I am reading through my old Compel writing coach’s book Loving Your Friend Through Cancer to help me love my friends and family well, as they and their loved ones walk through cancer. But last night in my reading of Marissa Henley’s words, I was so struck by what she is describing being in so many ways what I too have been walking through in my own diagnosis.
The uncertainty, the fear of leaving my girls without a Mama, the fear of possibly having to say goodbye to my husband and my girls much sooner than expected, the wondering about what the future will involve (women with my condition have ended up in a wheelchair).
I have read medical articles that appear to give earthly hope. But in others and in the stories women have shared themselves, there’s a common thread of not knowing, experimentation and deterioration. Many (women) have also had their plight minimized (“oh but you have no calcium blockages, so it’s nothing to be worried about”), leading in some cases to them dying within a few short years.
Terribly, some have even been through the usual mill of heart testing, only to be told there is nothing wrong with their heart, because these usual first diagnostic tools, originally tested on and designed for men’s hearts, do not show up this female-dominant condition. And so, they have continued to deteriorate, and in some cases even died before help arrived.
Praise God that Jesus is so clearly fighting in me and for me. Also through my husband and my friends, like Bettie, who know the pain and uncertainty of chronic illness personally and in their inner circles and the need to advocate for our own health.
Have you too found fears, concerns and grief rising in your own difficult diagnoses? And a longing to somehow make sense of it all? Have you too found yourself yo-yoing between lethargy (weary of the struggle) and stoic denial of the pain that keeps bubbling to the surface? Or in the diagnoses of loved ones? Do you too wake up with your heart aching or troubled some days, or perhaps even every day?
My verse to pray through today is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” And that mourning is described in these words (HELPS Word Studies):
3996 /penthéō (“mourn over a death”) refers to “manifested grief” (WS, 360) – so severe it takes possession of a person and cannot be hid. (This is the same meaning of 3996 /penthéō throughout antiquity, cf. LS, R. Trench, Synonyms.)
Isn’t it interesting to see that bit: “and cannot be hid”? A few days ago, I sat on my eldest daughter’s bed telling her about my little (adopted) brother and his and our parent’s struggle with the fight and flight of his trauma, as I spontaneously began praying for her friend in foster care. I couldn’t stop crying and crying and crying as I prayed in such deep guttural longing for that little girl to know the love of Jesus, but also for God to bring more restoration in my own little (now adult) brother’s life.
It so moved my girl – God’s girl – and she said something like: “Mum, I never knew that [name of my brother, her Uncle] went through all that. That is so awful.” as she began to share more about her friend’s suffering. And oh how I prayed even more, with the tears pouring out of me. I couldn’t hide the grief – God’s tears pouring out of me for that little girl and for my little brother.
We so often brush ourselves off and continue on, with each hard awakening. As we hit up against our own frailty and our inability to give each other, what only Jesus can. But Jesus calls us to STOP! Not to press down our pain and in so doing, push others in their pain to do the same. Not to fight hard to “do better” and “be stronger”. Nor to wallow in self-pity, resigning ourselves to the status quo. But to bring our hardened and weary and discouraged hearts to Him.
Rather than chastise us in our need, our Jesus grieves with us and for us – openly and without shame. Not as one who does not know our pain, but as one who has walked in human flesh with all its angst and pain, and yet in His sovereign power sinned not, as He wore His heart on His sleeve.
And oh how He longs to free us – again and again – to shed those tears openly too, just as He did walking this earth. To lament that He might draw near to comfort us just as His – and our – heavenly Father comforted and sustained Him on this earth.
Because it is that open grieving that gives us and those around us eyes to see the deep, deep love and compassion of Jesus. Just as it did, when Jesus wept with Mary upon the death of Lazarus (even knowing He would resurrect him). And when He wept for His very own people, who turned against Him and cried out to crucify Him, because He knew the piercing they were walking toward in doing so. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, where an angel strengthened our LORD to lay down His life for us, after He had asked His Father if there was not any other way for us to be saved than for Him to be separated from His beloved Father.
