Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hope Side By Side With Suffering Part 3

I start to lose grip of my certain hope in God when I experience the bitterness of my suffering. This bitterness has rocked my faith.  I have so many unanswered questions about God.  Is He really good if He allows so much pain and anguish? How can he stand back and watch my misery unfold and yet not do something about it?  
My world of understanding of who God is and how He works has been turned upside down and inside out. I still attempt to cling to my certain hope that is my faith in God (that He is present with me and loves me). Some days my faith is so small it is hard to find. The questions out number the answers. Anger, depression and anxiety consume me.  I do not understand! I am confused! I do not know how to navigate nor do I want to navigate a life that involves much more excruciating pain than I ever expected to face.
In the book of the Bible, Lamentations, after five chapters of declaring the suffering that has taken place, the author, Jeremiah, does not conclude with a message that everything will be okay. In fact, the last verses in the book, Lamentations 5:21-22 say, "Bring us back to you, Lord, and we will return. Make our days as they were before, or have you completely rejected us? Are you so angry with us?"

*Silence.* Is this really the end of the book? Does anyone else read this conclusion and wonder where the voice of comfort from God that will bring peace is? How intriguing that this book of lament ends with questions for God that are left unanswered. In fact, where is God's voice at all?
Going back to what I discussed in Part 2 of this series, the book of Lamentations has three voices, the narrator, the city of Jerusalem personified as a woman and the man who is a witness to the suffering. Where is God's voice in all of this? What does it mean to me, the reader, that God is silent during and at the end of this book of lament? Moreover, what does it me to me, a person who suffers, that God is silent?

My walk with God often is challenged as I cry out, beg for mercy, ask for relief and in turn hear nothing in response. No rescue. No peace. This walk with suffering can be and often is a lonely road where I simply do not see God's presence. Just as in the book of Lamentations, God is silent. This silence challenges my certain hope (that God loves me and is present).  
The words to the song, "The Silence of God" by Andrew Peterson, has touched a deep place in my soul. (Click on this link to hear the song on YouTube.) It is poetry that has come along side me, validated and expressed the spirit of how I have felt. It is a song of lament but also yet a song of certain hope. In these lyrics, though there is dissonance between the emotions of loneliness, doubt, anger, fear, anxiety, confusion and certain hope, there is also resolution. The resolution, where hope sits side by side with suffering, is found in the following lyrics of Andrew Peterson's song:
And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot what sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought. So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God, the aching may remain but the breaking does not.  The aching remains, the breaking does not in the holy lonesome echo of the silence of God.

Friday, October 16, 2009

October Edition of Headache & Migraine Disease Blog Carnival

The October Edition of The Headache & Migraine Disease Blog Carnival is up at Somebody Heal Me by Diana Lee.

This month, submissions are on the topic: Alternative Therapies
Check them out.

Generally speaking, a blog carnival is a collection of links to a variety of a blogs on a central topic. The Headache & Migraine Disease Blog Carnival has been created to provide both headache and migraine disease patients and people who blog about headache disorders with unique opportunities to share ideas on topics of particular interest and importance to us. Visit the link to this month's carnival for a collection of informative entries on the theme of Alternative Therapies .

Questions about Faith and Spirituality on My Migraine Connection

I just read a sharepost by Teri Robert called Migraine and Headaches - Questions About Faith and Spirituality. If you have questions about faith and healing, Teri Robert will be submitting your question(s) to "experienced faith and healing bloggers". The answers will be shared in an upcoming post. I will let you know when to look for it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hope Side By Side With Suffering Part 2

What got my brain churning around the idea of hope amidst suffering are podcasts I have listened to of the messages that Mars Hill Bible Church did on the book of Lamentations in March of this year. These teachings, especially one by Rob Bell on chapter three called New Skirts, have expanded my perspective on the friction I have experienced between suffering and hope. I am going to share some of what I learned in listening to that teaching.

Lamentations is a book of the Old Testament in the Bible where the author, Jeremiah, describes the destruction, the grief and the horrors that have taken place in the fall of Jerusalem. There are three "voices" in this five chapter book.  A narrator describes the state of distress of the city. The city, personified as a woman, speaks of her suffering. And in chapter three, a man, who witnessed the suffering, speaks of the devastation and pain.

