sufficient

I’ve written in the past about my experience of enduring years of chronic migraines and cluster headaches and how thankfully, following surgery, they are now no longer part of my experience. I am conscious that for many people chronic pain is still part of their experience – physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual pain is incredibly debilitating.

In the darkest days before the operation there were times when I felt like I was clinging on by my fingertips – clinging to my desire to carry on and clinging to my faith as a follower of Jesus. In those moments there was a verse in the Bible that was immensely helpful:

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (from 2 Corinthians 12:9)

open handsAnd I can honestly say that was my experience. God’s grace – his generously-given, unearned, sustaining presence – kept me going. I was able to live, serve and bless others from a place of weakness because God filled in the blanks for me. When I lacked words he provided them. When I couldn’t think he provided the thoughts. When I couldn’t see beyond the pain he lifted my eyes up towards hope. When I was battling through in my own strength he provided people to carry me and to tell me to stop and rest.

The context for those words in 2 Corinthians is filled with mystery:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What, or who, was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Chronic migraine and cluster headaches certainly feel like a thorn and are tormentors. We don’t know, and Paul doesn’t tell us because it’s not important.

I can certainly empathise with prayers pleading for God to take away the pain. And not just three times! So, why didn’t God answer his heartfelt pleading to take away this thorn? Why did God allow me to suffer for so many years before finally the surgery resolved the problem? Or, to widen out the question: why doesn’t God always seem to answer our prayers in the way that we want?

The answer Paul received was not a theodicy (answers to the question of how a loving God can allow evil, pain and suffering to persist). It was a promise. The promise was of a loving, gracious sustenance that was sufficient for the problem. Not a flourishing, dancing-in-the-aisles, swinging-from-the-chandeliers victorious healing. Just enough to enable Paul to cope. Sufficient.

Sometimes we receive more than we need. But we will receive sufficient.

And God will make up for what we lack. It may not be inner strength and fortitude. It may not be miraculous supernatural ability to rise above what is going on. It could be that it is other people coming alongside us. It could be that it is the ability to let go of some of the stress and allow others to help. It could be that it is the opportunity to receive love, support, encouragement and strength from others who can give you what you lack. It could be that it is the courage to stop and realise that we are not indispensable and that we don’t have to go it alone. And in that liminal space the paradox of weakness being strength, of grace sufficient for pain, of power perfected in impotence becomes reality.

The difficulty for us is that in order for this to happen we have to trust God and stop trying to do it all in our own strength. We have to trust that he will keep his promise. When you’re in the depths of despair it’s perhaps not so difficult to do that because you’ve already exhausted all of your own resources. My testimony is that this is true. Today I read Simon Thomas’s blog of his own heart-rending experience. He is finding the same to be true.

But if you aren’t in a wretched place the same promise is true – God’s grace is sufficient for you. You may need to let go of more of your security blankets and self-reliance to experience it, but I believe that he will prove himself trustworthy.

I pray that you and he will continue to know that God’s grace is sufficient for you. And that his power is made perfect in your weakness.

Be blessed, be a blessing

just to reassure you

Hi, thanks for the many messages I received after my last bloggage, and thank you for your kind and generous thoughts, I really appreciate them. I also feel a bit bad that you wrote them in response to what I wrote because I think the way I wrote it suggested that I am still encountering the pain of the migraine and cluster headaches. I’m not in pain. Sorry if that’s what I communicated. What I was trying to say is that while the migraine and cluster headaches are still firing away inside my head the ONS means that my brain ignores the signals from them and I don’t feel any pain. 🙂

If / when the ONS expires the pain would come back rapidly but please don’t feel sorry for me or unnecessarily impressed at the moment!

I have adjusted the text in the bloggage in a way that I hope avoids that confusion.

Be blessed, be a blessing (and thanks to all who were a blessing to me)

20170510_093250
no pain, just confusion in here!

 

re-chaaarge

As I type this bloggage today I am recharging.

