One day, maybe even tomorrow, I will be healed and intermittent chronic pain will be simply a memory. Similarly, after a while, Joseph was able to serve as second command of Egypt. It’s a happy ending to the story. But I guarantee it was not an easy one to live. How he chose faith every day for over a decade informs me as I confront the same daily choice dealing with intermittent chronic pain. And how long will it be for me? 13 years, like Joseph?
Joseph is one of the biblical characters I identify the most with because he went through pain and confusion, and God was with him. He experienced powerful manifestations of God’s presence, supernatural dreams, supernatural favor, a lot of waiting, and a lot of painful experiences.
The promise. “One day, your brothers will serve you and bow down to you.” Likewise, God has told me that his plan is to heal me. I believe he spoke that to me in 2008. Since then, I’ve held onto it, sometimes loosely, sometimes gently, sometimes with white knuckled ferocity.
The point is this: the story begins with a promise. That’s just the thing, though… A promise is given in a moment about the future, but a story must be lived at regular speed with no fast forwarding.
The pit. Things get worse. My struggles with pain began in my shins which limited my running, but in 2010 and 2011, pain in my arms began, which took the suffering and limitation of activity to an entirely new level.
Potiphar’s house. Things get a little bit better for a while for Joseph, and similarly I have also felt the ebb and flow of my condition. Sometimes things have been better; sometimes things have been worse; sometimes things have been downright miserable and a little scary, and some days my life is nearly indistinguishable from those who have nothing wrong with them.
The prison. I feel like I’m in the prison part right now. Sure, I am free to do what I want, mostly, and I dare not compare my struggles with those who have much more serious health issues, yet in my heart I feel like I am in a holding cell, or a place of delay. From the earthly perspective, there is no evidence tomorrow will be any different than today was. At many times, I have wondered if I will die in this particular place. I always return to this sentiment, though. I’m convinced that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living if I do not give up… If.
How Joseph chose faith every day for over a decade informs me as I confront the same daily choice dealing with intermittent chronic pain. How long will my wait be? 13 years, like Joseph? 25 years of waiting, like Abraham? 38 years, like the invalid by the pool called Bethesda? It could be just one day away.
The most amazing–and perhaps, maddening–part of the story is that it says God was with Joseph every step of the way. Even when he was in the darkest places, it says specifically–the Bible even goes out of its way to say this–that God was with Joseph. I’m sure Joseph doubted this often. “If God is with me, why am I still in this prison? If God is good, why has he left me here?” These questions are really not that far-fetched… And yet we all must face them at different times in our lives. For those believers struggle with chronic illness, such times of wrestling with cognitive dissonance are the bread-and-butter of the continuing walk of faith. Our circumstances lead us to call into question the character and the presence of God. This is serious stuff, and we have to make sure to come to the right conclusion.
Tomorrow might be one of those days where the pain greets me before I even roll out of bed. Who will I determine God to be then? In that moment, may Holy Spirit bless me with the spirit of faith to hold on to God’s promise and, above all, God’s nature.
At the end of the day, I always come back to believing that God is good and that his plan is good. There’s no real question there for me. But getting to that place is a continual agitation. Choosing hope is painful. Maintaining hope is painful. Sometimes I wonder which hurts more: the actual physical pain or trying to keep hope in the midst of it. It’s not to say it’s all bad, though. Having God with you inside a prison cell is much better than being in the palace without Him.
Stay hopeful, my friends.