The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

Paul’s life was a constant reminder that his own strength could accomplish very little.  That dang thorn in his flesh never gave him much wiggle room.  I imagine Paul trying to take a few steps in his own power, in some self-reliant deviance, only to fall face-down, back into dependence on his Maker. 

Paul, I feel you, brother. I keep forgetting this God-dependence thing, and I keep trying to walk in this soul-amnesia.  I foolishly think that I can stand on my own two feet and white-knuckle through this life in my own feeble strength.  As soon as I start to act a little cocky, wobbling along in my own power, I receive a sucker-punch to the gut, and find myself trembling on my face, totally helpless in the presence of my own thorns in the flesh. 

And there you are, saying, “I will boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  And here I am, asking, “what in the world is this upside-down kingdom about, where we praise God for our weaknesses, and glory when we reach the end of ourselves?” 


What counter-intuitive calculations lead us to the conclusion that the meek shall inherit the earth; that those who weep will rise in joy; that when I am weak, then I am strong; that the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven; that the King of the universe came into the world in a cattle stall? 

And yet, here-in lies our hope: Paul asked three times for healing, and God said, “MY grace is sufficient for you, MY strength is perfected in your weakness.”  So Paul, head bowed and hands raised in submission, said, ” I surrender.” 

So here I am, flat on my back, at the end of myself, reminded for the 134,582nd time that I am, indeed, weak.  And, Paul, you say this: 

Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am well content in weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I will celebrate in my weaknesses for this reason: They create space in my life for the power of the Almighty God.  And I will be content in my suffering for this reason: it opens me up to deep communion with my suffering Savior. 

And yes, Paul, we can laugh together along with rest of beat-up, face-to-the-floor humanity, because in Christ, all of this mess is simply grace. 

When we are stripped down to nothing, and see everything more clearly

When we are stripped down to nothing, and see everything more clearly

Some lessons take a long time to learn.

I have always believed that i don’t have to be productive to be valuable, or at least I claimed to believe it. I don’t know how many times I have heard that we are “human beings”, not “human doings”.

But we live in this culture that stresses achievement above all other qualities.  Even the church says out of one side of our mouth, “You are valuable no matter what,”  and on the other side, we sound frighteningly similar to the “do, do, do” mandate of our culture.  If we are not producing, we question our worth.  If we are not accomplishing something, we feel like our time has been wasted.  If, heaven forbid, we watch an entire day lapse where we don’t crank out projects or achieve something, we thrash ourselves to a pulp and feel restless and pointless.  At least, this is my experience.

For me, simply hearing that I am intrinsically valuable has not been sufficient for actual heart change.  I still place unrealistic demands on myself .  I get to the end of my day and tally up what I have accomplished.  My self-worth often depends on the evidence of my productivity for the day.

Last week was one of those weeks that made me question the point of my life.  My kids and husband went to VBS each evening, leaving me home, bed-bound, watching Netflix.  My illnesses were flaring full-force, and I was unable to even think, let alone try to accomplish anything.  I couldn’t manage to call a friend. I couldn’t even read or write. I couldn’t rest because I was in too much pain.   I just vegged out in my bed, with the TV on, trying to distract myself from the pain.

In my highly driven, type-A brain, this was unacceptable.  If I am not accomplishing something,  reaching out to someone, writing a blog post, or enhancing someone else’s life in some way, I might as well not exist.  I know this is extreme, but I have this driving need to “earn my keep”.

VBS spanned Monday through Friday.  By Friday night,  I was sobbing, stricken with self-hate and condemnation.  I had a friend who was also stuck at home, recovering from a surgery, but I still felt too sick to even let my husband drive me to visit her.  I felt like I failed her, my family, the rest of the world, and God.

If you are following this line of faulty beliefs, you have picked up on my distorted self-perception by now.  Or, you can really relate with my works-based sense of self.

