Life deals serious difficulties to everyone, I think. Losing a child, chronic illness or pain, injustice, infidelity, loneliness, addiction, and divorce – expect slow and painful recovery from such things. I’ve had plenty of serious difficulties in the past several years. I’m recovering, but the path has been crooked – after a few good days, another wave of pain hits. I don’t want to have to experience these waves of pain, even though I now know that they are part of healing. I find it helpful sometimes to distract myself for a short while so I can come back refreshed and better able to cope. So maybe I’ll buy myself something small, or eat something I really enjoy, or rent a movie. But it’s possible to turn such things into a crutch, using them impulsively and compulsively to avoid the pain. I can consume an entire large pizza by myself, and this has become the first thing I reach for when I’m struggling. I’ve eaten probably a dozen large pizzas by myself in the past six months. It soothes me for a while, but leaves me bloated, and I can’t escape that this is gluttony. Thank goodness for my blast-furnace metabolism or I’d be a hefty man. I’ve used other things to find this kind of relief, too; some of those have created more serious problems for me. I think this is a form of instant gratification, this seeking easy, if temporary, relief. But God asks me to wait for him to bring the strength I need to push through. Isaiah 40:28-31 (NASB) puts it in a way that offers such hope:
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
But that’s so hard! How long do I have to wait? Days? Months? Years? Am I supposed to just lie around doing nothing while I wait for God to magically heal me?
I have learned that we wait as long as it takes for God to use it to shape us for His service. The process of waiting, of enduring, strengthens us.
I have also learned is that God gave us our abilities for a reason, and there are sometimes things we can do to help ourselves. All of us can pay attention to the basics of caring for ourselves, and build support networks of people we trust who care about us and will pray for us. If you’re sick or in pain, you can go to the doctor. If you’re lonely, you can get involved at church or in a singles group. If you’re grieving, you can read books about grief and join a loss support group. If you’re addicted, you can start 12-step recovery. If you’re any of these things, you can get a therapist. But God remains in control, and your healing is largely up to His timing. And even when we are at the end of our rope, God is working in our lives to bring us greater peace, strength, and joy, if we’ll just wait for it.
A woman at my church went into the hospital one day for a hip replacement – and contracted a terrible infection and was in the hospital, with no hip, for more than a year. It was brutally difficult for her most of the time, lying in bed day in and day out, tethered to a machine that dripped powerful medicine into her hip socket. She told me she felt like a prisoner in the hospital. She couldn’t do anything without help, and she fought daily to keep her low morale from collapsing entirely. That time finally ended, way past the point I thought a merciful God would allow. But everyone who knows her can see how she is remarkably more confident and poised. She resolved to wait. She had no choice, really. In my opinion it let God work in her to cause her to grow. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 (NASB):
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
And as James wrote in James 1:2-4 (NASB):
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 perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Here’s the point: When you look for the quick fix or the easy out, you could be robbing God of the opportunity to shape you to be more and more like Christ. So trust that at the worst times God is very close to you, waiting for you to turn to Him.