Picture of Christ crucified on the blade of Justice in the South Stained Glass Window of The Peace Tower
In January of 2000 I suffered with a double hernia for 13 months. The hernias were perpendicular to a midline incision. Misdiagnosis, plus fear, resulted in an unwillingness by the doctors in Ottawa to do surgery.
Because the pain was so profuse, my complaint did not fit the textbook case for hernias. I had already had six abdominal surgeries beginning from the age of seventeen. The presenting factors did not match what was considered ‘normal’ of that complaint.
Having a huge keloid (hard raised scar) at the main incision site was a tell-tale sign of internal scar tissue. In fact, one of the previous surgeries was an adhesiolysis – removing internal adhesions laparoscopically. So, for a forty-something year old woman, who presented with so much pain, surgery was considered a high risk option at the time.
Just so you have an idea of how much pain I was in, here’s the scoop.
It took three months for doctors to figure out that the highest dose of the prescribed pain killers controlled my pain for no more than three hours instead of the scheduled four. The next hour was spent watching the clock from my bed, wringing my hands and crying, often in deep despair. When I finally took the medicine, there was another thirty minutes to begin to feel any measure of relief (not taking the pain away, just a bit of relief) for the next two and a half hours.
At the end of three months like this, I was reluctantly put on morphine – 15 mg twice a day. It was a relief to have the pain lifted for more than just two and a half hours. I was on morphine for ten of the thirteen months of horror. But I needed more and more morphine to control my pain. So by the end of the ten months, I was on 60 mg of morphine twice a day PLUS 10 mg for breakthrough pain.
As a Christian, I had many days of spiritual agony. In my darkest days, I thought that God was punishing me for the many years of outright rebellion against Him. But my dear husband held me in his arms and sang to me in my pain. He sang the words of, ‘It is Well With My Soul’.
When he sang the words, ‘My sin, O the bliss of that glorious thought; My sin, NOT IN PART BUT THE WHOLE, IS NAILED TO THE CROSS AND I BEAR IT NO MORE, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul’, for the first time I had the assurance that Christ had indeed forgiven all my sins. He does not keep punishing His children for past wrongs. That realization was instrumental in drawing me close to God during the months of agony.
Whenever my Pastor visited me, he would read from 2 Corinthians 4: 7-12. This passage talks about us being God’s treasures while in this body – His jars of clay. It acknowledged that we are often afflicted but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; struck down but not destroyed. It tells us that we carry the death of Christ in our bodies, so that people can see His life in us.
Verses 16 to 18 reminds us that outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed. It also reminds us that in terms of eternity, our suffering is ‘light and momentary’ and is preparing an eternal weight of glory with which there is nothing to compare. It encourages us to keep our eyes on the eternal, unseen things, and not on the transient, visible things.
In those first three months, my pain was so bad at times that I felt as if I was living in pitch darkness. I could not pray. I asked others to pray for me telling them that I felt I was in too much pain to pray. Suffering took every ounce of my energy and awareness. It consumed every waking moment of my life.
While I suffered, I meditated on Scripture. I clung to every promise I learnt as a child. I thought it was ridiculous of Peter to pen the words, ‘But rejoice in so far as you share in Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.’
I wrestled with the thought of sharing in Christ’s suffering because I thought, ‘I can barely cope with my suffering, there is no way I could ever conceive of the agony that Christ suffered, much less to share in it’.
That thought overwhelmed me. I kept asking myself, how much more than this did Christ suffer? I felt crushed by the weight of what I was enduring. My mind could not imagine anything worse. And I was truly humbled that in some way that I did not understand, I was sharing in His suffering.
Suffering While Waiting
And now, years later, as I walk in the path of a different kind of suffering in a valley that can easily look like despair, I can look up and see the lessons that He taught me in the past.
2 Corinthians 4: 7-12 is still one of my ‘go-to’ passages which reminds me that we are often afflicted but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; struck down but not destroyed.
This time around, we have been waiting on the Lord since November 2018, with mighty twists and turns. Accommodation issues, death-in-the-family-issue, health issues, job issues and border closure issues, all converge at different points to make for a very challenging life.
However, God has painted pictures of paradoxes which help me to fix my eyes on the eternal and not the transient.
Currently there is the small apartment, but gigantic windows to look out at the vista of all that belongs to God; there is the brightness of this apartment above ground, as opposed to the basement apartment. There is the fridge that is a tad smaller than the family size I have been accustomed to, but it is 100% improvement over sharing a fridge with many others and having just one shelf.
There are numerous flights of stairs to get some strength-training exercise to help my health issues since the gym in the building is closed because of Covid. There is the faithful prayer partner who reminds me weekly that though I am walking a lonely path, I am not REALLY alone.
And we have proven that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. In spite of the fact that there has not been any permanent job since returning to Canada in November of 2018, we have not wanted for anything. All our needs are supplied and relatively speaking, we have been able to maintain a standard of living that we have practiced for the past eight years.
And the Lord keeps pouring out, ‘Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside’. We have proven that He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we can think or ask or desire especially in terms of the process of putting our US house on the market for sale from a distance.
He has given me good Kingdom work to do, researching and writing about Canada’s Christian past. (See our store to see what that looks like). Printing ‘The Legacy of 25 Scripture Verses on Parliament Hill‘ and writing a curriculum on Canada’s history from the perspective of God’s providence, has been very rewarding, notwithstanding the challenges. This has kept me looking up instead of looking around.
Do I sinfully pine for the things I do not have? Yes. But hymns of my childhood, those old familiar friends, come back to encourage me. I find myself singing:
‘Days of darkness still come o’er me; Sorrow’s path I often tread; But the Saviour still is with me; By His hand I’m safely led. Oh yes I’ll sing the wondrous story of the Christ Who died for me. Sing it with the saints in Glory, gathered by the crystal sea.’
Or I sing,
Summer and Winter and Springtime and Harvest; Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow; Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside. Great is Thy Faithfulness. Great is Thy Faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hands hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
This Easter of 2021, I think I understand just a little bit of what it means to suffer well so that the resurrection power of Christ is revealed to the world.
As you suffer through Covid, my encouragement to you is that you draw upon the past experiences of how God has been your Helper, your Shield and your Strong Tower, so you can proclaim to the watching world that His strength is made perfect in your weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).