In Lamentations 3:15-18, the man says,

The Lord filled me with misery; he made me drunk with suffering. He broke my teeth with gravel and trampled me into the dirt. I have no more peace. I have forgotten what happiness is. I said, "My strength is gone, and I have no hope in the Lord." 
Perhaps I have not eaten gravel or been trampled in the dirt. But, I go through seasons of my chronic illness where the pain and suffering I deal with every day is misery. I am empty and find myself weak, weary and without hope. Where is God? Why is he allowing such pain in my life?

Within a few verses of saying he is without hope, the man who has witnessed and experienced horrific suffering declares in Lamentations 3:20-24,
I well remember them [the experiences with suffering], and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." 
Misery and yet hope. As I discussed in Part 1 of this series, I believe that these verses describe a hope of certainty. In his message, Rob Bell suggests that many people may believe that hope can not coexist with the presence of emotions of suffering. I had struggled with this notion of hope in the suffering of my chronic illness. When day after day after day after day is filled with pain, frustration, sadness or anxiety, it is hard to even consider hope. I believe that people (maybe religious folks in particular) expect that when someone goes through a struggle that they should not experience those aforementioned emotions because there is a certain hope (in God).  But actually, suffering sits with hope. Doubt sits with hope. Fear sits with hope. Confusion sits with hope.

According to Bell,

For many people, I guess (they believe:) "I don't measure up because my hope is laced with all sorts of other things."
Shouldn't it be that if I have a certain hope then I should not have doubt or fear or confusion? If my certain hope is the love of God, if my certain hope is the presence of God, then why do I have all of those other emotions?   According to Lamentations, hope is side by side with all these things. And that is just how it is. If I am doubting God, or afraid because I do not feel His presence or am confused because my life and pain just do not make sense, it does not make me a "weak" or bad person. It makes me real. Hope and suffering go together. In the midst of doubt and fear and frustration and anger and confusion, certain hope (the love of God, the presence of God), is always there. 

Keep a look out for the final part of this series on hope side by side with suffering.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hope Side by Side With Suffering Part 1

Lamentations.  Grief, sorrow and cries for mercy have been flowing from my lips and dropping from my eyes with great frequency of late. In the process of lamenting over my suffering, the notion of having hope amidst the grief has produced some friction within me. How can great sorrow and great hope coexist? How can I bellow about the state of my life and about the pain that refuses to relent, yet have hope? 
In this three part series, I journey to understand hope together with suffering.

When I think of what I am hoping for in regards to my health, the short list of what comes to mind are the following: 
*that I find a the preventative(s) and dose(s) that will make a difference toward better Migraine and NDPH management.
*that I will not have a Migraine on important days like holidays, appointments, family get-togethers, or dates with a friend.
*that today will be a day where I can get out of bed, get off the couch and go grocery shopping, do housework, and become somewhat of  "normal" person.

But, these things I hope for do not create firm ground beneath my feet. Each of the aforementioned cases are cases of circumstantial hope where hope is dependent on something else to happen. When another medication trial is a bust, I can lose hope. When my abortive and rescue medications fail to bring relief, I can lose hope.  When I spend two weeks in a hospital only for the doctor to say, "we have to discharge you because there is nothing more we can do right now", hope is like a seed in my hand that is so tiny it can slip through my fingers and fall to the ground and sometimes it does.

Circumstantial hope rises and falls based on my state of being. This is not to say that circumstantial hope is bad. In fact, it is necessary in keeping me sane and gives me the motivation to put one foot in front of the other. The hope for a better preventative regimen, for abortive and rescue medications that I can count on, and for IV intervention that brings relief are all vital in my forward movement in the management of my health.

Hebrews 11:1 says,
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
In reading this verse, I would venture to surmise that faith and hope are akin to each other. The kind of hope spoken of in Hebrews 11:1 is not circumstantial. It is certainty. The verse almost begs the question, what is it that I am certain about? And in the answer is where hope dwells. This certain hope is a firm foundation where I can go when all other hope fails.

In Part Two, I'll be exploring how suffering can coexist with certain hope.