The earth began to buckle.
Outside, the sun was shining, the sky blue and bright. To the ordinary, life-rich person, all seemed well.
To me, caught in a web of post-surgery pain and chemo-driven nausea, dark closed in. I was sinking.
I can’t do this.
Whatever. I’ve run half-marathons, finished countless triathlons. I’ve survived marriage, raised children. SIX of them, for heaven’s sakes. This should be a cake walk.
I can’t do this.
Before last year—before TWO months ago—I thought I understood something of suffering. I’ve known my fair share of difficult circumstances: a devastating divorce, the loneliness of single motherhood, the isolation of raising special needs children, the pain of a near church split.
But this recent battle? It launched me into a new level of suffering.
The unending physical kind.
Now I know. I didn’t have a clue.
Even so, even as I sit here today and wish for the minutes to move quickly toward healing and relief, I realize any so-called suffering I’m enduring is yet a fraction of what’s possible. The potential for pain and loss in this oft-difficult life is limitless.
Ask the woman who survived Dachau.
Ask the man who lives limbless, his body stolen by land mines.
Look into the eyes of those cursed by ALS, MD, or any other of a number of horrific, life-eating diseases.
Ask the homeless child who can’t remember the last time he felt warm. Or full. Or loved.
Yes, as difficult as our scenarios may be, it can always be worse.
I know this, remind myself of it daily. And yet the enduring is difficult. Grueling. Seemingly impossible. It isn’t easy trying to pull yourself out of a dark hole.
(I’m guessing more than a few of you know exactly what I’m talking about.)
I haven’t figured it all out yet, never will. But I’ve discovered something in this suffering place:
Endurance doesn’t just happen. It’s developed.
It requires intention, strategy, wisdom. As strong as we think we are, there is something around the corner waiting to kick our tails. And if we haven’t planned for it, if we’re not ready to claw and scrape and fight back for life, we will succumb. It’s only a matter of time.
My friend, whatever you’re fighting today, whatever challenge or pit you find yourself falling into, it’s time to get your fight back. Here’s how I’m getting it back for me:
Cement yourself in TRUTH. Pain—physical or emotional—is a liar. It taunts without mercy, tries to convince you there is no light, no relief, no potential for life. Acknowledge this. Then, tell yourself the truth. Write it down. Memorize it. It could be as simple as “This WILL end!” During a dark night, a friend wisely advised me to find a few anchoring Bible verses. Lamps in my dark. So I dug up six and wrote them on index cards. I carry them with me wherever I go. I’ll sleep with them if I have to. The words may not always feel warm and fuzzy, but they remain truth. And truth is far better cement than my fluctuating emotions.
Surround yourself with HOPE.
Suffering is an ominous soundtrack. It fills the ears and heart and mind with a desperate dirge. It’s understandable, considering. But if you and I are to endure, we need to write our own music. Dance to the tune we set. Literally, I have picked out two different songs that both remind me of God’s past faithfulness and inspire me to live forward. When I feel the earth start to give, I play one of these songs, close my eyes, and let the hope change the accompaniment of my life.
Focus your eyes on TODAY. I’ve discovered my greatest temptation in suffering is to get ahead of the calendar. I try, foolishly, to manage the future by imaging what might happen. But the more I try to anticipate what may come, the more I worry over days that have not yet arrived. I miss out on TODAY in my poor attempts to leverage tomorrow. Here’s the truth: I can’t endure 100 days of suffering. But I can endure one. ONE. That’s enough.
Give yourself AWAY. This is perhaps the best secret of all, the one that acts like a three-inch thick rope pulling me out of my quicksand. Before chemo started, when the earth went soft and my faith felt weak, I realized I needed something to focus on besides my own struggle. So I committed to pray for one new person for each of 28 days of treatment. Before each appointment, I pray for a single name and write it on a small card. Then, while the radiation machine and IV bags wreak havoc with my body, I hold that card in my right hand and pray my heart out. I don’t do this because I’m noble or spiritual. On the contrary, I do this because I’m utterly selfish and weak. I could make a full-time job out of feeling sorry for myself. Giving myself away is the only cure.
Are you enduring, my friend? Don’t let it swallow you. What one step can you take to get some of your fight back?
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