Embracing Weakness in a Season of Suffering

I hate writing songs. The reason is simple: for me, songs come from pain. I haven’t written a song lately, but I know that writing is one of the cathartic gifts God has given me. So, since I didn’t bring a guitar with me to the hospital, I’ll go with a blog post this time.

Carmen has been admitted to the hospital three times and has been to the ER three times all in the last seven weeks. We never saw it coming.

The Update

Carmen had a surgery at the end of February that we hoped would put her victorious battle against cancer firmly in our rear view mirror. She is still in remission, to the praise of God’s glorious grace. But she hasn’t healed from the surgery seven weeks ago. So, she went in for another surgery a month later. It didn’t help. Since then, we’ve been aggressively trying to get her healthy enough to heal. And then, yesterday morning, she got very sick.

The local ER did a wonderful job treating her symptoms and arranged for her to be transported to a terrific hospital in Dallas. All we know right now is that there is something making her very sick. The doctors have run several tests looking for infections and most have come back with negative results. The internal medicine team is looking now for the source of infection. Please pray she can get well so that she can continue her recovery in comfort and at home. This has been a much longer and more difficult road than we ever imagined. But the Lord has been faithful to us and His people have overwhelmed us (in a good way) with their prayer, support, and generosity.

Some Personal Reflections

I cried a lot yesterday. We both did. It’s a uniquely terrible feeling to follow an ambulance for 90 miles and pray the whole time that its lights never turn on. Because we were desperate for believers to unite in prayer over Carmen’s health, I did something I normally have an allergy against: I made a personal and dramatic post on Facebook.

Here’s something you should know about me: I hate being needy.

As a pastor, I’m supposed to help people around me who are needy. I hate the reverse. But lately, I’ve been forced to humble myself and call on others for help. And, I suppose, that’s a good thing.

Every pastor knows the old adage: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. (That means that the neediest or loudest person always gets more than their fair share of the leaders’ attention). And every pastor I know recoils at the thought of themselves becoming the squeaky wheel! But squeak squeak, brothers. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, we need help.

I don’t like crying in front of people, but God made me an emotional person. And the person I love most in the world has been suffering pretty much constantly for six weeks. So, I’ve cried in front of a lot of people lately.

I don’t like to disappoint. Competence and excellence are idols I struggle against in my ministry and work. I was supposed to preach the sermon and teach a church membership class this weekend. I can’t bear the thought of leaving my work undone. But God has surrounded me with competent, selfless, and godly leaders who are not only willing, but are also able, to pick up my slack. (I just hate the idea of leaving slack).

I don’t like to presume on grace. But God placed me in a wonderful church with a pastor and elders who are understanding and willing to give me the flexibility I need to take care of my wife.

I don’t like being weak. But the Bible has made it abundantly clear that I am weak and that I need the empowering Holy Spirit and the family of faith to fill up my weakness.

It seems like a good time to quote Carmen’s favorite verse:

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. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

The apostle Paul was more competent than me. But it seems to me that he become comfortable with his weakness. You can see it throughout his letters. Check out Philippians 3 or 4. Look at 1 Corinthians 1. Or 2 Corinthians 1.

Paul was quick to ask for help. Look at the end of most of the letters he wrote.

Paul was eager to ask for prayer. He knew better than to bear his burdens alone.

Why on earth should I be too proud to do the same?

I belong to the largest and greatest family on earth. Across the globe, millions of us share the same Father. We have access to Him by the sacrifice of our older brother (Hebrews 2:14–18; 10:19–23). And the Book we all read has commanded us over and over again to bear one another’s burdens (explicitly in Galatians 6:2 and implicitly in a bunch of other places). What kind of sinful pride is at work in me to deprive my siblings of the opportunity to obey the command to bear my family’s burdens?

In the last 30 hours, our faith family across the nation has risen to the occasion. We’ve received hundreds of messages, texts, Bible verses, encouragements, and check-ins from people who love us. We’ve received generous gifts and offers to help with all sorts of things from childcare to laundry to dog-sitting. Believers have blown us away with their compassionate concern, urgency in prayer (please keep it up), and selfless service.

So, like Paul, it’s time for me to settle in and avail myself of the opportunity to be weak and needy. The Bible seems to consider my weakness a blessing worth boasting about. Maybe I should, too.

There’s no doubt the Lord is sanctifying Carmen and me in this season of suffering. Please pray we endure it faithfully and in a way that glorifies the God who is strong on our behalf.

Remember how I struggle with my need to prove myself competent?

James 1:2–4 suggests the route to competence includes suffering:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

One day, I’ll be complete, lacking in nothing. And it takes suffering to produce steadfastness to get there.

Please pray that I learn to count suffering a joy because of what it produces.

But also, please pray that the suffering will stop soon, because we’re both really tired.

Please pray for His power to be made perfect in our weakness.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.