden and his voice so silent? Job 23:8-9 says, “If I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”
Here are a few reflections of a bruised and battle-weary child of God who is in the battle, not through the battle.
The cross of Jesus continues to be the true north on my spiritual compass. The God who Jesus questioned (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”) is the very one Jesus entrusted his life to (“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”). The way toward victory is not based on my ability to fight but in my willingness to surrender.
The cross also reminds me that the greatest revelation of God’s glory and goodness was accomplished through the foolishness of suffering.
The cross also teaches my soul to wait. If my faith in God depended only on the events of the Friday and Saturday of the crucifixion, I can tell you for certain that I would never want to trust in the God who would allow such unjust suffering. Sunday reminds me that I need to be patient if I am to see the good that God intends to accomplish.
I believe that God accepts lament as true worship when it comes from one whose face is turned toward God and the complaint is brought to God. If lament is worship, I can tell you this: Gladys and I have been worshipping a great deal.
God uses people to reveal himself to us, not those who come with well-meaning solutions, but people who simply say, I don’t understand but I will walk with you.”