Planted, Not Buried

It’s been nearly ten years since several doctors turned their backs on us. Ten years since I was told to take my two-and-half-year-old son home and wait for him to die. (Those were the words of Mark’s first pediatric neurologist. Needless to say, I quickly sought out a new one.) I was told to “count myself lucky” that Mark could walk and make any sounds at all. There were no insights shared and no help offered. We were very much left on our own.

But then again, we weren’t. No matter how we may feel or how we suffer, none of us are ever truly alone (Deuteronomy 31:6, Isaiah 41:10, Zephaniah 3:17).

Perspective isn’t just important. It’s everything. It makes all the difference. Take a seed, for example, placed deep down in the dark soil. Is it buried or planted?

Both descriptions are technically correct, but notice the difference implied with each word. Buried suggests finality, an end, no hope. Planted, on the other hand, communicates positive anticipation, transformation, growth, change and hope.

While suffering usually offers us little choice, we always retain choice in regard to our perspective. After all those doctors closed their doors on us—and even now, when new doctors admit they can’t help—the choice of perspective remains: I can be buried under the heavy burden of caring for a child who is in constant pain, gets lost inside his own head and has a future of increasing medical complexities ahead of him. Or, I can choose to rest in knowing that God has planted me right where I need to be, no matter how ill-equipped—and at many times heartbroken—I may feel. Focusing on that rock-solid truth keeps me safely grounded when it feels like I’m standing on little more than shifting sand.

None of us are where we are by accident (Proverbs 16:9, Isaiah 14:24, Job 42:2). None of us are experiencing anything—including suffering—without God’s knowledge and consent (Job 12:10, Isaiah 45:7). No matter what happens and no matter how we may struggle, we can have the confidence to go for broke. We can go all in because what we know doesn’t rest on how we feel or what we fear. When we know God, we can also know rest because we know our place:

We are under His protection (Psalm 121:3).
We are in His care (Isaiah 41:10)
We are guided by His instruction (Psalm 32:8).
We are bound to His timing (Psalm 27:14, Ecclesiastes 8:6).
We are covered by His grace (Romans 6:14).

Our inner dialogue, the self-talk that no one else hears, is vitally important because it shapes, molds and reinforces our perspective.

Experiencing uncertainty isn’t the danger. Letting it take root is. Let’s follow God’s instructions and trust in Him, not ourselves (Proverbs 3:5). Let’s accept His gracious gift of knowing without any doubt that we are firmly planted exactly where He wants us to be—even if that’s in the middle of suffering.

Let’s be intentional in our gardening, too, choosing our thoughts, words and self-dialogue carefully in order to sow beautiful gardens of flowers—not weeds—just as Scripture instructs us to do (Philippians 4:8).

Here are just a few ways to do this:

Practice self-control, not self control.
No matter how we feel or what we face, we always have a choice: rest in Jesus or continue to wear ourselves out. To suffer well means making a commitment to actively rest in Jesus by practice self-control over our thoughts and choices rather than giving in to fear by striving to control things ourselves.

Rest like you know Him.
Jesus is the source of our rest (Matthew 11:28-30), and it’s our great privilege to rest in Him. Do this! Purpose to make personal quiet time with Jesus spent in prayer and Bible study a priority but remember to make room for Him throughout the day, too. We all schedule sleep at night and breaks throughout the day to rest our bodies. Even more importantly, we should do this for our hearts, too.

Paint your perspective using His Word.
Emotions and feelings are fickle. Refuse to fall for them. Whenever one threatens to steer you the wrong way, stop it in its tracks by immediately replacing it with God’s truth: His Word.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

A Powerful Presence

The other day, I glanced down at Mark at just the right time. As he revealed a big ol’ toothy grin, I noticed a small growth peeking out from the top of his jaw.

Fast forward 2 weeks, and that once tiny bump had doubled in size and Mark and I found ourselves waiting in an exam room for an ENT specialist to take a look. I assumed that he’d push and prod and maybe even take a needle biopsy. That’s honestly all I expected. But that’s not what happened.

“I strongly suggest that it come out today,” he said. “How do you think he’d handle it?”

“What would be involved?” I asked. “Mark’s had Novocaine before and a few dental procedures. He did just fine with those…”

“Any laughing gas?” the doctor countered.

I correctly assumed that that question implied a bit more would be involved.

“No, Mark doesn’t do very well with that. Leaves him feeling sick,” I said. “Would you mind if I talk through the entire procedure?”

“Sure,” the doctor responded. “I don’t mind.”

“Then,” I said with a smile as I glanced over at Mark, “I think we can do it.”

The room quickly became a flurry of activity. The nurse came in with forms for me to sign. The doctor left to prepare for the procedure. What looked like a large flood light was wheeled in along with a tray of mysterious looking tools and equipment.

“Mark,” I said as I rested my hand on his knee. “Do you know that bump in your mouth? The doctor wants to take it out now…”

“Will it hurt?”

“Do I ever lie?”

Whenever I have to walk Mark through a painful or upsetting situation, I always remind him that he can trust me unequivocally. Without trust to hold on to, there’s no anchor, no stability for him to cling to during the scary uncertainty.

“No,” he replied as he looked down at his lap. I could see his jaw clenching up in recognition of what was to come. Unfortunately, we’d both been here before.

“Look at me. I want I eyes,” I began, allowing my voice to become louder in order to rise above the cling and clatter of metal instruments all around us. “You know I never lie. It will hurt for a few seconds, but then it will be over. All you have to do is listen to my words and obey them. Just listen. Do you want to squeeze my hand?”

“No,” he said, clearly attempting to be brave. But his emotions and worry were clearly—and understandably—overwhelming him. A glance downward revealed that his fingernails had already dug deep grooves into his knees.

“Remember, do exactly as I say and listen to me,” I said. “Sit on your hands…”

As I saw the doctor preparing the needle, I continued.

“Now, close your eyes. We don’t want this bright light to hurt your eyes! It’s like the sun. You don’t want to stare right at it…”

The entire procedure only took about 10 minutes. But it was long enough for all the color to drain out of Mark’s face. I wasn’t used to seeing his warm, gingerbread-colored skin so cold and pale.

“You did great,” the doctor said glancing at me with a smile. But the truth was, Mark did great. And I couldn’t help but reflect on my own weakness, my own inability to maintain focus and simply obey.

God can and wants to be for us the same kind of powerful presence that I am often for Mark. We all wade our way through hardships and struggles, but we don’t have to wonder and worry because we’re not alone. All we need to do is listen to His words and obey.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (ESV)