What suffering says about prosperity

These days are filled with trouble
And the nights feel like they’re all getting longer
These days are dark and grey
Like that storm rolling in across the water

There’s a strong wind blowing
I push on it pushes back
It’s a hard time
But I know I’ll get through it
Just gotta lean into it

This ain’t where I thought I’d be
If I could I’d stop it now and I’d rewind it
But this ain’t where I’m gonna fall
If there’s a way to fight
I know I’m gonna find it
~ Lean Into It, Little Big Town

Moments with my nephew - the "cousin-twin" to the baby I lost - in the morning sun.

Today, in church, I listened with questions swirling: am I experiencing the blessings and benefits of being a child of God?  To outward appearances, perhaps not.  I'm tired.  The dark circles around my eyes, the pallor in my cheeks, grows more apparent every day.  Common viruses have a more significant effect on me than they should.  I should be young and healthy.  Right?

My mood a little gray around the edges from the low thyroid function, I am grieving my baby again.  Missing that warm, slightly sweet baby smell, the arms touching your neck through the night hours, the newness of smiles and giggles that take over your baby's whole frame and put him into a tremor of delight.  I am mourning the losses of Amelia...the new needs she has, the needs I fear will always be there.  I watch her frozen in time as her friends grow and advance.  Watch her intellect stumble backward as the days pass.  Celebrate the tiny victories...the one letter remembered, the twisted smile when she can trace her bean circle with her index finger in a non-seizing moment.

What are the blessings and benefits of being a child of God?  What are the reasonable expectations I can have, as His child?  Health?  Is that a bare minimum?  I've struggled with this question ever since I was 14 years old and I fainted dead away during devotions in our living room, surrounded by my family.  I screamed it in my mind when I heard "heart failure" for the first time at 17.  As my fingers curled tight around an invalid driver's license, and my mind searched for ways to continue to grow up when you can't even drive yourself to class, I sighed the question for the millionth time.

I never really got a clear answer.  I am still asking the question.

It's just one of those things; Scripture gives you conflicting glimpses of the answer.  I've never been rich (but again...by whose standards?  In the U.S., we are barely middle class.  In the rest of the world, rich beyond imagination, with a beautiful home, three vehicles - however old, food and clothing in abundance).  Yet in Proverbs I read honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10) And III John 1:2 states the prayer, that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul...which indicates, by inference, that one might not experience good health as it goes well with the soul.

In John 10:10, a verse often quoted by the Prosperity Gospel's adherents, says I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  What does abundance really mean?  Is it wealth, or health?  Success, relationship bliss, a good marriage, good friends, laughter around a campfire, children who never disobey, a family that goes on to accomplish great things and bring honor to your name?

At times, even the ever-comforting 23rd Psalm mocks me. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.

But read on, and you see David walking through the valley of death and dying.  What if the table prepared before me in the presence of my enemies, the annointing of my head with oil, the goodness and mercy that will follow me all my life...what if they aren't tangible?  What if the feasting table of peace God prepares for me when all the world howls about me, when my stomach is hungry, my clothes worn out, my body beaten, the battle with cancer raging and my duties as a mother overwhelming....what if it is that feast of the mind when I shut my eyes and a Scripture surrounds my thoughts and takes them captive and quiets them?  What if it is a spiritual feast, not one of money or possessions or health or beauty or success?

What if I conquer my enemies by being so defeated by them that the only thing shining out of my broken body is the Grace of God, the peace that passeth understanding?

What if the annointing of my head with oil is the annointing of cancer, the vote of confidence from my Savior that I am up to this task...this task of trusting Him when everything goes wrong and I find myself alone in the battle, cut off from friends and family, with only an Invisible One on my side?

What if the goodness and mercy is simply the strength to withstand the awful torments this world will hold until the day He quietly grants me the freedom to cross that golden strand to the place where at last, forever, my suffering will be done?

And what if they are tangible, but they aren't the tangible prosperity that the world expects?  What if the table and the annointing and the blessing and the benefits are the simple things like my nephew's sweet breath and dimpled fingers holding the thick cotton of my shirt during an impromptu nap?  What if it's the late night moments reading a story to Amelia as she recovers from the seizure?  What if it is just moments, and glimpses, and random pleasures that dot this landscape of weeping and weaning and weariness and woe?

It is so important to remember that really, this is not the end of the story.  The story is not done until you take into account the everlasting peace of Heaven or the never-ending torment of Hell.  Whatever I may suffer here on earth, there is always Heaven to forever compensate the imbalance in the scales.  This is not where I'm going to fall.  I'm going to lean into it.  I'm going to believe that the suffering is the blessing and benefit of being part of this family of God.  I'm going to keep coming to grips with the fact that abundance might mean living my life in relief: the blacks and grays in the snapshot of my life - the suffering and torment and mourning and loss - forever only a contrast that lends richer beauty to the pure white of Christ's grace, sacrifice, redemption, and the eventual, eternal healing of all the wounds I sustain and wars I lose here in this bittersweet, beautiful, brief life.

I live abundantly because He has shown me exactly what I might lose, and has forever made it more dear to me because I know that it is only a gift and never to be taken for granted.

holy experience