Literally.

the recharging unit in place
the recharging unit in place

I have a rechargeable neurostimulator implanted into my body in order to combat a chronic migraine and once a week (roughly) I have to recharge myself in order that it does not run down completely. The nature of the equipment means that if it runs down completely it has to be re-booted (no, I don’t press ctrl+alt+del) and there is no guarantee that it can be. If that happens twice it is highly unlikely that it can be re-booted. Three times and it’s dead.

That puts a certain amount of pressure on me to ensure that I don’t allow the battery to run down. I like to keep it at a minimum of 50% charge in order to give myself a large margin for error. When I mention to people that I have to recharge the unit almost invariably I get comedic responses about plugging myself into the mains, and questions about the location of the socket (often the navel is suggested). But, as you can see from the photo, the recharging process is by induction charging – the same sort of process as an electric toothbrush. I can get on with other things and even walk around as the recharging unit itself gets recharged so I am not trailing cables around behind me. I can’t move too fast or be too energetic as the recharging pad slides off, but it could be a lot more restrictive. It’s not the sort of thing I am likely to be seen doing in public – it might look like I have something explosive strapped to me, or that I am wearing a gun holster – but I am happy wearing it around the house.

When was the last time you recharged? We have just had Pentecost Sunday when we remembered how God sent his Spirit on the first Christians in a new way, and how the same Spirit of God fills us. But it is not a ‘once off’ event, it is something we need to do regularly. We need to come back to God and ask his Spirit to refill us, to re-empower us for service, to keep us close to God. I can’t remember who said it, but I can remember being told that someone once said that they need to be re-filled with the Spirit of God on a regular basis because they leak. I think I know what they meant, but actually I find the analogy of recharging more helpful (well I would, wouldn’t I, given what I am doing right now).

But even ‘recharging’ is an inadequate metaphor. Because God’s Spirit is not something we plug in to receive, he is God in us, God with us. God’s Spirit is God, not an object or a power source. We need to renew and refresh our relationship with God regularly because, just like the people of Israel in the Old Testament, we frequently forget his presence with us, we break our side of the covenant relationship, we fall short of God’s standards.

In his grace God’s Spirit is constantly with us, and will always offer forgiveness, reconciliation, fresh starts and strengthens our resolve to do better. Those cannot be offered by anything or anyone else.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Two boys were being chased by the police after shoplifting from a local store. To hide the evidence they swallowed what they had stolen – some fireworks and some rechargeable batteries.

Police caught them. They charged one and let the other one off.

 

 

euphemistically speaking

We have interesting euphemisms for innocuous occurrences.

“bun in the oven” – pregnant
“economical with the truth” – liar
“indisposed” – on the loo (we all do it)
“pre-loved” – second hand (yes, honestly, it’s a phrase that’s coming into usage)
“built for comfort, not speed” – overweight
“need to recharge my batteries” – tired

I’m not sure why we do it for innocuous events and circumstances because surely the idea of a euphemism in to say something indelicate in a delicate way. I am about to indulge in some navel gazing, so if you are not in the mood for that you could stop here and simply enjoy the euphemisms.

At the moment I need to recharge my batteries. But that is literal, not euphemistic. The implant that lived within my abdomen and sent electrical impulses into my brain to (successfully) stop the chronic migraines and cluster headaches has ceased to be. It has shuffled off this mortal coil. It has curled up its tootsies. It has bitten the dust. It has croaked. It is dead.

Sadly this means that the headaches are back and seem to be enjoying their unfettered freedom by running at maximum. So, by way of a warning to you if you see me and I look like a bear with a sore head, I might be feeling like one too (without the fur or claws). If I am grumpy it may be because sleep is at a premium at the moment. If I look like death warmed up, it may be that I am struggling to cope. Sorry (in advance) if I am not up to expectations.

It has been my experience in the past (and is now) that God gives me the grace to cope (just) and the perseverance to carry on despite the pain. That’s not because I am heroic, but because he is gracious.

It has given me a fresh appreciation of what it is like for many people who live with chronic pain, and I can honestly say that if you are in that category I sympathise and empathise with you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.