In April, on the last day of Passover, I went to the emergency room with tremendous pain in my abdomen. In all honesty, I thought it might just be the worst gas I had ever felt before or maybe just too much Matzah (#JewishProblems). At first the doctors were not even sure what was happening! After tests and imaging studies, I was diagnosed with Diverticulitis. WebMD describes Diverticulitis this way:
Diverticulosis happens when pouches (diverticula) form in the wall of the colon. If these pouches get inflamed or infected, it is called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis can be very painful. Doctors aren't sure what causes diverticula in the colon (diverticulosis). But they think that a low-fiber diet may play a role. Without fiber to add bulk to the stool, the colon has to work harder than normal to push the stool forward. The pressure from this may cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon. Doctors aren't sure what causes diverticulitis. Bacteria grow in the pouches, and this can lead to inflammation or infection.
It was painful. More painful than anything I have experienced in my life. As I was suffering late at night, before going to the hospital, I began throwing up from the pain. While sitting on the bathroom floor I found myself singing. What an odd experience to throw up and sing at the same time. Specifically two songs were set on repeat in my mind, The Love of God by Marty Goetz and Lord Have Mercy by Lecrae. The line in Lecrae’s song is “Lord have mercy and pity on your son from what I once was and what I have become.”
While the diagnosis was clear, my doctors had no idea why this was happening to me because this condition seemed odd at my young age. With gas and excess Matzah ruled out, I had no clue either! It wasn't until the end of August that I experienced an unexpected revelation. God made me sick.
I know, it sounds weird and I don’t like saying it out loud or writing it down. I feel like to some degree it’s against my theology. Please don’t read this and believe that I am saying God causes people to get sick. That would miss the point of the lesson I learned. Some sickness is just sickness. Some sickness is opportunity for us to learn something.
For a few weeks prior to this revelation each of the leaders at Restoration came to me and in different conversation and all essentially said the same thing to me: “You don’t listen. When you do listen you are only hearing what you want to hear so you can persuade me to what you want me to do.” If one leader says something you think about it. If two leaders say the same thing you pray about it. If all your leaders say the same thing it is probably God trying to get your attention. So, with the encouragement from my mentor, I took a test from Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the results said, “You don’t listen. When you do listen you are only hearing what you want to hear so you can persuade me to what you want me to do.” Dang it. So, after all this I am getting in my car after a great workout and clear as day I hear the Lord say, “I made you sick.” I respond with, “why would you do that to me?” To which, as clear as if I was before the Lord, He said, “It was the only way you would listen to me.” Then there were tears. a lot of tears.
I don’t know how you feel about God speaking out loud. I don’t know if you have ever heard Him speak to you. Maybe you think I am crazy. I’m okay with that. Maybe you think God making me sick is ridiculous and I would say that, until this happened, I probably would have agreed with you. I am not saying sickness is from God. I am not saying this happens to everyone. I don’t know how often God works this way. There is also a danger that we would be gripped by fear and begin to believe that anything bad that happens to us is from God. It’s not. Fear is not from God. Here is what I know, I wasn’t listening. To think that I would try to persuade God, to what I want Him to do rather than listen for what He wants me to do, makes me sad. I want to listen better. To God, to my leaders. Of course the danger of being this transparent is that people have the tendency to look back and say “you weren’t listening to me either.” Or in conversation people pull out this blog and say “you are doing this to me, right now.” I get all that. I also believe that God wants to our experiences to encourage someone who may be going through the same kind of thing.
It’s interesting because in the beginning of January of this year I started taking my health seriously. I starting going to the gym four times a week and I am eating better than I had before. Aside from the time I was recovering from being sick I have maintained these lifestyle changes all year. I have changed a lot of things in my life because of this encounter with God. Reflecting back on this whole experience I realize this was a test from the Lord. When we talk about God testing Abraham in Genesis we recognize that He wasn’t testing Abraham to see what he would do. God knows. The test is for us. Honestly, it was faith building, even in serious pain I gave God glory and didn’t blame him for my pain. I worshipped Him and knew He was with me and was aware enough to hear is voice in my pain and recovery. Not just hear, either, but respond. Please don’t believe I am some kind of spiritual super star. That would miss my whole point in writing about this experience. It’s about how awesome God is not about me.
You might say, “If God loves you why would He hurt you?” This is an important question. The writer of the book of Hebrews gives a great answer:
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11).
It is because God loves me so much that He would take such drastic measures to speak to me. I am quite confident that, for many years to come, 2015 will be a year for me to reflect back on knowing that God refuses to leave me. My passion in life is helping others know that no matter what you do, no matter how far you run from the God who created you, no matter if you claim to not believe in Him at all—that same God will never leave you. He waits, patiently. He inserts Himself into your story and uses the events of your life, good and bad, to point you back to Him.
So, are you listening even in your pain? Can you hear His voice? What is God saying to you in the midst of pain?