Last week, God said clearly that He had more to teach me through my illnesses.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots here and realize that He has some major things to teach me about my value as His beloved child.

It is so easy to say that you are a precious daughter of God when you are “performing” in ways that seem appropriate.  But what about when you are lying in bed, a couple days behind in hygiene,  with dishes piled high in your sink, and a husband who is working like a horse taking care of your children?  This is a situation where I have had to come to terms with my true sense of worth.

Am I just as valuable here, in 2017, with no job and no ability to physically serve others, as I was in 2013, when I was working, generating an income, helping to lead worship at our church, running five miles a day, and actively engaged in mutually beneficial relationships?  It seems so counterintuitive to think that I still have a right to breathe the same air, take up space on this earth, and be loved by God and others.  When I can’t contribute in the ways that I once did, am I still just as valuable?

And yet, God still whispers to my heart that He loves me, that He is delighted in me, that He has made me worthy and valuable.  Can I grasp this?  Can I accept it? Can I see that I am loved and accepted just as I am, with a brain that doesn’t function the way that it once functioned, with legs that don’t always work the way that they are supposed to, as a person on disability who is not actively contributing to the betterment of society in a quantifiable way?

My intrinsic value is one of the most difficult things for me to accept, and I don’t know that I would really be able to learn that God loves me for me if I were not so incapacitated.  I am extremely stubborn and bull-headed.  I obviously need dire situations to learn valuable lessons, and this lie of works-based self-worth needs to be extracted at it’s roots.

This week, if I am stuck in bed,  I choose to lie in bed, resting in the awareness that I am loved and cherished for who I am, not for what I can accomplish.  God created me fearfully and wonderfully, even when I am sick, even when I am stripped down to just me.  There is no place for pretense or performance.  Simply me.  And God says, somehow, that He is proud to call me His child.

We are His masterpieces, no matter what our capacity.   We are His beloved children every day, even on the days when we feel like a waste of space. He loves the able-bodied and the disabled equally, with His overwhelmingly unstoppable, unquenchable love. We know that His eye is on the tiniest sparrow.  Our worth is determined by God’s name for us, not by the name that we make for ourselves. 

So here I am, simply Megan, telling you that God loves me for me, and He loves you for you. 

Answers that we aren’t looking for, but we really desperately need to hear

Answers that we aren’t looking for, but we really desperately need to hear

I got fed up with being sick.  Like totally fed up.  I decided that maybe I needed to get before the Lord on my face, fasting, like good old Jehoshaphat and his people in 2 Chronicles 20.  So I desperately laid prostrate before God this morning, sobbing, saying, “Lord,  I don’t know what the heck to do, but my eyes are on you.”  Over and over,  I prayed the names of God.  I sang worship songs.  I played Bible-roulette (where you open up the Bible to random pages and ask God to speak to you).  I doused myself with holy oils.  I prayed in English, in tongues, in song, and in scripture.  I stubbornly refused to move until I heard from God.  And I wanted Him to HEAL me.  Everything.  My body, mind, and Spirit.   I began to lament and yell at God.

I accused Him of not listening, not caring, and abandoning me.  I questioned why I was even on my face in the first place. I told God that I was exhausted.  I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.  I couldn’t handle being so sick.  I knew that He has abundance for me and that He wants to use me, but I was literally crippled.  This was when the tears started to flow freely, which showed me that this is indeed where the most raw nerve lives.  I knew that this was the point that I was building up to all morning, and the air was heavy with power and pregnant with possibility.  Knowing that it really was time to open up the Bible,  I opened to Jeremiah 15 and started reading Jeremiah’s lament in verse 18:

Why has my pain been perpetual
And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Will you indeed be to me like a deceptive stream
With water that is unreliable?

