IT’S THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK.
It comes from Collette, whom I’ll identifying only by her first name—because her question is so personal.
Let me give you a heads up about why I picked this question.
It’s not only because I have a little experience in the matter. It’s also because I figure a lot of you do, too.
I’m inviting you to share your insight with Collette. Please feel free to send her any notes of encouragement, favorite Bible verses, or other advice by adding them in comment boxes below. I can guarantee she will read them.
Here’s Collette’s wrenching question:
My husband suffers terribly from Parkinson’s Disease and although I have been a Christian my whole life, I have found myself drifting away. I watch him suffer every day, trying to earn a living, without health care, and trying to manage a body that no longer is under his control and I just can’t find any comfort in the Bible like I once did. Would you have any suggested passages or reading materials for situations like this?
There are lots of Bible passages that can comfort us when we’re going through situations rough like this. There are lots of wonderful books, too.
I know many people find these helpful.
But for me, not so much.
From the time I graduated from college through the time I married and had children who grew into their teen years, I watched my father suffer from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He fought the disease for 27 years, taking every kind of treatment he could take, including experimental therapies toward the end of his marathon.
Dad was a machinist who loved his job of carving metal into precious parts used everywhere from households to factories to nuclear submarines. He rode a Harley for fun. He climbed trees with a running chainsaw, which he said he did to help out his neighbors; but I’m pretty sure he did it for fun, too.
Did you ever watch a tree wither and die?
That’s how it seemed my Dad died.
One year at a time.
One month at a time.
One week at a time.
One day at a time.
One hour at a time.
In that last hour, I was counting the minutes to when I could hit the button on the morphine pump one more time to ease his pain.
As I watched Dad change over the years, and as I sat with him that final hour, there were no Bible verses that came to my mind. There were no books on dealing with cancer that could keep me from sobbing on my Dad’s chest after he took his last breath.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that Bible verses of encouragement and books filled with suggestions for coping with pain can be helpful for many people in times like that.
But not for me. Not when the pain hits its peak.
What helped me most was God himself.
He came to me in different ways.
The night I sat alone in the hospital room beside my sleeping dad, while I stayed awake through dawn, Someone reminded me that I had never told my dad that he had been a good father to me.
Before Dad and I watched the morning fog lift in the courtyard outside his window, I spoke those words.
I saw God’s Spirit through the eyes of my mother, painting scenes of people in my family showing compassion to my dad while I lived 800 miles away.
One scene in particular, Mom described:
My dad was sitting on the floor beside the couch. He had climbed down to kneel and use the portable urinal. But he didn’t have the strength to get back up.
One of my brothers came to visit. He was big and burly and wearing a heavy winter coat. With his coat still on, he walked into living room, sat down on the floor beside my dad, and said, “Is it okay if I cry?”
It might seem strange, but I find comfort in those scenes because I see God there.
I don’t mean to diminish the Bible or books with great advice for dealing with a tough life.
But when life gives me its worst, I find that nothing less than God will do.
God comes to me.
He comes most often when his people come to me.
Words are fine, yet cold on paper. I need Someone warm beside me.
For Collette and all souls hurting, may God come to you through someone warm.
My Dear Collette – I will keep you in my prayers – I know what you are going through! I suffer with Diabetes Neropathy, Severe Panic Anxiety, OCD, and many other ailments – I have asked God many times to relieve me of this suffering and he seems to give me Grace to endure. It bothers me so much why I have to go through this – after all I consider myself a man of faith who is grounded in the Word and in love with Jesus! Why? Don’t know the answer to this. Let me share something I wrote on this subject – maybe it will help you! With my love, you will endure!
The Bridge on the Color Purple by Wayne Sacchi
In his 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey , Thornton Wilder united the lives of a disparate group of travelers in colonial Peru through a single event, the disaster in which they all die on this bridge. The bridge had 5 people who all died at the same time, in a single event, and then traces each of these people’s stories leading up to this event and unites these 5 lives in one single event. The fascination of this book is that only the reader knows why these 5 people were on that bridge at the same time. This theme was also illustrated in the 2006 film Babel, in which one event (a shooting) is traced through 3 unrelated stories, in a minute way, related to this one event — which no one can understand. Fascinating idea, but when the viewer is finished with the movie, there is only frustration of cultures and like the Tower of Babel — ultimate confusion. In Alice Walker’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Color Purple, which Stephen Spielberg brought to life in the 1985 film — the ultimate parable of the Sovereignty of God (unfortunately many missed this theme) — we see total evil personified as the central character, Cellie, is abused and raped by her Father twice and gives birth to two children that she looses, a husband who abuses her endlessly, her step-children mistreat her, characters around her are in dire predicaments, but miraculously each and everyone changes for the better, even her husband, because of the influence of this one person’s life. God seems to be silent as she writes “Letters to God,” as we will see through her story, God was not silent nor impotent. The title, The Color Purple, has to do with the beautiful purple flowers in the field that we see, but never acknowledge the beauty around us.
