As I wake up and my eyes adjust to the morning light, dizziness and weakness greet me. I force myself out of bed and stumble to the kitchen. While I fill a pot with water to boil oatmeal, I grasp the kitchen countertop to the point where my knuckles become white. It’s as though some invisible force molds my body in concrete and tips me every time I seem to get my balance back. As I eat my breakfast, I ask God to give me the strength to remain seated in my dining room chair, and to meet with me through his word.
In the beginning, it was easy to tell myself that this would pass. It’s only a phase, and after all, “anyone can do anything for a year.” But as one year turned into eight, I realized this wasn’t something that was leaving any time soon. When life was easy, I read the Bible’s teachings on suffering as if I’d picked up a book about World War II—pleased to learn but detached from the experience. But when my health took an unexpected dip, and I could barely leave the house anymore because of the pain, I discovered that I was no longer reading about suffering from a distance but parachuting out of a fighter jet straight into enemy territory.
The Weariness of Prolonged Suffering
I met my health crisis like many young soldiers entering battle: with confidence, eagerness to serve, and ignorant optimism. But as the years wear on, trust in God’s word is met with weariness, perspective is partnered by frustration, and acceptance is accompanied by restlessness. Like a soldier battered by the brutality of war, my soul experiences the toll of prolonged suffering. Shell shocked, I ask, “Who am I if the most productive part of my day is making my bed? What meaning does my life have if the majority of my hours are spent lying down in a dark room?”
I shut my Bible and accept the urge to lie down. Silence engulfs the room as I draw the shades tight to block out the sun. After an hour, the dizziness fades and the weakness that shouted for me to rest lessens to a murmuring hull. I pick up the book I’m reading and open to the chapter title, “A Comfort to Our Being Useless.” Forced attention morphs into curious absorption as the author, P.B. Power, illustrates the same familiar portrait of soldiers entering battle to explain a sick person when feeling useless.
He describes the impressiveness of the artillery with the “thunder of its guns.” Following the artillery are the “striking uniforms” of the cavalry. Both make a “great show” with their grand gestures and visibly impressive roles during battle. But then come “these in somber uniform of dark green” and they quietly scatter. One climbs a tree and camouflages himself in the foliage. Another hides in the cornfield. Before long, we see that their hiding and isolation is not an act of desertion, but an intentional role on the battlefield. Their “somber uniforms” conceal them from the enemy so that they can “pick off the officers” on the other side. Power concludes, “They may have to wait silently, patiently, and unseen, for a long time but they are taking part in the battle, just as much as those who come out more prominently.”
I shut the book, resisting my place in the illustration. Deep down I crave the visibility of the artillery and the impressiveness of the cavalry. I yearn to be in the middle of the action, bustling with activity. I picture adoring crowds showering the cavalry with praise and I assume that this must be what victory looks like. I am slow to see that God uses a different barometer for success.
I reach for my phone to learn more about these riflemen. After a few useless clicks, I land on the website we all visit too quickly access general information: Wikipedia. Following a thorough lecture on the tedious steps to load a 19th century rifle, I discover their role required prudence for when to pull the trigger because loading the next bullet would take valuable time. Likewise, they were vulnerable to the enemy in their isolation which “meant that the soldiers chosen for this role needed to be good shots, resilient, brave, and resourceful.”
When I hear words like “brave” and “resilient,” I naturally assign these attributes to people with impressive, visible actions. Years of leaning into the culture’s view of success will not be unlearned overnight. But perhaps awareness is the point. When life was full of activity, my eyes were blinded to the ways the world’s standards of success influenced my own. A divine collision with chaos is the only reason my eyes now stare wide open. Now in the midst of a bloody battlefield, I see that growth in God looks a lot more like wounding than winning.
Cover photo by Mink Mingle.