There is so much hard truth that comes along with the life of special needs or chronic illness.
We wrestle, sometimes relentlessly, with heavy, sorrowful questions. "Why, Lord?" "When will this get better?" "Will You please grant us a miraculous healing, God?"
As Jesus followers, we are encouraged to be a people of prayer. Intimate conversation with our Maker, with the Son, with the Advocate, weaves our life together with the One to whom that life ultimately belongs. The Lord Himself taught us to bring our concerns to Him with determination in the Parable of the Persistent Widow. (See Luke 18:1-6) And so we do. Time and time again we bring these difficult challenges to God.
Where I see us hit a wall with the most regularity as Christians is when we need to confront the hardest of life's hard truths -- Sometimes God's answer is "No". "No, your child will not be healed this side of heaven." "No, your marriage will not get better, despite doing all the right things." "No, the foreclosure on your house will not be put to a stop." "No, the school will not ever cooperate with your child's IEP the way you desire."
What do we do with that? Immediately, almost reflexively, we seem to default to the indignation of wondering how a loving God can deny us such basic things. After all, we're not asking for the world here.
Even in Christian circles, we try to fix things. We shoot out quick answers to repair the problems of others rather than just offering support and a listening ear. We grow tired of one another's trials when God says, "No, this is not going to get better this side of heaven." Though unintended, the implication from other church-goers is often, "Well, you must be doing something wrong if this persists." Or there is this mindset that if we do all the right things, go to the right seminars, read the right books, pray, read our Bibles, go to a counselor, confess our sin, our problems will resolve.
Except they don't. "No" is still God's answer.
As believers, we almost refuse to go there. It brings us way too much fear to admit that despite walking uprightly before the Lord, the deep suffering in this life may never end for some until heaven.
My daughter and I were discussing a never-ending darkness that hangs over our family. I told her of an article I had recently run across by Pastor Ron Edmonson entitled, "21 Reasons God May Allow More Than You Can Bear". Her eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she shouted, "Send me that article!" Being the oldest of our children, she has always seemed wise beyond her years, leading her to lament more heavily over our circumstances.
"Remember when you told me that I won't understand some of the pain you bear until I get older, Mom? Well, I'm beginning to understand, and I'm sorry."
I reassured her that despite the circumstances, I continue to press on and press into God.
"Ultimately, we have to decide if God is still good even if his answer to us is 'No'. And I am here to tell you resoundingly, 'Yes! YES! He IS good!'"
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she fell into a knowing, protective maternal embrace.
Right now our ministry is serving at least 2 sets of parents who have their children in hospice. Every day they draw closer to a too-soon graduation to heaven. I know God is good because I see the glory of His glow in the faces of these parents despite their deep, deep grief.
I know He is good because, despite the financial deliverance never coming for so many families we serve, God still provides. Laughter is still to be found amidst the crushing weight of mounting medical bills and waning income.
I know God is still good because even if my children suffer in the most horrible of ways, He knows the path I walk. His Son suffered society's bullying, religion's rejection, and power's persecution. He suffered excruciating torture, humiliation and injustice. All of this to give us eternal hope.
St Paul shares his encounter with the hard truth of God's "No" in his second letter to the Church at Corinth:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NIV)
God has proven Himself trustworthy again and again. I also know full well that there is so much in this world that is unseen. Although agony may remain a constant, unwelcome house guest, I can be at peace knowing that even when I receive the difficult "No" that I don't want to hear, that in my humanity I would perceive as unjust, I can still rest in trusting that He knows better than I. He loves me. Anything persistently painful that He sees fit to allow, I can know is for my good and for His glory.
PRAY: Jesus, only by Your resurrection strength can I delight in my persistent hardships. Draw me closer to You. I can't do this by my own character. Holy Spirit work in me and through me, so I may declare the goodness of God, even when His answer is "No".