Saying you’re willing to suffer for God is one thing. Doing it is something else. Doing it well is something all together different.
When I first developed crohns disease 24 years ago, through the guidance of my mother and brother Paul, I learned to offer up my current and future suffering to God, so that he may use it in whatever way he saw fit.
- Perhaps it would bring people to prayer and, therefore, closer to God.
- Perhaps it would lessen the suffering of others.
- Perhaps it would help cleanse my soul in the next life.
- Perhaps it would bring me closer to God in this one.
I don’t know what God does with suffering. I just know he expects us to participate in it. We are called to be like Christ, to take up our cross. That involves suffering. Period. As the saying goes, there’s no way to get to Easter without going through Good Friday.
So, offering up the suffering of my chronic illness seemed like the right thing to do. As my brother Paul, who already had the same disease when it manifested itself in me, said, “You’re going to suffer anyway, so don’t let it go to waste. Let God do something with it.”
For the past two decades, I’ve done just that. I’ve offered it up as the disease has both ravaged me and left me alone. Some of the suffering was serious while some of it was invasive, but tolerable. But it has yet to be this bad.
My most recent surgery, which was supposed to be relatively straight forward, became anything but. Numerous life-threatening challenges occurred, one after the other. My two hour surgery turned into over six hours. It went from one procedure to three. The numerous post-op challenges (pneumonia, intestinal blockage, high blood pressure, renal failure, to name just the big ones), made me certain that I was going to die.
If it weren’t for my wife and the love, prayers and support from family and friends, I am certain I would be dead today. My wife especially, who did not leave my side for two weeks and who selflessly helped me through my toughest, darkest moments, is my hero.
As a result, our love for each other has never been stronger.
This recovery is going to be a long one and I still have another surgery in my near future to complete what the doctors were not able to finish. Dealing with this slow, painful, and exhausting recovery is a daily grind. Yet I offer it up. Gladly.
One evening, after a particularly difficult day, I was rather weepy and emotionally drained and was dealing with contradictory emotions. With tears in my eyes I looked up to heaven and said, “I don’t know how to suffer, Lord.” After all, what is the right way to suffer? I wondered, “If I embrace my suffering, does it lessen it somehow? Does my acceptance of it somehow diminish the weight of the sacrifice? I don’t know how to do this right.”
Before, my suffering was a week here, a moment there, but this time, it is long and consistent, with a lengthy duration and with a real tangible loss in the offing. I understood how to offer up short term pain, but this is new and I find myself in unchartered emotional and spiritual ground.
At the end of the day I just hope I am doing it right. So, Lord, please accept my suffering, no matter how poorly I participate in it.