And yet, how deeply our Savior understands our human hearts that so easily become locked up in all the pain: in the pain that feels just too immense or too complex or too bound up to even begin to put into words before the throne of grace. But praise Jesus this is exactly why He gave us the Holy Spirit: one of the many gifts of the new covenant we can live in and walk in today:
Romans 8:26 (Berean Study Bible) In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.
Now, when we give our hearts and lives to Jesus, Christ takes up residence in us through the Holy Spirit, to daily and moment-by-moment lead us into His intercession. Our God’s beautiful soft and open heart has the power to break open our hardened, pain and anger-struck hearts, to reveal His compassion not just to us personally and intimately, but to the world around us too. YES, our LORD and Savior now lives in us to break open our hardened human hearts daily, to comfort and strengthen us to lay down our lives for each other, so that we and others never ever have to face that same horrific separation He did – for us.
If it was up to me, my grief would have stayed beneath the surface with my daughter that night. And in its place would remain a brooding anger at the injustice of it all and my own inability to comfort others in the comfort God longs to give me personally.
For, in the flesh I naturally gravitate toward recalling and getting angry about all the ways we as a church (myself included) and the world have condemned, punished, tried to “fix”, malign, push away and abandon those walking through trauma. This is something I have since not just experienced from the sidelines, with my little brother as an older sister and sister in Christ speaking up for someone who could not speak up for himself, but in my own adult walk through Complex Post-Traumatic Stress, in the wake of burying my Mum, after her five-month battle with glioblastoma multiforme and walking through repeated spiritual abuse thereafter.
But praise God we serve a mighty Savior, who has given us the gift of a new covenant of love and the precious gift of His powerful intercession at work in us. He has not, and will not, abandon us to our pain, to our trauma and our fears, nor to our anger and our sinful desires to “do” life without Him, as we selfishly cling to our pain and shut our ears, eyes and hearts to His love and care.
For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. In all of my angst and grief and pain, God is continually reminding me that (Jeremiah 10:23, NLT) “our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course.” And that His will is even to “teach us to number our days,That we may cultivate and bring to [Him] a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, AMP). He is encouraging me, just like the Psalmist, not to lie down in my pain or to trudge through it stoically, but to draw near to Him, that He might become my intercession, my heart-beat and my life-breath, more and more.
Praised be God, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, compassionate Father, God of all encouragement and comfort; who encourages us in all our trials, so that we can encourage others in whatever trials they may be undergoing with the encouragement we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians (2 Co) 1:3-4 CJB).
Will you join me in prayer?
Oh Papa, you see the hard awakenings you are taking us through and have taken us through in years past. You see the hard awakenings you are taking and have already taken our friends and loved ones through, as they too have hit and are hitting up against their own frailty and mortality too.
LORD, let your tears be seen in our eyes. Let the grief locked up in our hearts begin to flow freely and become a blessing for each other. Let Your compassion be seen and Your comfort meet us, as the tears fill our eyes in recognizing all the ways we cannot give each other what we so long to give.
Help us to bow our knees in humility before You, to release the pain we are clinging to, to receive Your open arms and to rise clothed in the fresh faith of Your sovereign completion and wholeness. Thank You that You are so near to us, closer than our very breath.
Oh open our eyes to see that glass wall now set alight and turned into a sea of glass mingled with fire—to see ourselves and our loved ones as those who have conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside that sea of glass with Your harps in our hands and singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
O satisfy us with Your lovingkindness in the morning [now, before we grow older], That we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad in proportion to the days You have afflicted us, And the years we have suffered evil. Let Your work [the signs of Your power] be revealed to Your servants And Your [glorious] majesty to their children. And let the [gracious] favor of the Lord our God be on us; Confirm for us the work of our hands— Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen
(Prayer taken in part from Revelation 15:2-4 ESV and Psalm 90 verses 14 to 17 AMP).