Umm…didn’t I just say that?  Oh, man, Jeremiah.  I totally get you.  I knew that this was the verse that God had ordained for me this morning, because Jeremiah’s words were pretty much my words verbatim.  My eyes scanned down the page in Jeremiah, and my heart leapt that God responded to Jeremiah’s cry immediately following this statement.  I saw the words, thus says the Lord, and I knew that He had a word for me as well.  I was sure that it was the perfect word.  But sometime “perfect” is not exactly the same thing as what we want to hear.  And this was NOT what I wanted to hear.  So God responds with this perplexing statement:

“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before me, you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become my spokesperson.

Aww, crap, God, really?   Are you going to call me out on my stuff?  No sweet, fluffy, feel-good promises with no strings attached?  I wanted to hear:

“Yes, absolutely, let me end your suffering immediately.  Since you say it like that,  I see your point.  Zap.  No more pain.”

But no.  He doesn’t say that in this passage.  He beckons Jeremiah to return.  He also tells him to let go of the worthless in order to focus on the precious.

Peterson’s The Message refers to this returning as a call to stop complaining.   I’m not sure that this is God’s message to me this morning.  In this passage,  God called me out on my wandering heart.  I have been so disgruntled by my suffering that I took my recovery into my own hands. When my body failed to heal with restored nutrition and weight gain,  I stomped my little foot and said, “Fine!  If I’m not feeling better anyway, then I will not push my tube feeds and not eat what is on my meal plan!  I will hold onto my eating disorder because my body is falling apart anyway.  Why not at least placate myself emotionally while I am physically miserable?”   This has been my internal and not-so-subtle act of rebellion.  Nutrition is a complicated thing with my body, so this process is always one that requires honesty and openness about what my body can and cannot handle. Instead of being completely forthcoming, I have tried to yank they steering wheel away from my skilled providers and go off on my own course.  This can be dangerous. God is beckoning me back to the collaborative process, and even more importantly, He is calling me back to Himself.

Physical healing is not the ultimate goal.  Union with the God of the universe is.   Knowing God as faithful is ultimately more important than desperately seeking something of this world, even physical healing.

I did NOT enter into my prayer time this morning to hear that God wants me to return to a place of complete integrity and trust.  That is not fun, and it is way too practical.  I wanted supernatural wind and a tangible kiss of the Spirit on my nose, followed by total and complete healing.  But He is calling me to extract the precious from the worthless.   

The precious part is knowing Him.  That is enough.

So, no, I didn’t leave this morning’s prayer time with complete healing.   I really hoped that I would.  But I got direction, and it was pretty crystal-clear.  Really, that’s what Jehoshaphat received as well.  A member of his choir gave their army clear directions about how to proceed in battle.  They followed the directions exactly as they were spoken, and their enemies destroyed themselves.   All Jehosophat and his army had to do was show up and see the work of the Lord.

 

Consider THIS Joy?

Consider THIS Joy?

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.                                                              James 1:2-3

“Consider it all joy“…..This stage of life does not feel at all joyful.  This mess of tube-feeding, fluid retention, physical changes, passing out, agonizing physical pain and emotional turmoil.  Not only are we attacking my physical illnesses head-on, but we are challenging my comfort zone of thinness.  In light of what I have been through over the recent years, one would rationally assume that I could easily let go of the size of my jeans.  Going up a few sizes, developing a layer of body fat, and not being teeny-tiny anymore would be a minimal cost to pay to feel better.  To me, however,  this process is excruciating.  One would think that after almost dying and being in substantial physical pain for so long,  I would not even wince at the discomfort of gaining a few pounds.  Can I not stand up under this burden of weight gain as I have stood up under much “heavier” burdens in the not-so-distant past?  Oh,  I pray that I can.

