For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
(If you missed the first installment of why I am thankful for a prolonged season of pain and want to check it out, you can find it here.)
Some of the spiritual gleanings of the years I spent living with chronic migraine cannot be expressed in clunky words. They are, for now, just impressions of intense joy or closeness with my God. Other lessons are permanently etched into my consciousness, as palpable as scars from a wound. They act as a brand of sorts, reminding me to Whom I belong and are entirely caused by my opposition to His firm leading. Many of these scars are remnants of the chastening I received during those years, reminders to me now of the plentiful grace God was eager to give when I humbled myself… and of the ridiculous wilfulness I demonstrated, digging in my heels against His attempts to lead me to still waters and green pastures.
This second lesson is the one for which I am most exquisitely grateful but is also the most difficult to share. However, I want to share it with you; this bit of instruction more painful even than the migraines themselves, poignant and personal, so that if you, my beloved, go through a season of crushing, you can be reminded that all the trials God allows to afflict us are for our eternal good–shaping us, preparing us for an eternal expanse of joy beyond compare.
During those dark years, I went through Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s study for women entitled Lies Women Believe and was confronted with a truth, roughly summarized that my circumstances do not make me what I am; they reveal what I already am. Before entering this long, treacherous stretch of my spiritual journey, I had felt pretty good about myself as a Christian. I served my God well, or so I believed. I had sacrificed much and was pretty proud of that. I did a lot for the Kingdom–at least in my own estimation — and I was able to demonstrate love to a variety of people. By all appearances, I was a good servant.
However, the God who knew my heart was ready to show me what lurked beneath the surface.
When I had walked in that dark valley long enough that even my hobbies weighed as a burden and the concept of “fun” had faded to a distant memory, then the real me was revealed. I discovered that my heart contained more that was shrewish, complaining, and hateful than I had ever dreamed. I saw that I had little self-control and less patience. In short, my circumstances revealed a me that I was ashamed of and horrified by. It was as if I had imagined I was dressed for a royal gala only to have a mirror held up, exposing garments that were soiled and tattered, greasy hair in utter disarray, skin that was sallow and sickly.
Here, in the disagreeable circumstance of chronic pain, I was confronted with some bare facts: my heart harbored more bitterness than blessing, more rage than compassion, more indulgence than self-discipline. Much of my service was revealed to me now to be done out of pride; a prim little girl looking for accolades and disappointed when none were offered. God lovingly but firmly exposed the real me that seethed secretly with bitterness and resentment.
I felt entitled to appreciation, entitled to have someone else help me in my work when I was sick, irritated when I felt that the work I did was unfair. And sometimes it was. I justified my peevishness with worldly standards, but by the grace and chastisement of my Father, I now fully comprehend that it was –and is — desperately, desperately wrong.
You see, for me to think that I deserve anything for my paltry, haughty service, to believe that I deserve anything at all outside of condemnation for the tremendous sin debt I owe, is tragically incorrect. All I deserve is death, yet in Christ I have been granted not only unmerited forgiveness but eternal life as well. It is by His grace alone I am saved. The thankfulness I have for this gift is beyond expression, though it took suffering to make me see clearly.
So did this time of intense and painful scourging result in a harvest of peace and righteousness? Peace, yes. I now have a more profound peace in my heart than I ever knew to be possible. Righteousness–well, the only righteousness I can claim is the mantle of my Lord that He, in His mercy, has clothed me in. I can say undoubtedly that I am no longer serving Him for what I may get out of it, but out of a gratitude so intense that it makes any task He metes seem light and simple, and when I fall into old habits of grumbling, the scars remind me to repent and fix my mind on His grace once more. The burdens I once whined beneath are now cheerfully borne because of the love I bear for my King. This is the meaning of Matthew 11:30, and I rejoice in the pain that helped me to understand it.
But even that is not all. He had something to show me still yet. . .