I desperately wanted Kristina to be healed.
I long for the lost wisdom of my Papa.
I dream of a normal life for my friend, Stephanie.
There are so many stories that I, in my limited vision, would change if I had my way. What story would you change?
I am forced to look deeply at myself, however, when I read the story of friends who lowered the paralyzed down to Jesus through a hole. I hear Jesus’ first words.
Your sins are forgiven
I imagine myself as a friend.
Yes, yes. Forgiveness is good. But we cut away that barrier to You for healing. We want you to fix this. We want him to walk!
But this is Jesus. He is answering the deepest need first, and the deepest need is not to be able to walk.
It sometimes feels as though my deepest need is to be relieved of my burden.
Cancer is a heavy burden.
Rejection is a heavy burden.
Death is a heavy burden.
Yet over and over again, God’s best work happens when I am carrying my heaviest burden.
I can see this truth at work in the art that I love.
It is interesting to note how many artists have had physical problems to overcome, deformities, lameness, terrible loneliness. Could Beethoven have written that glorious paean of praise in the Ninth Symphony if he had not had to endure the dark closing in of deafness? As I look through his work chronologically, there’s no denying that it deepens and strengthens along with the deafness. Could Milton have seen all that he sees in Paradise Lost if he had not been blind? It is chastening to realize that those who have no physical flaw, who move through life in step with their peers, who are bright and beautiful, seldom become artists. The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain…Pain is not always creative; received wrongly, it can lead to alcoholism and madness and suicide. Nevertheless, without it we do not grow. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water
In the midst of these hard things, Jesus wants to be certain that I am still able to rest in Him. He wants me to know that He has overcome all of these burdens so that even while I am underneath my burden I can have peace.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
The knowledge that I will have trouble is a hard truth. One that I don’t like most of the time.
A large part of me wants to clutch tightly those I love best and protect them. Yet a tiny part of me knows what is truly important.
God’s way of forgiveness and transformation is more important than relief from my heavy burden. I try to trust and let that smaller part of me grow.
I long to be who God intended for me to be. I want to grow. It seems that transformation requires hard things.
Paul, the one who was beaten and imprisoned and shipwrecked and stoned and rejected by many, calls these hard things “light and momentary troubles“.
I can’t do that yet. I cannot open my arms and embrace these burdens.
I can, however, accept them and choose to voice words of gratitude and praise to God for them, even if I don’t truly feel grateful. I can choose to allow these burdens, this pain, to help me grow rather than to drag me down into depression.
I am tempted to try to avoid not only my own suffering but also that of those around me, the suffering of the world.
Instead, I will continue to allow suffering to inspire my art, to trust that God will make all things beautiful.
Instead, I will allow pain to deepen and strengthen my life rather than to destroy it.
Instead, I will pray this grace for those around me as well.
Art credits: my thanks to Eddie Lowen, Pastor at West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Illinois, for his thoughts on this subject; The Palsied Man Let Down through the Roof by James Tissot; Illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore