I wrote this poem a couple of months ago. I wrote it while trying to process the struggle of dealing with one sister who suffers with mental illness (bipolar disorder and bulimia) and other family members who don’t understand.
I have experienced seven years of major clinical depression myself, and over the last few years have come to the realization that ending up there again is not outside the realm of possibility if I’m not ever vigilant. But that doesn’t make the family relationships any easier, and I often feel like I’m the only glue or buffer holding things together, and I’m not doing a very good job at it.
I share this here to maybe give someone else the strength to keep being that glue or to appreciate the one in the family who is the glue or . . . well, frankly I’m not sure why. It just seems like something I need to share.
A note on the final stanza: I do not, in any way, wish that the person this poem is about was dead. Far from it. I’ve lost too many other family members, including another sister who died of cancer two years ago. But on the day I wrote this, that felt like it would have been easier to take than the present situation.
Why does it feel like I’ve lost you
when you aren’t even dead?
Why am I the only one
who wants to make amends?
Why does it have to be so hard
after all these years?
Maybe it’s the tears
mine and yours, and theirs,
that makes breathing and living
loving and forgiving so impossible
I guess sometimes families and madness
can’t survive one another
Because that’s what you are, you know,
mad, or crazy, or mentally ill
whatever you want to call it
It’s torn us apart
because you don’t understand
why they can’t begin to comprehend
what’s going on inside your head
It’s torn us—you and me—apart
because you’ve convinced yourself
that I don’t at all understand
what’s going on inside your head
You forget I’ve been there
that those crazy, mad thoughts
have been inside my head, too
But then you’ve forgotten a lot of things
all the times I was there for you
just to listen
and the times you were there for me
Forgetting the good
is a tragic side effect
of medications meant to help
Somehow they don’t erase
memories of the less-than-perfect moments
My greatest desire is to forgive
and to be forgiven
to live and laugh and love again
to mend what has been torn asunder
to heal the thoughts inside your head
But right now, in this moment
it feels like you might as well be dead
at least that would be easier to live with
Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way. Two of my college acquaintances died of leukemia and cancer of the lymph glands before they were 22. At seminary I watched Jim Morgan, my teacher of systematic theology, shrivel up and die in less than a year of intestinal cancer. He was 36. In my graduate program in Germany my own “doctor-father,” Professor Goppelt, died suddenly just before I was finished. He was 62—a massive coronary. Then I came to Bethel, the house of God! And I taught for six years and watched students, teachers, and administrators die of cancer: Sue Port, Paul Greely, Bob Bergerud, Ruth Ludeman, Graydon Held, Chet Lindsay, Mary Ellen Carlson—all Christians, all dead before their three score and ten were up. And now I’ve come to Bethlehem and Harvey Ring is gone. And you could multiply the list ten-fold.
What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.
I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God’s thoughts.
Six Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering
So I would like everyone who has a Bible to turn with me to Romans 8:18–28. There are six affirmations which sum up my theology of sickness, and at least the seed for each of these affirmations is here. Let’s read the text:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (RSV)
1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility
My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been “subjected to futility” and “enslaved to corruption.” Verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility.” Verse 21: “The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption.” And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but “we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.
Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God. The only other possible candidates to consider would be Satan or man himself. Perhaps Paul meant that Satan, in bringing man into sin, or man, in choosing to disobey God—perhaps one of them is referred to as the one who subjected creation to futility. But neither Satan nor man can be meant because of the words “in hope” at the end of verse 20. This little phrase, subjected “in hope,” gives the design or purpose of the one who subjected creation to futility. But it was neither man’s nor Satan’s intention to bring corruption upon the world in order that the hope of redemption might be kindled in men’s hearts and that someday the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” might shine more brightly. Only one person could subject the creation to futility with that design and purpose, namely, the just and loving creator.
Therefore, I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.
Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination. On the one hand man in his fallen state is enslaved to flawed perception, misconceived goals, foolish blunders, and spiritual numbness. On the other hand, there are floods, famines, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues, snake bites, car accidents, plane crashes, asthma, allergies, and the common cold, and cancer, all rending and wracking the human body with pain and bringing men—all men—to the dust.
