Have you ever felt guilty that your life was so good?
I used to.
I grew up in a wonderful family and had a lifetime of great experiences. While I can point to trails here and there, the overarching theme of my life was blessing. I didn’t grow up in a “health and wealth” church. We weren’t rich by american standards. We were just blessed.
I often witnessed pain in others. In fact, most of the hardships in my life were directly related to the fact that I was ministering to people in grief. Deaths, divorces, abuse, addiction were common parts of my ministry effort. I can say that I genuinely cared to the point that I often felt guilty that I had it so good. Sure, I had financial stress. I would get sick now and then. Normal stuff. But after a day of loving drunks and widowers as they cried out to God in my office, I got to go home to my reasonably comfortable life.
Sometimes, I wondered if God blessed me with a relatively easy life, so that I could have the energy to care for people in deep loss. Of course, I couldn’t escape the fact that nearly every great saint of God had a life that was marked by suffering. Was He going to crush me to use me?
My wife and I are completing the most painful year of our lives.
There isn’t the time to chronicle the story of our loss. It is enough to say that there was a lot of death. We lost grandparents, friends, and unborn children. My family was threatened and harassed. My son was diagnosed with a condition that we feared would lead to life-long disability. And, I experienced more work related stress than I can remember.
I’m not one to run from my feelings. I knew I needed to grieve, to process. It was as if something was stopping me from even doing that. Every time my wife and I made an attempt to get away to grieve, even for a moment, another loss would occur. The grief stacked upon grief to the point that there were simply no words. I reached my “breaking point” and was pushed past it more times that I can count. Every day seemed like another burden on a soul that had been crushed months before. I would try to talk it out but would find myself more frustrated. It was as if my soul was blocked. Yet, I was being pushed deeper and deeper into pain.
Everything. Everything seemed to go wrong. At every turn was another death, another conflict, another seemingly small thing that wouldn’t work when I needed it to work. I’m not the kind of guy that blames everything on demons, but I was certain that the Enemy was actively seeking to destroy my life.
Once, I sat down in the office in hopes of getting my thoughts together before going on a stressful hospital visit. The phone rang. I was being asked to do an exorcism. Yeah, because that’s all I needed. I remember sitting in that office with men of God that I love. I was so furious that I wanted to fight. I actually hoped that the demon would manifest itself. I wanted to have it out. I wanted the whole Exorcist treatment. Me and that demon were going to fight to the death if necessary. I prayed. I spoke to the demoniac. I waited for the big fight…..nothing. The demon that seemed to have no problem revealing itself to this man’s co-workers didn’t want to come out to fight. Coward. I felt like I was standing outside the hideaway of the enemy and challenging him to come out and fight like a man. He didn’t. Nothing happened. The demoniac didn’t want the demon out. It was yet another ploy of the enemy to frustrate me.
I learned two valuable lessons that day:
Don’t try to perform an exorcism in a co-workers office without asking (Sorry, Dave).
The Enemy never wants an outright fight. He just wants to frustrate you until you give up.
That’s really what I wanted to do. The pain kept coming for a while. At some point, I crossed a threshold of pain. It was a strange kind of numbness. Everything hurt so much that I couldn’t feel the new losses that as they piled up. I didn’t know how to give up, but I wanted to. Leaving ministry and going into sales or something sounded pretty good.
Then, one day I watched a sermon by Levi Lusko called Running With Horses. He tells of his own story of losing his 5 year old daughter and speaks of how Jeremiah was similarly overrun with trials. Instead of telling Jeremiah it was going to get better, God tells him it was going to get worse. In Jeremiah 12:5 God compares his trials to running against foot soldiers and that eventually he will have to run against horses. You would think that would have been discouraging. It probably was. Yet, we find out in Jeremiah 20:9 that Jeremiah simply couldn’t give up his call: But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
I can relate to Jeremiah now more than ever. I can relate to grieving people now more than ever. I can relate to Christ more than ever.
The reality is that I used to look at deep pain from the outside. I could point to a few small life losses here or there, but I had never grieved loss upon loss like I have now. I used to have compassion from the outside looking in. People would sit in my office and tell me about how their children had been brutally abused by an estranged ex, they would ask me for prayer in the midst of terminal cancer, they would as for direction when conflicts separated families. I would always care. I always spoke love, but I was always on the outside looking in.
Now I’m in it.
I think that’s what God has wanted all along.
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. --Philippians 3:8-11