Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Details of Discontent ~ Part 3.1: Chronic Health

Not only am I making up numbers but I’m also going backwards.  I’m okay with that.  One of the responses to my informal survey that started this whole series was “not being healthy enough to do the things I want to in life.”  I mentioned that it seems like health falls into two categories:  things we can control and things we can’t. 

I don’t know anything about living with chronic pain or health conditions but many people do.  So I want to introduce you to someone who has become a dear friend, Stephanie VanGorden.  She and her husband, Matt, are Village Missionaries like us on the east coast. She’s a way better writer than I am and knows words I have to look up in the dictionary.  I asked her to share her journey with chronic health problems.  I know you’ll be blessed by her words!



The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory;

no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Psalm 84:11

This has been my mainstay, my comfort, my go-to when I question why life has turned out the way it has.

My husband and I can't have children-we've known that for years. We didn't know why, or what, if anything, could be done about it. Turns out that the direct cause is complicated by an underlying chronic disease that is complicated by yet another chronic condition. This we learned over 18 months as eight different doctors diagnosed five distinct causes for fatigue, pain, weight gain, mental fog, and infertility.

All of these have the potential to derail my contentment: the fatigue and pain have drastically changed my schedule. The weight gain...well, ladies, do I really need to explain that one? The mental fog has been one of the biggest problems-one of my greatest loves in life is the written word. I love to read, to write, to digest, to discuss. But when the fog is at its worst, I can't concentrate, my eyes go blurry, my vocabulary regresses to about first grade, and I can read an entire page and not be able to tell you a single thing I read.

But the battle for contentment in those things seems easy when compared to infertility. We feel our childlessness keenly; our home is too large for us, and the silence can be deafening. We serve in a ministry to hurting and broken people, but we are rarely "allowed" to offer help to parents because we're not parents ourselves. We have to endure endless questions by well-meaning people who think they have a right to understand my reproductive system. We have grieved privately and without help or support partly because the world complains about its children, denies our grief, and tries to tell us that we're better off; and partly because people just forget.

As we see children "raised" by parents who see them as a burden-at best, leaving them to fend for themselves unprotected, or, worse, neglecting them entirely-we have asked God over and over again why He would allow this. We have wondered why a good God would do this. Why...

...will medical technology not work for us that has worked for so many others?

...would our infertility be complicated by other diseases that make resolving it virtually impossible?

...are some given children only to damage them, when we, who serve Him, endure empty arms?

These questions have kept me up at night, have kept me down during the day, have plagued my mind, have exhausted me. More so because I absolutely and without question believe that God is good, wise, loving, sovereign, and righteous. He doesn't ever make a mistake. He doesn't ever need to apologize. He doesn't allow suffering "beyond what we can bear" (1 Corinthians 10:13). As I have tried to wrap my mind around the juxtaposition of a good God allowing so much pain, as I have battled for contentment in the face of these questions, I've come to some conclusions about why contentment is so hard to find.

I think it's because we misdefine the problem, and so we misdefine the cure. Most of us would say that contentment is being satisfied with what we have, but I'm not sure that's entirely correct. It's part of it, but not the whole of it.

We all know Hebrews 13:5, right? Some of you immediately went to, "He has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" And some thought, "Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have." When we try to define contentment, we go right to the put off/put on-putting off the love of money or material possessions, we put on just "being okay" with where we are and what we have now. For instance, I want a new cabinet for our TV, but what we have works, so I'll be content. I'd love to be pain-free, but that's not likely to happen. I can complain, or I can choose to be grateful that it's not worse. These aren't wrong attitudes...but I don't think they go far enough. These focus horizontally, on myself, comparing what I have with what I could have. But if I base contentment on the fact that it could be worse, what happens to my mental stability if it does get worse?

We need to put the two halves of the verse together: "...Be content with what you have, for He has said, 'I will never leave you...'" What you have isn't about material things, or current status in life. It's talking about the God of the universe. You see, contentment isn't a question of attitude so much as perspective. My husband calls it wearing the binoculars of Heaven (Colossians 3:1-4). Contentment comes not from being okay with life as-is, but from understanding that a perfectly wise, faithfully loving, unfailingly good God has a purpose in what He allows, and whatever that purpose is, no matter how painful it is to accomplish, He is right there with us, every step of the way.

I have to ease into my day, but I have the presence of God (Psalm 90:14; Psalm 121). I have to plan even a shower based on if I'll have time to rest afterwards, but the God of the universe knows my name and how many hairs are on my head - both before and after I wash my hair (Matthew 10:29-30)! I can't do normal household tasks without paying a steep price anymore, but my heavenly Father paid a steep price through the gift of His Son to cleanse my heart and make me whole (Psalm 51:7-12; Ephesians 2:8-9). I have a big empty house and no little voices to break the silence or little feet to pound up and down the stairs, but the Lord of all has ordained even this quiet day for my good and His glory (Psalm 90:12; Ephesians 2:10).

This God is a sun and shield. This God gives grace and glory. His ways may be inexplicable to my human mind, but my God doesn't withhold any good thing if I am walking uprightly. If I am without, the lack is somehow better for me in God's economy than gaining my desire. And there, I am content.


Momma said...

Oh my sweet girl - please know that this Momma's heart aches for you and with you always - and is in awe of your maturity in the face of what seems to be constant discouragement. My prayer is that the windows of heaven will open and blessings will pour down to the extent that you cannot contain it. I love you.

Deb Hansen said...

Thanks Stephanie for sharing right from your heart! Know that I am praying for you! Thanks Michelle for posting Stephanie's words. It was an encouragement to me!