A couple weeks ago I tried “greeting” for the first time at my church. I enjoyed interacting with many of the members and hearing about how their weeks had gone. But after replying “fine, how are you?” and “I can’t complain,” they walked over to their friends and did just that.
I eavesdropped as one individual told their woes and another responded with greater ones till the conversation became a competition of suffering.
Person one: “My back has been giving tremendous trouble this week.”
Person two: “Oh yeah? My corns are rubbing something terrible.”
Person one: “My arthritis just won’t let me rest today.”
Person two: “My arthritis won’t let me rest any day, so take that!”
Person one: “I forgot where I put my keys and had to look for them for thirty minutes today before coming to church.”
Person two: “Yeah, well, I have a hang nail that snagged my last good pair of thermal underwear this morning, so now I’m going to freeze through church!”
Person one then shakes his head in defeat and silence with no contesting or argument.
Not wanting to imagine what thermal underwear is exactly, I assumed person two won that morning’s round and attended to greeting other stragglers entering the church. In that moment I knew that if I want to continue being a greeter, I must suffer just a bit more and be willing to tell people all about it. So here it goes.
I get migraines. In case you are confusing these with mere headaches and are ready to dismiss my qualifications for championship over “church sob session,” let me elaborate.
When I wake up wondering if someone is using my head as a squeeze toy, I know a migraine is coming and I know I don’t want it. I try to deny its grip over me and tough out the pain. I dread the fact that no matter what I do, it is just going to be a bad day. I know I need medicine and relief, but despite my prayers for removal, the migraine (like a dragon against a knight) wins.
Within an hour of realizing the trouble I’m in, you’ll find me, incapacitated, and lying on the couch in agony. If you happen by chance to find me in this condition, I strongly recommend leaving the light switch in the off position, walking on egg shells, and (as my poor brother has learned) never, ever, dropping a pin! My frustration is at dangerously high levels in this stage, and I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt!
Somewhere in between yelling at my brother for whispering too loud and frequent pilgrimages to kneel before the porcelain god, I ask my mother to drive me to the doctor. There I stumble in appearing to be only a step ahead of grim death. My hair is partially ripped out of a sloppy pony-tail, and my pajamas are usually accented by a clashing pair of pink and red slippers as I slouch down in a waiting chair that is as pale white as my face.
I hate the waiting room. It seems that everyone, including those who look perfectly well get chosen before me. I want to scream in my jealousy, “You’re not bleeding; you’re not struggling to see straight, so sit down! It’s my turn! I want to see the doctor now!”
I can’t tolerate that people are trying to occupy this same space while their health trials are so obviously insignificant compared to mine.
Soon, but not soon enough for my liking, I am guided to a smaller waiting room for a few more minutes of solidifying torture without end before the doctor walks in.
Upon entry, my doctor takes one glance at me and instructs me to lie down.
I obey without protest and begin waving my hand in conduction to his routine lecture as he tries to teach me the merits of taking my medicine before I am unable to swallow without throwing-up.
He knows my habits well and calls a nurse to shove a dissolvable tablet under my tongue. He then anxiously stands before me, waiting for the transfiguration of his “magic wand cure” to take hold and studies my face for signs of relief.
“How do you feel?”
“It’s only been two seconds,” I groan.
“I want you to stay here thirty minutes. The meds should take affect by then.”
I nod in submissive agreement and he leaves me alone with the hope of soon feeling well again. Half an hour later, I am no better. He frowns and stares down at his chart.
“I can’t give you anything stronger here. Do you want me to call ahead to the emergency room for you?”
This is usually the part where I give him an evil stare over the top of my glasses and look back at him in disgust. He knows better than to suggest such a thing! He understands my feelings about hospitals. He knows my pain is great before I trust his medical power, but that doesn’t mean I want to see the inside of a hospital any time soon!
“Just bring me a baseball bat and waiver, I’ll sign on the dotted line,” I pout.
“What about I shoot-ya-up with something that will make you sleep instead?”
By this time I am incredibly weary of waiting for relief, relief that has not come. Life just seems hopeless and disappointing now.
“Ok.” I shrug my shoulders and flop back down on his table.
Less than twenty minutes later the world swirls around me, and though pain is still present, I surrender to sweet sleep. Finally, relief from suffering!
There’s my story. Do I win?
