Do you ever think, when things aren’t going smoothly, when you’re frustrated or irritable or struggling, that maybe it’s because you’re doing something that’s not in God’s will? It’s always worth examining…Since we’re not perfect, it’s important to be diligent about keeping His will first and foremost in our lives…But what if, after examination, you find yourself ready and willing to obey, seeking to understand and follow where God is leading, and yet there is still uneasiness, still inconvenience, still trial? What do you do with that discomfort?
This is a topic that has been in my heart since our days on Vancouver Island, when God showed me that He was teaching me how to Hope, stubbornly and steadfastly. You see, for all the wonderful and beautiful times that we enjoyed on Vancouver Island, it was not a trip that went smoothly, and it was not particularly comfortable. God has shown me, so many times, how completely I can trust Him to smooth the path ahead when I’m following His will. Through 40 days and 40 nights of camping, through finding a house and jobs, I have often experienced that falling-into-place that happens because God is lining up all the things that you could never have arranged on your own. I’ve learned that, if I’m trying to do something and I’m getting nowhere and getting frustrated, it often means that I need to stop trying to do it in my own strength, and remember that God has it all under control in His perfect methods and timing. When we went to Vancouver Island, Joe and I both felt that we were being obedient to God’s plan and direction…On the first night, we realized that we hadn’t asked for guidance on where to camp….And after that, I thought it would be smooth sailing. But really, we had a lot of minor inconveniences. There wasn’t a single night that we got a full night’s sleep, due to all kinds of crazy noises from night-shift work at some weird industrial building, to late-night drunken campers parked outside the fence. The last night, of course, we woke up with our tents practically floating away! It was a beautiful place, and we had lots of wonderful times, but it wasn’t exactly peaceful, wasn’t exactly comfortable, and I wondered why, exactly…
And then, back at work, I began to experience headaches. Daily. Every day that I went to work. Starting at about 9:00 am, and getting progressively worse throughout the day, until by the afternoon I was slightly nauseous and it hurt to move my head. The pain would begin in the middle of my forehead, spreading out behind my eyes to both sides and wrapping around the base of my skull to meet full-circle in the back of my neck. Stepping outside during my two breaks and at lunch gave instant relief, and the headaches usually lifted within an hour or two after getting home, though I often had to lay down. I never got a headache on the weekend. I went through the list of physical things to change at the office. I had some of the fluorescent tubes removed from above my desk, raised my monitors up to the correct eye level, adjusted my seating, adjusted the font and brightness on my screens, and began to practice resting my eyes by looking away from the screen frequently. I experienced a slight improvement – the headaches no longer spread around the base of my skull, but simply spread from temple-to-temple and settled in for the day. Though I was careful of my diet, cutting out caffeine and alcohol and sugar, enjoying ginger or peppermint tea, and drinking more water, I refused to take medicine. I was unwilling to mask a symptom of something that was wrong, without figuring out the root cause and fixing that.
I prayed often throughout the days, prayed to know what was causing the headaches, prayed for help with the headaches, prayed in confidence that even if I had headaches for the rest of my life, I knew God would give me the grace to do whatever He called me to do anyway. I remembered often that I could be healed at any moment, or never, and I would still be living a life greatly blessed, beyond measure.
On weekends, though I was completely headache-free (and grateful!), our family experienced weird and continuous inconveniences…It seemed like whatever we set out to do on a weekend, it was closed, or over-crowded, or rained out…Always minor inconveniences, always easily adjusted to, we always enjoyed ourselves anyway…But it seemed strange, because we pray about everything we do, and we only do what we have peace from God to do. So, did these headaches, did these inconveniences, did these discomforts, mean that we were somehow getting off-track from God’s will?