October 21, 2011, Paul and I were in a head-on collision, Paul took much of the force on the passenger side. The air bags saved our lives — he couldn’t breath and I thought I was going to loose him. The crash was surreal like a steel ghost coming out of the dark. I cried, prayed, called on God, and ran over to Paul who was trapped. People jumped out of their cars and helped. A man, who I will never know, appeared and grabbed me and Paul and prayed for us. They had to get a blow torch to remove Paul. His right leg was severely fractured. My little man has so many health problems — and now this! How much God can I take? Slipping on the ice and injuring myself in December 2010, Panic and Anxiety attacks which have crippled me, hurting my left leg tendons on the stairs, loosing my car and having to resign from my job because of an unreasonable attendance policy (and we all know that today’s businesses have no insurance or benefits — yep that good ole moral values). Thirty seconds and both our lives have changed and again I am weak and devastated.
The great German Reformer, Martin Luther, was asked what he thought about God, he replied: “I hate him!” When we look into the context of that statement, we find out more. Our frustrations in life usually begin with our laments first — we bear our soul to the Creator and we need to cleanse our souls first with what is on our hearts. The book of Lamentations is probably the most graphic soul cleansing literature in the Bible describing the end of Judah in 586 BC — starvation, babies being dashed to pieces, and canibalism — not for the faint of heart, but in the middle of this lament we have “a hope of mercy”:
1I am one who has seen affliction
by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.
10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled
me and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.
16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not
consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in
him, to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for people to bear the yoke
while they are young. (Lamentations 3 TNIV)
When one is suffering, one becomes strong. There is so much that I cannot understand why this is true. The Apostle Paul said, “When I am weak; I am strong — God’s grace is made perfect in weakness.” We tend to see much clearer when our eyes have been washed with tears and the view of the sky becomes more brilliant when we are looking at it from a deep pit. The writer James said in his book of pithy proverbs:
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
5If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:2-5 TNIV)
When God tests (the greek word is actually for testings not temptations and when God tests, it is always for one’s good and never to be tested to evil) — the purpose of God is for us to pass the test — not pass out in the test! The Writer to the Hebrews said:
7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating
you as his children. For what children are not
disciplined by their father?
8If you are not disciplined—
and everyone undergoes discipline—
then you are not legitimate children at all.
9Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us
and we respected them for it. How much more
should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!
10Our parents disciplined us for a little while as
they thought best; but God disciplines us for our
good, that we may share in his holiness.
11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness
and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
I was very good friends with my Dentist. We used to discuss spiritual matters during my visits. At that time we had two godly Elders at my church diagnosed with terminal cancer and our Pastor made a comment, “How much I long to be close and dependent on God like they are — I envy them!” My Dentist friend thought, “how can anyone want to be in that situation — I don’t think I could handle it!” I agreed with him and told him that it is different when one is suffering because God gives us more grace:
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the
God of all comfort,
4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble
with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
5For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds
6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is
for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.
7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you
share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 TNIV)
The Apostle Paul shares with us that the whole point of suffering (and he would know better then most of us since he was not an armchair theologian – he suffered), is that we can comfort others with the same comfort that we have experienced from God. The fact that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus is so God knows what we experience. A few months after my conversation with my dentist, I received a letter that he was diagnosed with liver cancer that spread to his colon — he wanted to make sure that his patients would have another Dentist to take care of them. The letter was evidence of that special grace already manifesting itself — concern for his patients during his last days. He was 39 years old when he died and he left a tremendous impact on my life. Even in death, our wonderful savior while taking the sins of the world on his being, still had compassion on his Mother, asking John to care for her (John 19:26-27).