We are all waiting and suffering through something. We all spend some portion of our life in an uncomfortable “waiting room” for something we need desperately and if you personally haven’t yet just wait, it will happen. Jesus promises that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33).
When we are being pinched by the pain of waiting, how do we react?
There are three stages of waiting. The first is the “uh, oh” stage in which we realize something bad has just happened and we need something good from the power of God to change it (preferably immediately).
The second stage is anger and frustration mixed with a time of intense soul searching and dialogue with God.
The third is surrender to the wait. We shouldn’t despair or give up, but we must acknowledge that God has not forgotten us and we are resting in his hands.
I definitely question why I even get and have to go through my migraines. I don’t understand why I have to suffer and wait through so much misery.
Though I can use my migraines to at least win the “church sob session," I realize that people like Job would just laugh at my idea of a suffering and a “long” wait.
Job woke up one day and discovered his entire life was being used as the devil’s squeeze toy. He lost everything, even his health. Migraines, back aches and bunions couldn’t come close to the excruciating physical and mental suffering he underwent. He was a great guy, who didn’t deserve to suffer. He had faith in God’s power to heal and fix all his problems, but God refused to wave his magic wand and instantly re-instate him. As his strength waned, he became increasingly frustrated and angry with God (Job 7:16-21).
If you’ve ever questioned or been angry with God for your suffering you can relate I’m sure.
I personally believe it's ok to voice frustrations and resentment to God for not fixing physical and mental aches we face in our lives. I even think it’s perfectly fine to be angry with God. He’s a big boy; he can handle it. Sometimes I get in his face to tell him about it.
I jump into my little convertible, begin blasting music, and munch on potato chips as I drive all the way up mount Calvary. There I find Jesus hanging on a cross. He is bloody, naked, shamed, carrying the guilt of the world, pierced, beaten, dirty, and left uncomforted. I look in his anguished eyes and tell him that my lot in this world is worse than any other and I no longer want to wait for him to fix it. He has wasted his time dying for me. I want relief now, and I want to be compensated for my time spent waiting for relief and rewarded accordingly. I’m not leaving till I’m done putting him in his place and get an answer as to what I ever did to deserve such hardship!
Job didn’t have a car to get up to Calvary. Jesus had not revealed his plan yet. That didn’t stop him from wanting to question God and God granted him an up close audience.
The Bible says that in the midst of the storm God answered Job. “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man: I will question you, and you shall answer me.”
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:1-5NIV).
Job asked for a meeting with God and he got it. But God turned the table back on Job. He put him in his place.
“You want to question me? You want to be angry? You think you shouldn’t suffer the consequences of sin like everyone else? You think you’ve got all the answers? Did you create you? Do you hold all things in your hands? Are you in control? So you think you’ve got a plan huh? Ok, go ahead, make my day, I’d love to hear it!”
It didn’t take long for Job to get the point. In the midst of the storm and his suffering he surrendered to God’s hand and responds:
I know that you can do all things: no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my council?’ Surely I spoke of thinks I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said ‘Listen now and I will speak: I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. There I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-6 NIV)
Surrendering to the wait God has placed before you is not a deficit to God. Often there is no immediate gratification for our trials and suffering, yet God remembers each one like a banker collects interest, and stores them up for us. He sees the big picture. He is still in ultimate control. By the way, the devil had to actually ask God before he could even touch Job with any suffering.
Our wait is merely a storm God uses to draw near us. He will sustain us with strength for today. We may not believe it will be enough for the week, but in the same way a bodily pain must be handled from minute to minute, so is his power. The way in which we handle our wait is a testimony of his plan of salvation. He has held all things together by his cross and will continue to do so in each life.
All we need to know about Job’s outcome is in the first sentence of Job 42:12 (NIV). The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. This means that we too shall be rewarded not equal to what we had before, but more than we deserve.
Our complaints and trials of every size are not being ignored by God. Our wait is not in vain. The beautiful words of Isaiah 30:27-31 (NIV) say:
Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?" Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator to the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
None of us can win the “suffering sob competition” because trials will continue as long as the earth endures. We can challenge God to the competition, but he will always win. If in this knowledge you still find yourself wanting to wrestle with God, my only advice is that you watch out for his arms.
Jesus’ outstretched arms upon the cross are the same that offer us the big plan of salvation in the midst of the storm. They are filled with the strength he imparts to us. They are the same that will be raised in victory over earth’s sob session. They are the same that will open wide the gates of heaven and reward “they that wait.”