I was devastated.
Our sweet little baby boy had been sick for months. Unable to gain weight. Throwing up constantly. After endless lab tests and doctors’ visits, we finally had an answer: Micah had cystic fibrosis, a genetic, progressive disease that impedes digestion and damages the lungs.
Within 24 hours of his diagnosis, he was admitted to All Children’s Hospital. They needed to stabilize his condition and give us a crash course on how to care for him. I’ll never forget walking down that darkened hallway toward his room, numb and shell-shocked.
The next morning the doctor took a lot of time explaining Micah’s diagnosis and treatment protocols. I was too overwhelmed to process or remember much of it at the time. But I’ve never forgotten the words he left us with: “I know how devastating and difficult this all seems right now. But later, I want you to take a walk down these hallways. This might surprise you, but I don’t think you’d want to trade Micah’s diagnosis for anyone else’s here.”
I’ve thought of his words so many times over the years. As I walk out this path with Micah. As I deal with my own disease and chronic pain. When we’re hurting, when our circumstances seem overwhelming or never-ending, we want to escape. Our tendency can be to compare someone else’s plight to our own and decide their race is a cake walk compares to ours. That life would be easier or better if only we could trade our current and personal brand of deep pain or difficulty for her “problems.” (insert sarcasm).
I know. I’ve been there. Yesterday, in fact. I’ll probably be there again today. It’s a thought process that I battle and turn over to God over and over again.
When God makes ministry assignments and gets to the chronic pain/illness category, no one would shoot up their hand and shout, “Oh, oh … Pick me, pick me!”
I would never have chosen this race for myself or my son. I have often wished that I didn’t have the personal, heartwrenching experience with chronic pain and illness that has made me well-suited to minister to others in pain.
I’ve cried angry tears, lashed out at God, given Him the silent treatment and questioned His love for me. I’ve actually been angry at other people for having the nerve to be happy. I’ve had thoughts like, Oh sure, she’s happy and carefree. Why not? She has it easy. (Often not true, by the way).
In John 21, after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus and Peter are having an intense exchange about the depth of Peter’s love for Him. Jesus asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” If you recall, Peter had confidently and brashly declared that he would follow Jesus even if everyone else abandoned Him — and then promptly and passionately denied knowing Jesus three times at His hour of deepest need.
Now, Peter is more humble. He doesn’t claim to love Jesus more than the other disciples. He says simply, “Yes, Lord … you know I love you.” Jesus asks him two more times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” By the third time, Peter is again feeling the deep pain and guilt of his previous denials of Jesus. But Jesus isn’t scolding Peter. He is testing His humility. He is measuring Peter’s readiness for the God-given, gut-wrenching ministry and path He has planned for him.
Every time Peter says, “You know that I love You,” Jesus responds with, “Feed my flock.” According to the Bible Gateway commentary, “The key qualification for this task, as this chapter indicates, is a love for Jesus that is characterized by humility, dependence and obedience … Peter is dying to self and finding his confidence only in the Lord.”
After this exchange, Jesus then tells Peter the manner in which he will die: “… when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.”
Hard stuff to hear. This is when the Peter we know and love makes a reappearance. Truthfully, I see a lot of myself in his response. He turns around, sees his fellow disciple John walking behind them and asks, “What about him, Lord?” (v. 21, emphasis mine).
Jesus replied simply, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
Particularly in these last few months, I’ve also clearly heard Jesus’ call to lay down my life — to submit my will to Him. As with Peter, He’s said to me, “Quit worrying about the other guy. Follow Me. You can trust Me to be here, to lead you, even if My path takes you into some very dark and confusing places.”
As I walk this path of pain and disappointment, I’ve learned that comparison makes me bitter, not better. It robs me of the ability to see God’s provision and purposes in my journey. Step by painful step, I’m gradually submitting to the reality of my own inadequacy and the truth that Jesus is my only hope.
My confidence can’t be in my own efforts. It can’t rest on doctors or protocols. Certainly, they have value, but they have failed me time and time again. Disappointment and futility has led me to a place of dependence and humility. Gradually, painfully, I am learning to submit to God’s will and path for my life. Do I understand it? No, not always. But if I trust the One who is leading my journey, I don’t have to. I only have to follow.
Here’s the choice we all have: We can spend our time fighting our reality and wishing we had someone else’s or we can run the race set before us. The first option leaves us exhausted and leads us nowhere. The second is beyond difficult at times, but is full of God’s sweetness amidst the sorrow and His provision and purpose along the path.
The One who leads your journey is trustworthy, my friend. Run your race.