Unfortunately the one constant in my life over the last 5 years has been pain. Not ‘killer’ pain – just nagging pain – sometimes bad – but mostly low level pain. Quite literally a pain in the butt – ‘levator ani’ syndrome seems to be the name people use for it. I wrote about it in this post – ‘like driving with the handbrake on.’ It’s a form of chronic pain with no known solution. You just manage it.
My normal way of ‘managing’ is to consider how fortunate I am that it isn’t worse. That I’m not gonna die from it, that I can still enjoy life. I don’t live in Somalia, Afghanistan or America. My life is not under threat. In virtually every other way my life is actually pretty damn good.
But… every friken day I wake up and it’s there.
And I have had prayer, more prayer and more again, as well as all types of treatments – physio, chiro, drugs – more drugs (not those drugs – although I did consider it…) and it’s still there. It really sux. I don’t use the ‘F’ word in my daily language. I think I was raised too conservative to ever consider it acceptable, but some days it takes you here.
F*&% THIS! Probably fits better than ‘oh well – this is my lot in life…’
I know I’m not alone – and this isn’t a ‘poor me’ post. I know some of you struggle with far worse issues than what I have. I don’t have much time for self pity and wallowing in woe. Sometimes you get a bad hand and in this part of my life it’s just that way.
What’s going on?
I’m not sure I have any half decent answer for that either medically or theologically. Other than to say we live in a broken world and this is just part of it. Stuff breaks. Stuff sux. It’s how it will be in this time.
Lately while on holidays I’ve been trying to memorise a Psalm every couple of weeks so that I can embrace them in prayer. And the most recent addition was Psalm 13. Aside from my regular pain which has been fairly manageable while travelling, I have developed sciatica – a deep pain in my right glute that goes all the way down my thigh. So now I have a pain in the butt and a pain in bum… And I’m pretty sick of it.
Psalm 13 is David venting at God. And it gets brutally honest.
He starts off, ‘How long Oh God? Will you forget me forever?’ He’s feeling like God has ditched him, lost sight of him, lost interest.
‘How long will you hide your face from me?’ God playing games? What’s the deal when we feel like that? We are told so often to seek after God (or if you are charismatic to ‘press in’) but what if you seek and press and you find nothing? You’ve been there right?
‘How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?’ These are dark times for David. I don’t think it has come to this for me – yet… But I have wrestled with my thoughts. If this ‘is it’ for me then is life really worth living? Another 30 or 40 years of this? For those of you who have real deep dark pain or suffer from depression, I’m guessing you’d relate.
In essence David is saying ‘F$%k this God!’
He is dark. Very dark.
‘How long will my enemy triumph over me?’ We ‘have the victory’ right?… We pastors tell you that… Except when we don’t have any victory. Except when we feel like we are just losing, losing losing and someone is standing over us laughing.
It makes you wonder if there is any point to prayer. It makes you wonder if maybe you got this whole deal wrong – if you have been living an illusion – because surely a loving God would have come thru by now… wouldn’t he?…
‘How long will my enemy triumph over me?’
‘Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,’
Is it ok to make demands of God? David does… Imagine the tone is taking to God here. Seriously – pause and imagine his tone in your head. Now you’ve got the idea… The beauty of memorising a psalm for prayer is that when no one is around you can ‘pray it like you mean it’, so a couple of days ago when I was attempting to surf out at Kirra, I found myself alone and frustrated so I decided to ‘pray it as if I meant it.’
‘LOOK ON ME!’
‘AND ANSWER ME!’
A bit demanding? How hard can this be God? David goes from there to asking for ‘light in his eyes or he will sleep in death.’ I’ve heard it said that David is a bit of a drama queen – overdoes it a bit – but sometimes this is legitimately how you feel. Am I right? ‘If I don’t see some light at the end of the tunnel, then I’m done.’ This is actually how we feel, so it’s actually ok to pray this. More than OK – it’s important, otherwise we are just playing a stupid religious game.
‘F%^K THIS GOD!’ is actually a far better prayer than dodging the issue or dancing around it so you don’t either hurt his feelings or get on his bad side… (Don’t make me bring out Old Testament God…)
FWIW I believe wholeheartedly that God heals people and he can heal me. For some reason he hasn’t. And I think he’s ok with me raising that with him as a real bone of contention.
And I guess that’s the kind of heart that leads David to finish the Psalm like this:
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
So how does that hang together with ‘How long will you hide your face from me?’ Glad you asked…
One of my core convictions – deepest, deepest, deepest beliefs is that God is good. If God is not good then we really are screwed. But everything I read in the Bible and see of Jesus and my own experience leads me to believe that God is good. If anything could knock that foundation stone out of my faith then I think the structure would wobble. It wouldn’t be game over, because there are other elements that hold it together – but it would be a serious blow.
I think what David is doing is coming back to what he knows to be true – he is affirming what he knows even if it looks contrary at this time.
How do you speak those words in prayer if you are really dark? How do you even find the emotional space to think those thoughts?
Perhaps they come from some previous experience of God, some knowledge of who he is and how he has been with you in the past. Perhaps they are an objective truth you affirm because of how you read the Bible.
Maybe you have to dig really deep to find that voice.
Maybe you just can’t find that voice.
But David is able to do this and it isn’t in any way a half hearted, ‘pre-heated’ response to God. It’s an affirmation of who God is and it’s what he chooses to do even in the darkest times.
Honestly… I don’t have a ‘tip’ for how to do this. I can only sense that David knew God in such a way that this was as true from the bottom of is heart, as his cry for God’s attention was at the start of the Psalm. If we know God – know him like this bloke did – then maybe we can pray like he did.
After I had yelled the first half of the Psalm into the Kirra surf, I spoke these words too. Perhaps with a tone of ‘I know this is true – but still – why?’ However, I know God is good – that my life is richer for his presence – and that he has been very good to me.
But this world is broken. That is a reality that sits along side God’s goodness. And so I live with this great expectation of the new creation – that one day all will be made new and there will be no pain and no suffering for anyone. In the meantime we wrestle, we struggle and we grapple to live in the tension. If you know what I’m talking about – if you’ve made it to the end of this post – then go memorise Psalm 13 and use it in your own prayers.
You may not get answers – but you may just discover a God you didn’t know.
Ah, chronic pain. Yes, sucks ba-a-ad.
Glad that you’re rediscovering Psalms. The church as a whole has lost sight of them and is the poorer for it.
“The church which makes the psalms part of her regular diet provides her people with the resources for truly living in this vale of tears, just as the church which does not do so has perversely denied her people a true treasure in pursuit of what? Relevance? There is nothing more universally relevant than preparing people for suffering and death.” https://www.9marks.org/article/journalreflections-what-can-miserable-christians-sing/