I prayed about this often, sometimes even crying out inside my head “Lord, I want to obey, You know that I just want to follow Your will, please show me if I’m missing something!” But mostly, I just quietly continued to read the Bible, to pray “Not my will but Your will be done”, and to practice remembering the Lord as often as I could, forgetting about Him as little as possible, and directing every thought in my head to begin and end in the Lord. And I continued to focus on Hope, on stubbornly remembering, whenever I saw something in this world that was discouraging – someone who was far from God, someone who didn’t want to hear about God, a city full of people that didn’t seem to care about the Lord, at all – to lift up my heart to God, to lift up that person to God, and to say in my head “Lord I know that Your plan is perfect, and I remember that at the end of times, everything is as it should be, and no one is missing or lost.”
And yet, with lots of good practice going on in my head, and even with a new song in my heart, I still was uncomfortable! Every single day at work, physically, naggingly uncomfortable! And the worst part, in a way, was that it was linked to work. Though I didn’t mind my job at all, of course I would always rather be home with my family – and now it was like it was being rubbed in my face that being home with my family was also a simple and direct way to avoid those headaches! But I couldn’t get any peace either way – was I, or wasn’t I, supposed to be at this job? I was fighting to stay focused on the Lord’s will, His grace was sufficient for me to endure anything, and His song of Hope was in my heart…I knew that, if I needed to, I could endure these headaches for the rest of my life with His help…But there came a day or two when I began to say “Lord! Am I going to have to endure these headaches for the rest of my life?” Lol 🙂 Joe reminded me that I shouldn’t complain or focus on the negative. He said when he prayed about it, he just kept hearing the verse “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things…” And while I cried, (because I really was doing my best!), I also resolutely wrote this scripture on a piece of card-stock and set it up by my keyboard in my office, to read, to remember, and to hold on to.
And then, on a Thursday night at around 3:00 am, I woke up. This isn’t unusual for me. I often wake up in the middle of the night; I’ll usually think of something I need to pray about, sometimes I’ll read the Bible…This night, I woke up with a funny thought in my head – what would it look like in our family if we treated Jesus as though He were physically present with us in our house? Because, of course, we know He’s with us all the time, and specifically he’s there when two or more are gathered in His name…What would it be like if we sat down to eat, and we put a plate out for Jesus? I fell back to sleep, and in the morning, I told Joe what I had thought about. I said “I know it’s silly, but I felt in my heart to really look at it this way more, even to the point of silliness, if it will get it ingrained in my thinking. I’m going to try to think that way at work today.” So Friday morning, I went into work, and all day long, I tried to keep my mind on the fact that Jesus was with me, sitting in my office, looking out my window, walking with me through the building on my different tasks…I asked Him questions in my head, explained to Him what I was working on, apologized to Him if I forgot He was there for a little while. I remembered that Brother Lawrence described exactly this kind of thinking about Jesus as the most direct path to experiencing His presence. I also realized that, while it may feel like “pretending” and it may seem silly, what it actually is, is training the heart and the mind to remember the truth that our eyes can’t see.
And guess what? No headache. At all. All day long. I thanked Jesus for his healing, and for His soothing presence, and then I realized something else. Just like other invisible phenomenon like gravity or magnetic fields, sometimes the best evidence we have that something is present is the force that it exerts on something else nearby. I knew, to my core, that Jesus’ physical presence was the reason that no headaches could come that day, and that was direct evidence that He was there with me. I couldn’t see Him, but I could see (and feel) the evidence that He was there – and it was humbling, and exhilarating, and awe-inspiring 🙂
I don’t like being uncomfortable. I would like to be at peace, please, completely serene, calmly certain that I am in the center of God’s will for my life, and simply undisturb-able by any and all circumstances of this life. I’m not, yet…But I’m beginning to think that there’s something more to this discomfort than a simple question of being in God’s will or not…I know, and well remember, that Jesus’ road to the cross was not smooth, was not comfortable, was not paved with ease…But His path of unparalleled discomfort ended in equally unparalleled victory! I will continue to seek peace, seek to dwell in the peace of the Lord, and to be overflowing with His peace and joy…But maybe now when I encounter discomfort along the way, I will doubt myself a little less, and will remember that on the other side of that discomfort lies yet another certain victory!