An Abyss and Mass of Mercies
I survey the occurrences of my life, and call into account the finger of God, I can perceive nothing but an abyss and mass of mercies, whether general or in mankind, or in particular to myself; I know not, but those which others term crosses, afflictions, judgements, misfortunes, to me who inquire further into them than their visible effects they both appear and in event have ever proved, the secret and dissembled favors of his affection." Sir Thomas Browne, Riligio Medici
I sat there looking at her as if she just declared my death sentence. What was worse was she had stated it so matter of factly, and then expected me to accept it.
For a year I've struggled with my health. An uphill battle. I had just told God -- I can't do this anymore, it's too hard. And now this. My doctor was saying that I needed to start back at square one; start over the diet. Only eat meat and carrots. So I hadn't been moving uphill, but actually in circles. Desperate attempt at healing, only to unwind the bandage and find an oozing sore. He purposefully allowed me to be sick. He did not keep be from being wounded. Okay, I could accept that. A temporary hurt to learn a spiritual lesson. But now, a year later, it suddenly occurred to me in that tiny little office -- what if He never intends on granting me health?
For a year I've focused on the "someday" that I would be normal again. And now the question haunted me -- what if this is my normal? What if He molded me "broken", on purpose, for forever?
And through these questions Jesus has taught me something in the last few weeks. A personal, good, hard, lesson. And I hope to share it with you.
Jesus began by showing me that I carry burdens. Some are bondage, others are crosses. My bondage is sin. He showed me that my love is selfishness in sheep's clothing. My heart naturally will only extend itself to those that reach toward me. I care what others think of me. I cringe under criticism, smart under fancied slights, and have a hard time sleeping if I think others have found out how inadequate and silly I really am. As A.W. Tozer once put it, "a fear of being found out gnaws like rodents within [my] heart." I yearn for someone to understand my hurt and sympathize with my "unfair" mandatory restrictive lifestyle.
And all of this is because I am under bondage to myself. It is pride that cringes and smarts and tosses. It is bitterness that groans for sympathy and frowns on God's unfair treatment. This is something Jesus wants to free me of. It is an unnecessary burden. He never meant for me to carry it. It is not a "cross" or part of His yoke. It is sinful and truly hurtful without benefit. Quite different between the purposeful wounds He gives.
Recently I was told that Jesus wounds us, and allows it to scar us, for other's sake. For the "Thomas'" in our world.
For a year I thought I was in the "repair shop". I thought I was being healed. But I have learned that maybe this current place of "health" is my complete state. Maybe I'm not sick, maybe I'm Toni. A Toni with wounds. And maybe these wounds are for someone to thrust their hands in, and set their fingers in. Maybe my wounds aren't for Christ to heal, but for others. Maybe they could never let Christ touch and heal them, until they have touched my wounds.
I read this recently that confirmed this thought in my mind --
"We need no more be ashamed of our body -- the fleshly servant that carries us through life -- than Jesus was of the humble beast upon which He rode into Jerusalem. 'The Lord has need of [him]' (Matthew 21:3) may well apply to our mortal bodies." A.W. Tozer
What if God has need of my mortal body being sick? Am I giving Him my body for His glory? Am I bringing down his reputation or lifting it up? His honor is at stake in how I respond to His given wounds. And with this wound I know He gives the grace that accompanies such a wound.
I recently wrote in my diary --
"He won't let me bleed to death. But what if He did? Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. If I was of the world, the world would cause me to bleed. But to my detriment. The world did not give it's life's blood for me. But Jesus did. He has every right to ask me for mine. I have always felt ready to live for Jesus. To even dire for Jesus. But what about to slowly bleed for Jesus? Yes...even cheerfully. The enemy thinks he's so smart! He attacks where he knows I am weak. I've always feared not having good health. But Jesus wounded me in my health. I'm already bleeding. The enemy can't threaten me with blood threats. And I know Jesus won't waste my blood."
