Not to be overly dramatic, but pain has been my companion for most of my adult life. It has gotten immeasurably worse in the past year, and finally I have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. The name doesn’t do much to improve my healing, but at least I know it’s nothing else, and I can focus on how to live with what the doctors call a “neuro-muscular” disorder.
The pain, on a scale of 0-10 where 10 is unspeakable, knock-you-unconscious, reached an 8 at times. The mind can only take so much pain before it becomes confused, trying to cope with so much input. I couldn’t think straight much of the time, lost my words and my concentration, could not read or finish sentences when talking.
And I became depressed. My mind began wandering into unhealthy and unhelpful patterns of thinking. Friends and family had to remind me that I was ill, that this was not my fault, that it was going to get better. I couldn’t think past the pain or the idea that somehow I had brought this on myself.
Some of my unhealthy thought processes cycled around on the theme of “gotta pull myself up by my boot straps and make myself—force myself—to get well again.” That was futile thinking, and perhaps even damaging thinking, to imagine that I had brought this on, and I alone could make this go away.
Suffering from pain on and off for much of my adult life, I had been under the impression that I could bring myself out of this pain, if only. If only I prayed differently. If only I could find the unconfessed sin in my life and repent of it. If only I had a closer relationship with God. Those, I learned, are lies designed to keep me imprisoned in my own feelings of guilt and inadequacy—looking to myself for my healing.
Yet these were some of the things good church-going people were telling me, and those thoughts stem from prosperity gospel preaching. “Name it and claim it” preaching teaches that if you pray the right prayer and believe that you were meant to receive all the good things God has stored up for you on earth, you will get all those things NOW. I may be oversimplifying, but this is the teaching of many popular preachers (Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes) these days, and it has crept into the evangelical church.
In that way of thinking, then, I can state that I will be well, and pray the right prayers, and believe that it is true, and I will be well. If I do not get well, then, it is my fault. What a harmful, damaging lie! Yet this was ingrained in me.
My background is filled with this kind of experience. Of people quizzing me about how I am praying and what I pray for, perplexed as to my continued pain since there were so many prayers. To continue in pain, then, is obviously my fault, because I did something wrong, or didn’t do enough of the right thing, or didn’t pray the right prayer. Yes, I was even told that I wasn’t praying right!
Pastor Russell Moore talks about the heresy of the prosperity gospel, and I paraphrase here: “If you want to know whether you are following Christ, look to your life. So says the prosperity gospel. The problem is that all who preach the prosperity gospel, as well as all other human begins, will end up dead one day. Some will fall ill and suffer.” Then where is their gospel?
Is it my fault, then, when the pain comes back? This has taken me on a path to explore what I know to be true about God. He is sovereign. He does not need me to DO anything in order to receive his blessings. There is no formula to follow—only believe. I don’t need more faith. I have faith. I don’t need to pray a formula in order to gain more prosperity or more health or blessings. I don’t need the Prayer of Jabez or some other prosperity fad. I need God’s sovereignty.
The job of healing me is God’s, if he chooses. And if he does not?
Then God, being sovereign, will provide for me in every way he sees fit. In this I identify with the Apostle Paul, who found himself with a physical illness or pain. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 8-10).The power of God is greater than my pain.
And here is the vital point: in this experience God got my full attention. This pain is teaching me much more about myself, and my faith, and my God, than I would have learned free from pain. My life may be poor in health, but it is still very rich in blessings.
So if I do not get healed in this life—if my pain continues for the rest of my life on earth—is this my fault or because of my inability to fix my condition? No: God is sovereign. He is good, rich in mercy, and has saved me not because of me, but because of him. And I know that the final healing will come, when I see my redeemer face to face.