As long as we are in the body we are slaves to corruption. Paul said this same thing in another place. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 he said, “We do not lose heart, but though our outer man (i.e., the body) is decaying (i.e., being corrupted) yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The word Paul uses for decay or corrupt here is the same one used in Luke 12:33 where Jesus said, Make sure your treasure is in heaven “where thief does not come near and moth does not corrupt.” Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.
2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming
My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And verse 23 says that “We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen. “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we await a Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowliness to be like the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20, 21). “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no longer any death; and there shall be no longer any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.
3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It
Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it. Please listen carefully, for this is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the work of Christ like this in 53:5–6 (a text which Peter applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:24):
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (RSV)
The blessing of forgiveness and the blessing of physical healing were purchased by Christ when he died for us on the cross. And all those who give their lives to him shall have both of these benefits. But when? That is the question of today. When will we be healed? When will our bodies no longer be enslaved to corruption?
It’s a fact. Biologists tell us that sharks can smell blood from 2-3 miles away. They follow their noses to the place where they sense it. They have an ‘attack mechanism’ to anything that is vulnerable. Blood acts as a trigger inside their brains. Occasionally dozens of sharks attack in a feeding frenzy that is pretty horrific.
Almost 40 years in the Church has taught me that sharks aren’t the only ones that turn on the wounded.
The Church was supposed to be a safe and a healing place. This is what the Holy Spirit wants. That isn’t always the case. As believers in Jrsus we should of done better.
Someone fails, another falters. Sin is uncovered and everyone takes cover. Many people who could have been restored are instead trampled down. There are many who would rather ‘kick’ than pray. Unfortunately there is always a sharp escalation and personal attack that often creates even more blood in the water.
There are many who bleed. Those with a mental illness, or confined to a wheelchair, or with Downs Syndrome are the first that come to mind. The developmentally disabled, the drunk, the addict, the divorced, the adulterer, the homosexual, and the poor, the ex-con are just several kinds of people that regularly get hurt in our churches.
“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Matthew 5:7, NLT
Mercy is what God extends to people who don’t deserve any. Failure to understand God’s deep penchant for mercy is the first step into religious confusion. Keep in mind that the Prodigal’s older brother refused to party with the forgiven son. How terribly sad.
In theory, we agree. We find tremendous inspiration when this verse is read. But the noble feelings do not always translate well into dedicated action. I have come to see that I must consciously press this into action. I must actively show mercy for the healing of others– and to protect my own heart.
The Kingdom of God is specifically designed for losers; it exists for the sick, the stumbler and the sinner.
The Great Physician has come for the sick– and not so much for the healthy. He loves each of us, but cares in different ways. He tailors His grace to fit our sin.
If there is blood in the water, let’s turn it up a notch, and show special mercy for those who are struggling. Let us be kinder than we have to be. If we err— let us always err on the side of mercy and kindness.
Father, please help me be full of mercy as I touch those who are in pain. I ask that you would make me sensitive and alert to each one on this path. –Amen.
“Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”
2 Corinthians 4:10, NLT
“Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.”
No book, no tutor will give us the education we need. We must patiently go through seasons of difficulty and temptation before we can understand what our brother or sister is facing. Furthermore, we must advance through different levels; sickness, injury, loss and discouragement. On top of this, we must be tutored in the language of affliction, till we speak it without an accent.
This is a ‘strange’ school. We’re watched and observed very closely to see what we will do. “Will he give $5 to the homeless man, or will he turn away like usual?” There are billions of these scenarios that we get placed in. And often there are multiple layers of these ‘programs’ running simultaneously.
And yet we are always being evaluated in love.
It is very advantageous for you to pass this way, because it lets you speak the dialect of suffering, with its mixture of pain and joy. Believers now have a common tongue which in we communicate.
When Lynn and I lost our daughter Elizabeth, it was a deep, dark valley. But I came to see (understand) that in some obscure way now able to speak into the hearts of those who were lost in pain. Death has a way of touching us deeply.
There are so many different classes in God’s ‘strange’ university. You may be enrolled in Compassion 101, or Mercy 410. Oh, and by the way there is a school counselor available to all students that request Him (the Holy Spirit).
Also, we will do remarkably better if we will befriend others who are also enrolled. Worshipping and the Word are quite critical as we must keep our spirits clean and right.
“He suffered and endured every test and temptation, so that he can help us every time we pass through the ordeals of life.”