The Scriptures never gives us an answer why evil happens. If you try to think about it you will go crazy. If God made everything perfect, where did sin come from? Why does God allow evil? Many have tried to reconcile the Sovereignty of God and the freedom of human responsibility suggesting its like “two parallel railroad tracks that will someday meet in eternity.” Unfortunately, these people get salaries for these statements LOL. Two parallel tracks will never meet in eternity — they will still be parallel! To put all the responsibility on humankind is to diminish God’s glory and to say everything is “ordained” by God’s decrees against humankind’s will is to suggest that we are just puppets in God’s drama. Let me suggest another concept — antimony — two truths that cannot be reconciled with our pea brain! In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he spends chapters 9-11, anticipating objections to why Israel did not accept the message — having to defend his “gospel of grace” and then having to explain if all is by “grace” — then why doesn’t the Jewish nation believe the message of Christ? Chapter 9 gets into the concept of Election where he poses this question: “If God does what God’s wants, then why does God blame us for our sin?” Paul gives us the million dollar answer — “Shut Up, who are you to question God?” The same answer was given to Job also, but more poetically. The Scripture does not answer…God does not answer….and all we can do is learn for that moment that God will carry us through. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, while having tea with the Mad Hatter, she noticed that they kept moving to the next seat periodically, she asked the Mad Hatter, “What happens when the person gets to the last seat and there are no more chairs?” The Mad Hatter replied, “Stop asking stupid questions!” The question was not stupid, but no answer was provided. (Also consider the source: the Hatter was mad, God isn’t LOL)
“The Good Doctor,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was a noted medical doctor, Expositor, and Theologian, spent 3 years preaching on this verse from Romans:
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who a have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
In a nutshell, it says that all things work together for our good. It doesn’t say that only good things work together for our good, but ALL THINGS, the bad, the good, and the ugly. The condition is that it works together for those who are called, those that have been loved by God (the believer), we have this assurance that God’s blessed children will have everything work together for good. When we cross the Bridge on the Color Purple, we are assured that God will carry us to God’s bosom — even if that bridge should collapse all around us — we are secure in Christ who has made us more than conquerors and nothing will separate us from the love of God.
I too am struggling. I have chronic pancreatits. I am in pain daily. It too 5 years and 24 doctors to give my pain a name. I was out of pain for several years, then I moved to a new city. The only pain management doctors in the area do not like pain pumps (a pump implanted into the abdomin and adminsters pain medication in smalll doses 24/7) so he removed it. The pain is back. I just had my oral pain meds increased. I have other health issues. I just don’t understand why. Wish is would end…..
Stephen M. Miller
Here’s an excerpt from a Facebook message I got from a friend who read this post.
I just wish people – especially family – would realize that while I’ve “been there, done that, and survived dang near everything” …. it’s not easy having done it alone. And going into later years with all the health issues I have to face unfortunately – “alone” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Don’t get me wrong – my children love me – but they are so wrapped up in their lives – they have basically forgotten that my days, everyday, are spent alone. Ah well – life goes on – but I will admit there are days I wonder why – like today.
Collette, I also have a husband that is fighting a health battle. As you have asked, I asked, “where in the bible do I find help”. What I found was there will never be any words written in any book that will ease my pain and trepidation . However, what I did find through my faith was my Sunday School class laying their hands on my husband to ask for healing, our worship leader playing his song “Sanctuary” on the day where it was hard to put one foot in front of another, a hug during service where my tears wouldnt stop flowing and an unexpected card to lift my spirits. The Bible is God’s words, the church is all these people who have carried me and reminded me of the promise of hope. Reach out…it helps
All I can say is that my soul hurts for you Collette. I wish that diseases like Parkinsons did not exist. Sometimes life just sucks.
My wife has a neurological disease that put her in a wheelchair 6 years ago. I retired from pastoral ministry when she was disabled. I cry on the inside when I watch her struggle to get in and out of it.
The thing that has helped me the most is to see God differently – a bit less of a micro-manager who allows my pain and more as a friend who is always present in my pain. This has helped me to learn to be content with our situation.
As far as a bible verse, I think that it is not just one but the image that we see of God in the gospel accounts – especially John. He says it this way in his first epistle: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” Such is One who is worthy of my worship.
I am sorry it has taken me so long to thank all of you for your wonderful advice. I have read and reread your posts and prayerfully considered your comments and I truly feel blessed by each of you.
After thinking about your messages I did realize that we are blessed and that I had been looking for an answer instead of turning my fears over to God and trusting in him as I should have been. My fears were selfishly based in our point of view and not in God’s.
We will be keeping all of you in our prayers too and once again Thank You for your love, prayers and support!