It’s always amused me that, in the United States, we proclaim ourselves a “Christian nation” and have printed on our money (often our number one idol) “In God We Trust.” Trust for what, I wonder?
This life of faith calls us—calls me—to trust in this God, truly trust in this God. It’s the whole “not my will but Yours” thing, and that’s hard. Yes, I know, the Christian life was never meant to be easy (we’re called to pick up an instrument of Roman torture and walk, after all), but I doubt I’m alone in realizing that trust is not something that comes easily, especially trust in a God Who seems more fickle than not.
I am so easily brought down by discomfort, which means I would make a terrible martyr. (Fortunately, I don’t really have that on my list of possible ministry careers. Unfortunately, I don’t know that many of the martyrs of history did, either.) I’ve mentioned to you before, Reader, about the frustrations of medical difficulties with one of my ears. The saga continues: back in April I was having difficulties and went to the doctor to discover that the surgery hadn’t worked; the tissue graft had torn, and I had a hole in my eardrum once more as well as another ear infection.
I was put back on meds and sent off until this past week, when I went for a hearing test and an exploration of options. It turns out that I am losing the lower range of my hearing in that ear, have lost more of it than I had in September at my first hearing test. Thankfully, we’ve got the infection under control, and thankfully also we discovered why the surgical scar was continuing to bother me—some of the stitches that were supposed to dissolve never had, so my body was trying to get rid of them even while growing around them. (Fortunately, it was a work of moments to pull them out, although now I’m back on antibiotics for a few days while that heals.)
My doctor and I decided that, because the hole is smaller this time, we’re going to try a paper patch to encourage cell growth and also see if covering the hole makes a difference in the hearing loss—if there’s no difference, it may not be worthwhile to continue efforts. As it turns out, rather a few people have holes in their eardrums and lead fine lives. But, if the patch does make a difference, we know we should keep trying to fix this so that I’m not half deaf by the time I’m 30.
There are so many blessings in this. To figure out what’s wrong, to have a plan, to know that the hole is smaller and so we don’t automatically have to leap to surgery, to fix the scar, to have this patch procedure be so simple that I can go back to work the same day, to be able to medically understand all of this in the first place: these are huge, wonderful pieces of healing.
But I don’t see those. I see a continuing fight to hear, to encounter water and wind without pain, to be able to wear sunglasses again without having to make sure the arm doesn’t rest just on my ear. I see the explanation of what this patch is: essentially, the doctor scratches up my eardrum until it bleeds and then puts a small square of cigarette paper (which is suitably thin) on it, using the blood as an adherent. I see yet another period of waiting. And in the midst of those, after the appointment this past week, I saw that I had no energy left to trust that God could get me past that.
Any ministerial type, if you talk about your spiritual life, will ask first about your prayer life. It’s the same idea as any relationship—if you’re not talking to the other person, that’s a pretty good note that your relationship is a bit out of whack. And I will be the first to admit that my prayer life is, well, fiery. I take on the grand tradition of the medieval mystics in putting all of myself into prayer (not all the time), throwing (sometimes quite literally) what I have/am feeling at God. But what I realized after that appointment was that I’ve stopped giving Him my health. Yes, I mention it, but I don’t actually expect Him to do anything about it. I no longer pray for healing because I don’t trust that He’ll do so.
That’s a really big omission.
And one that frustrates me a lot, considering my best friend has lived for over a decade with a disease that’s slowly killing him, considering my boss makes it from day to day with headaches that nearly cripple her, considering all of the friends I have who have beat cancer, depression, loss of limbs, chronic pain, organ failure. Do I trust God with their health?
And this, my dear Reader—this is doubt. This is the place where I have to look hard at what I mean when I say I have faith in God, because faith by definition includes trust. In point of fact, “faith” is a synonym of “trust.”
So what? So I have to look at what I trust in God, and what I trust in God for, and whether I have faith with conditions. And that’s okay, because I’m imperfect (no, really) and therefore my faith will be imperfect. I will never trust God all the time perfectly.
But in the places where I hurt—physically or otherwise—what am I telling God when I say “You can fix all of these other things, but I don’t trust that You will be able or willing to do this?” What am I telling others who ask me in what have I put my faith?
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9-10, NIV)