In 1895 Andrew Murray was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. He was staying with some dear friends. One morning while he was eating his breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Andrew Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Just give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what hr wrote.
“In time of trouble, say, “First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.” Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.” Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.” And last, say, “In His good time He can bring me out again.”
How, and when, He knows.”
Therefore say, “I am here,
by God’s appointment,
in His keeping,
under His training,
for His time.”
Suffering has a purpose for the believer.I must keep or honor this particular engagement. It is for my good that I do so. My life has meaning while I struggle with my issues. Nothing is really ever wasted, even though I don’t really understand why this is happening to me.
God certainly doesn’t waste our sorrows. He uses them to build our faith and work His grace, character, and eternal purposes into our lives and through our lives. In fact, God takes note of our tears and gathers them in His bottle that none be wasted. (Psalm 56:8) He rewards godly tears (Psalm 126:5; Luke 7:44; II Timothy 1:4.) One day God will wipe away al tears from our eyes. (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side!”
Psalm 56:8-9, NLT
Be faithful, even when life is challenging right now.
“These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.”
2 Cor. 4:17, CEV
“Before God could bring me to this place He has broken me a thousand times.”
As we move toward maturity, over time and through circumstance, we will start to develop exciting new ways of thinking. We engage the Word and combined with our relationships with people we start the work of God. We soon learn that the Kingdom of God flows through relationships, almost exclusively.
Pain and sorrow are some of the more intense ways the Lord reaches down and into our lives.
Rick Warren has written, “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others.”
I think that as we dwell on this we will start to see the hand of God, moving things around in our complicated lives. As we attend class in this school of the Spirit, we learn things that will change our life and ministry.
But we must consider that we can waste our pain and sorrows by not engaging the issues properly. Will I submit, or will I grow sullen and cynical? Will I worship through my tears? Surrendering to Christ is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is a daily, and even hourly process. I regard any kind of cynicism though, as a hungry predator who is hunting me. Very dangerous, and I am highly suspectable.
Pain is the way the Father reaches me, he isn’t too concerned about our comfort (it isn’t the real issue, after all.) When I hurt, I invaribly look for Jesus. And that cannot be all bad. Through the trials and pain I begin to reconnect with my Father. Without the trials, I doubt we would ever call out for His help.
“Don’t waste your sorrows.” It is easily said but seldom done. We start to stagger by the weight of our personal issues. Overwhelmed by the pain we start to panic and grab things, and throw them overboard, to lighten the load. We can be confused, and will do whatever we must do to stay afloat. But unless we take these sorrows well, we are just short-circuiting God’s intentions.
C.S. Lewis once commented on our issues,
“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn—my God do you learn.”
The darkness intends to absorb us. Satan uses our own bitterness and frustration to do this. Our discipleship is no longer valid if we commence doing our own will and desires. Even though we get “flaky” the Father will always love us. But we dare not waste our pain, it comes at too big of a price.
I have been so blessed to have Bryan Lowe allow me to share my thoughts and poetry here at Broken Believers. It’s a blessing I never would have known if not for the many years I spent suffering from major clinical depression. I love how God uses our suffering to shower us with blessings.
But I know that when in the midst of suffering that truth is difficult, if not impossible, to see. I believe that is why He has inspired me to write the poetry I have written and to publish it in a book called Light in My Darkness: Poems of Hope for the Brokenhearted. This book is now available at Amazon.com and you can even “Look Inside”
I am especially excited about this book because my son created the cover for me with original art. I shared with him my idea for the cover, read him a few of the poems, and he took it from there.
I also want to take a moment to thank Bryan for writing the foreword and to share here what he wrote:
“Never underestimate the sheer power of poetry. It is formidable. Linda knows this, and she has compiled this book from direct experience. And that is remarkable. I hope you’ll read this with an inquisitive heart and an eager mind. Good poetry should carry a weight of truth wherever it might lead. All that it requires is all of you. Poetry requires your full attention, at least to appreciate it fully.
Linda honors God in what she has written. I know her intention is to bring Him glory, and she does it fearlessly. What you read here comes from life’s furnace— things will be imparted through these poems. I pray the Lord’s blessing on this little book.
Read this book. Squeeze out the truth each poem has. I know that the author would appreciate it immensely.”
And he’s right—I would appreciate it. But even more importantly, I would love to know that those who read my poetry are blessed to find God’s Light in their darkness.