Various trials“….Our lives are filled with all sorts of trials, aren’t they?  Devastating loss, emotional agony, personal physical illness, betrayal, abuse, poverty…the list goes on as far as the day is long.  Some of us handle different trials with greater ease than others.  I do know that for me, physical illness and physical suffering seem to be small beans compared to the mental and emotional suffering that I have been through.  After having battled mental illness for my whole life and physical illness for the past four years,  if I had to pick between the two, I would pick physical illness any day.  That’s just me.  I am not making a blanket judgment on the universal nature of suffering, but only speaking from my personal experience.  With that being said,  I find myself facing my old emotional demons, the old trials that I thought were much more peripheral than they seem to be at the moment.  This fear of weight gain has migrated back to center stage and is staggering. The agony of being in a body that is simultaneously sick and getting larger seems to be too much to bear.

The testing of your faith“….Let it be known that James clarifies later that God does not tempt.  And we also know that the Greek word used in verse two for trials is also used in verse 13 for tempt.  God is not the author of our hurt, suffering, trials, or temptations.  God Himself is not pouring this painful life situation on me to make me stronger, to punish me, or to test me. Our hurt and trials grieve God because He hurts with us. This suffering is the result of living in a fallen, broken world.  It is the tragedy that we all have been born into, and He is not the author of our pain (There is much greater theological depth that I can go into on this subject, but now is not the time). God is, however the redeemer.  He can make our lives phenomenally beautiful if we allow Him access to our stories.

Produces endurance“….I can, with the power of the Spirit, endure this trial.  I can push through, maintain my tube feeds, push the solid foods as I can tolerate them, and allow my body to re-regulate.  I can allow my weight to move up, sit in the discomfort and pain that is stirred in weight restoration, and I can see this trial as an opportunity.  You see, because God is so wonderful, He can birth greater endurance within my spirit through this trial.  I can press into Him, march forward into the pain of the scariest reality in my life (dreaded weight gain), and experience His all-sufficient presence once more.  This will add to my history of faith,  and God’s history of heroics in my life.  I will, as a result, have a stronger faith, because I have seen God’s faithfulness once more.

Perfect result, making you mature and complete“….This is where God turns evil on it’s head.  Trials can be temptations, and I can go the other way.  I can decide that this is too difficult, that I just can’t push through, and I can retreat into my safety zone.  I can turn down the rate of my feeds, lower the calories, and never come out on the other side.  This is an option.  The problem with this option is that this, for me, will result in some form of death.  James spells the end result out clearly in chapter 1, verse 14-15.  The death may be death of trust, of relationships, or an aspect of faith.  It could indeed be a physical death.

OR

I can accept this trial as a road to life.  I can press through.  I can cry,  I can whine, I can face the discomfort with courage, because I know that God is redeeming it.  He is maturing me through it.  When I feel like I have had it up to my eyebrows, and I cannot bear another moment,  I can hold on for the next moment, and the next, because I’m not holding on alone.  I am holding on as God is holding me in the palm of His hand.

I will follow the plan laid out for me by my very qualified team of medical professionals. This plan leads to life, and I’m not necessarily referring to wonderfully perfect physical life.  That is a not-entirely-probable possibility.  But this plan is one that will further set me free to live a fully devoted, chain-free life.  They want to push me up above my ideal weight because that is my best bet at managing the symptoms of my chronic illnesses?  So be it.  In the power of God,  I will go there.  Not only will it allow me to hopefully function at a higher level physically, but it will also set me free from the destructive thinness-worshipping mentality of a horribly sick and distorted culture.

Life awaits beyond this trial, or temptation, or whatever you want to call it.  James considers them synonymous.  I love James because he doesn’t beat around the bush.  He doesn’t tickle ears or tell people what they want to hear.  Sometimes I need that slap in the face, just enough of a jolt to get my head on straight enough to see the difference between life and death.  I need to be shaken back into focus, so I remember my goals, values, and God-given dreams, not one of which involve being the thinnest person in every room.  I want to ooze Jesus.  I want to pour forth love and life like a bubbling-over stream of living water.  I want my children, physical and spiritual, to feel loved, nurtured, and strengthened by my presence.

consider this trial joy because it is the path that I get the privilege of walking to be more like Jesus. 

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.                   James 1:12