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.)

Overwhelming Unknowns

I doubted I could do it. After all, how do you manage what you don’t even understand? Doctors had given up. Emergency rooms and hospitals had given up. But this wasn’t just a situation. This was a soul, a little boy, who desperately needed help.

Yet that didn’t make the challenge any better. It didn’t make it any easier. I still had no idea what to do. And that lack of answers and directions only fueled my doubt.

Countless blood tests and exams turned out nothing out of the ordinary.

A week-long hospital stay provided nothing but a big ol’ bill to add to the pile.

I was desperate, and so was Mark. And so my doubt grew even more.

My doubts were so numerous that one day I let myself go there. I got out a pen and paper and wrote down all my unanswered questions:

Why does Mark’s breath and skin smell so badly?
Why does his ability to communicate seem to come and go?
Why is he riddled with crippling pain some days and not others?
Is there a pattern?
What’s causing it all?
What can I do to affect it?
Is there anything I can do?

The questions flowed like water onto the page, my handwriting getting worse and worse as I struggled to write as quickly as I could. And the more I wrote, the more quickly even more questions came. I could feel my heart rate pick up and I began to wonder whether this was really a good idea or not.

Eventually, my hand started to cramp up, so I dropped the pen to give it a rest. That’s when I focused on one of the last questions I’d scribbled down:

Why isn’t anyone helping me?!

And that’s when my doubt turned to shame.

Doubt is common human experience. We all feel it. And there’s no shame in that. My shame was coming from how I was managing it—or rather my lack of managing it. I was allowing my doubt—and the overwhelming amount of unknowns—to overshadow and outweigh what I did know. There was no denying it. The writing wasn’t all over all the wall. It was all over the paper in front of me. Yikes.

That’s when I flipped it. I made a conscious effort to write down everything that I did know:

Some days were better than others for Mark.
He did seem to have reactions to some foods rather than others (despite the doctors saying it didn’t make sense).
No matter how Mark might struggle, I could help him choose and experience joy.

I wasn’t writing quickly anymore. While all the previous questions bubbled over easily, I admittedly had to search intentionally for these statements. But as I wrote—slowly and surely—I noticed that each of these statements became like anchors for me. Sure, there were a lot of unknowns. There was no denying that the questions (by far) outweighed the statements. But then I noticed that the shortest sentence of all still managed to outweigh everything else:

God is with me.

God knows those who run to Him (Nahum 1:7b). He’s near to those who call out to Him (Psalm 145:18). And He was—and still is—with me, even in the midst of my doubt. It was my fault for not recognizing His presence and claiming His help and rest.

Years have gone by now. And in a lot of ways, things have only become more complicated. Mark still struggles with intense physical pain. He makes small intellectual gains, but then regression and memory loss steal it all way. And ironically all the answers we’ve been able to to find have only lead to even more complex questions.

The situation hasn’t improved. I have.

Doubt still creeps in, sometimes even daily. But now, instead of letting it take over, I use it as a cue to go running to what I know. I cling to certainty. I claim safety in my anchor: God. And you can, too.

Grace to Grow On: Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20

Practical Help:

Purpose to separate what is self-created and what is reality, so that you can respond in appropriate ways.

Our feelings can be fickle, including doubt. They’re real in the sense that they are, in fact, what we’re experiencing. They describe how we’re reacting. But our feelings don’t always accurately reflect what’s truly going on.

Separate the two. Respect the two. But also know how to respond to each independently of one another.