This is aggressive faith. A daily common faithfulness. It isn't very glamorous, and it doesn't achieve applause from any audience. It's this kind of faith -- when I'm tired and it's hard, and Jesus says "Run and don't be weary." Run?! When I hurt, and I'm tired, and it's hard? Yes. And only because He wants to do the running for us. He wants to prove Himself through our weakness.
Sometimes before we reap in joy, we have to sow in tears first. There are people in our lives that we could never hope to reach without having wept first. And one of the easiest ways of sowing tears, in my life, has come through pain and weakness and wounds. My wounds are not bondage. Bondage afflicts and reminds it's victim of it's inferiority. My wounds give me the greatest ability to boldly trust Him and accept His estimate of my life. Pride is bondage. Being sick is weakness. Such a difference.
When physically I feel less than human, when my spiritual walk is a constant "get-up-and-fall" routine, when emotionally I'm depleted -- that's when I know He passionately is wanting to live through me. that's when I can praise Him and give Him glory and He knows I mean it.
It doesn't mean I have to pretend I feel okay. It doesn't mean I will feel better when I praise Him, and it doesn't guarantee that it will be okay. There may never be a day when I am "normal". But I can still praise Him. And He will accept it and find glory in it. All I have to do is choose Him.
We aren't suppose to shine in the darkness by our own light. We cannot rejoice when we are throwing up. We are not okay when we are hurting.
But it's Him that shines through us. It is Him that gives the ability to praise even when we can't feel the joy. It is Him that lifts up the feeble hands and gives words for praise when we are in pain. He purposefully chose weak petty earthen vessels. Why? So the excellency of the power of God might be Him and not of us. We will be troubled on every side, perplexed and confused and persecuted and cast down and sick and depressed. But God says, though these things will come, through Him we are not distressed or in despair. We are not forsaken, not utterly destroyed or beyond help. Not without relief. Not totally annihilated.
Physically we can pursue health, while spiritually thanking and accepting Him for the wounds. It's not a contradiction. We can groan when it hurts, but not murmur. We can ask why and not understand, while still knowing He is good. His wounds are hard, but how nightmarish to think of a life where our wounds were from someone else. I know Him well enough to realize His motive is lovingkindness.
He Himself was a man of sorrows. Well acquainted with grief. He doesn't condemn me for my sorrows. And yet He always did that which pleased the Father. I can do the same thought Him. If we can honor Him with our wounds and crosses, it can easily be surmised that we can do Him dishonor in them as well. And what makes the difference? We can either allow our wounds to make us bitter and hold us in bondage, or, we can allow His grace to hold us up and express itself to others.
If God made me, allowed me, gave me, a sick body, I am not offensive to Him. I cannot offend Him by placing my sick self under His responsibility. I am a work of His Hands and He is not ashamed of His creation.
I can glorify Him when I eat mushy green glop. How? By glorifying Him in spite of it. I don't have to pretend to like it. But I can still praise Him with a thankful heart knowing He wants to use me, even in eating mushy green glop. It can be hard when I am separated from everyone and everything I deem dear or good. This effects my entire being (spiritually, emotionally, physically) and to realize how it doesn't effect anyone around me is discouraging. My world is rocked violently and their's goes untouched.
Yet how silly to think this way! Everyone has their own wounds. Their bondage God pleads with them to take. Their wounds He waits to use and glean glory from. Who am I to think my world is the only one that is a roller coaster ride?
Are our wounds and weaknesses easy? Never. In fact, they can be a tortuous abyss. And yet when I consider every hardship, every hurt, every sacrifice, and reclaimed dream, I smile with assurance, because in every case, they have been a mass of mercies.
"God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom calls good...While it is perfectly true that some of my worst fears did, in fact, materialize, I see them now as 'an abyss and mass of mercies,' appointed and assigned by a loving and merciful Father who sees the end from the beginning. He asks us to trust Him." Elizabeth Elliot
The War We Forget