Yesterday Judy and I were praying for people we know. I choked up when I was praying for one family in trouble. They have a number of serious problems, different for each person but all overlapping and intertwined. Their problems are not primarily health related, but they are major. Some are due to rebellion against God. Some are not.
Then I began thinking of three babies we know of, all nine months old or younger. Their health issues have been so severe since before their births that Judy and I are amazed they are still alive. One nine-month old has never been home from the hospital, and is now, I believe, in hospice care. The two others have spent much more of their lives in the hospital than at home.
I hate suffering—that of others as well as my own. When I think of my difficulties, I realize they are quite different from those above, and, in some respects, are not as serious. Yet, to me, they are awful. I hate them. I hate all suffering. My mother often said to me as a child, “Don’t ever say hate.” When I would say something like “I hate that barking dog” or “I hate that kid,” she would gently reprimand me. I think it had something to do with the hatred between nations and people-groups during World War II, which she had lived through during her thirties.
I’m not sure whether my mother, if she were alive, would approve of my saying, “I hate suffering.” Probably not. But I approve of it, for myself at least. I don’t say these words often, but when I do I feel a kind of relief and release. Last week I had a clinic appointment with my cardiologist. Halfway through the session I pounded my fists on my legs and said, “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.” I told him I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I told him I do NOT want any more surgeries, tests, procedures—nothing but occasional blood tests and perhaps minor changes in my medications. Since then I decided that I will not be scheduling any more doctor visits except on an “as-needed” basis. No more “three months from now,” “two weeks from now,” or whatever.
If this sounds rather drastic and extreme to you, I suppose it is. Actually, I had made this decision two years ago with my previous cardiologist, and I am renewing it now with my present one. I have had excellent medical care over the twenty-five years of my cardiac problems, so I have no gripes with my doctor or the medical profession because they can’t do more. There is no “more.” I have declined a second heart-transplant (my first was in 2003) and two cardiologists have now told me there is nothing more that can be done except “futzing” with my drugs and my trying to exercise as I am able. Basically I was told this in November, 2006, when I was informed that my heart was in permanent rejection. The “transplant vasculopathy” would take my life in “a few months or a few years,” by a major heart attack or a series of heart attacks.
But what about endurance? Doesn’t the Bible instruct God’s people to be patient and steadfast, and to run the race well until the end? I have never been more convinced of the rightness and beauty of these teachings. I have been greatly helped by the books of Second Corinthians, Second Timothy, First Peter, Hebrews and others that speak of the necessity of endurance in trials, no matter how devastating they are. But I find no exhortations to become friends with my afflictions. Paul did not, Jesus did not, David did not, and I am not. I am a strong believer in the remarkable teachings in James chapter one, Romans chapters five and eight, and other scriptures that teach clearly that when God allows sufferings (and he does this often) it is for our eternal good.
I rejoice (yes!) that God permits whatever he does in my life—good or bad. But it is God himself in whom I rejoice and trust. He is totally wise, faithful and good. I know this cognitively and experientially. My desire is to be faithful to my Lord until the last day of my life. But I still hate suffering!