Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A word of joy in trial

If you remain in me and my words in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you… I have told you this, so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 15:7, 11

Your Joy

“…your joy.”

A strange word to come from God, considering the circumstance, but it was the first that came to me…

I had never thought that I would be confined to a bed all day long. I expected always to be strengthened, so that I could either ignore or tread under foot any bodily illness, and [having earnestly prayed for this] to pass straight from the midst of problems without giving anyone a moment’s trouble.

What has happened, then, is strange to my nature. The shining happiness I experienced, through months when my will-power could do nothing to conquer pain [and it could not simply be ignored], was not natural. It was one of those surprises from our heavenly Lover, who never tires of giving us surprises.

This word came to me the morning after the accident. I experienced a terrible fall in the little Indian town called Joyous City, where some of us had gone to prepare for two missionaries from our group who were about to move there. The fall broke a bone, dislocated an ankle, and caused other internal hurts much harder to heal.

We made the difficult night drive of forty-six [Indian] miles back to our mission base, and by the time we arrived, the effects of the merciful painkiller were beginning to wear off. It was then, as if through a haze, I heard our chief nurse saying something about wishing to take the pain from me – and I knew she meant that she wanted to bear the pain herself, in my stead.

That was when I heard myself spontaneously answer, “Your joy, no one takes away…”

It was like echoing aloud something heard deep within me. I did not recognize it as a Scripture verse, only that it was a certain and heavenly word given to me – truly a word of peace, even exultation! I could see our whole missionary “family,” each one wanting to bear the pain for me. Yet because of the intense comfort of that word, I was glad and grateful that it was impossible for them to do so.

And now, so that you may know why I humbly venture to write to those who know so much more of the awful, trampling power of pain than I do, I will tell you how it was that I thought to write all I have learned.

One day, after many, many nights when, in spite of all that was done to induce sleep, it refused to come [except in brief snatches], I received a letter from a friend. It went on at some length, with what sounded almost like pleasure, about my “enforced rest,” and the silly phrase rankled me like a thorn. I was far too exhausted to laugh it off, as one can laugh off things when one feels well.

So this was supposed to be rest?

And was the Father breaking, crushing, “enforcing” by weight of sheer physical misery, a child who only longed to obey His slightest wish? These words – “enforced rest” – had what I now know was an absurd power to distress me. They held such an unkind, such a false conception of our Father.

Until the moment I’d read these words – although I was puzzled about my accident – I’d had not one unhappy minute or inner restlessness, and that was because I had been given peace in acceptance. The spirit can live above the flesh, and mine, helped by the tender love of our Lord Jesus and the dearness of those around me, had done so.

But the moment I read these words of “comfort,” and for a long while after, it was different. I had no peace. Not until I heard deep within me soft and soothing words again, such as a mother uses: “Let not your heart be troubled. Don’t you know that I understand what you are suffering? What do people’s words matter to Me, or to you?”

And I knew once again that the Father understood His child, and the child her Father…

I will share my crumb of comfort: Do not be weighted down with loose words. Do not expect your peace to come from human mouths. And do not allow the ignorant stock phrases of the “well” to the “ill” to break your shield. How can they, the unwounded, know anything about the matter?

But the Lord our Creator knows! And all who have suffered know: Pain and helplessness are not “rest” and never can be; nor is the weakness that follows acute pain; nor is the great tiredness of inner weariness – tired of being inwardly tired. These things are poles apart from true rest.

Our Father knows our rest is only found in receiving a sense of well-being – a well-being that, no matter what our circumstances, is like the sense one has after a gallop on horseback, or a plunge in a forest or the glorious sea… He knows it! He created us, so can the Creator ever forget? If He remembers what true rest is, what does it matter that others forget?

Thus, we can be comforted and filled with His gift, an inward sweetness. And we can thank Him even when others trample unawares upon us, talking loose, easy nothings.


My Father, you know the things that weigh me down… hurtful words… crushing circumstances…

I will be grateful when others offer me faulty, superficial words. I will listen only for your words, and let my spirit rest in the assurance that comes from your every whisper to me…


Amy Carmichael, Rose from Brier: 1


Anonymous said...

Ok, so, I must be missing something here. I understand Amy's reaction to the letter from her friend, but I'm not sure I understand her (or the Lord's?) reaction to the words from her nurse - who wished she could remove the pain. Amy somehow seems to "link" pain with joy, yet in the very next paragraph would seem to argue against such a linkage. So my question is: would she (or the Lord) ask us to find joy in pain, and if so, HOW?

Loy said...

If I understand Amy's meditation, it is this: there is a transcendent place that God can take us through trial -- a deep, abiding joy even in pain: mystical divine relation trumping human circumstances in child-like trust of Abba.

However, there is also a precipice all around: all it takes is to frame the affliction not in divine terms, but human terms, and the pain becomes depression, emotional and spiritual darkness. Here, a well-intentioned friend framed the pain in terms of her heavenly Father forcing pseudo-rest upon her, and it shattered her peace. Such "loose words" [i.e. theologically irresponsible] re-framed both the intent and motivation of the affliction to where it clouded Amy's view of her Abba -- if such were true, how could she mystically trust a Father like that?

The relation between daughter and Father was clouded -- not by pain but by false view of pain foisted upon her by an unfeeling and roughshod God. And as that relational trust was clouded, it pulled her from transcendent trust to a human plane of doubt and pain... bearing the pain in its full physical and spiritual weight.

The lesson seems to be that the physical pain is not what breaks us, so much as the spiritual part of it: when we cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" -- not from physical hurt but from the sense that God has turned His back on us in that hurt.

When Amy recovered a true view of God, and heard again His love in the pain, she again transcended it. The physical hurt had deep, mysterious meaning: her spirit accepted that in divine relation, and that renewed relation bathed the hurt in transcendent Light.

You raise a good point, and thank you! There is a paradox in such a meditation as this, from Amy... and there is a dangerous spiritual precipice associated with pain, without question.

To your exact question, I would say this: I think that Amy would say that the Lord offers us joy in pain; and the offer is ours for the taking, in mystical relation. The joy is in relation, somehow.

However, the danger is just as she described: when the pain or the unintentional framing of the pain makes it impossible for us to relate in trust, to view God as the uncaring pain-giver instead of the sacrificial, loving Healer, our spirit sky is clouded and the pain takes us from peace.

Thank you for your thoughts, and God bless! Hopefully this has been helpful!

in Christ,


Anonymous said...

hmmm... interesting concept. "The Lord offers us joy in pain; and the offer is ours for the taking, in mystical relation ...somehow" I would say that's a pretty mysterious (and yet extremely attractive) "somehow"! What else do you have in your library on this topic?

Loy said...

Indeed, it is a mysterious concept -- I can't say that I've "got it" completely, but I believe it to be true! :-)

I'd recommend a couple related reads on this:

George MacDonald, Your Life in Christ: The Nature of God and His Work in Human Hearts

Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering

These aren't on Carmichael's exact point here, but they do highlight foundational aspects related to her central truth of relation [and joy] in pain.

The MacDonald book, read his chapter called "Abba! Father" -- in it he describes every human misery as wrapped up in the inability of humans to cry out Abba! to God; conversely, the cure for every ill is the ability to know oneself as a son or daughter of Abba, in every circumstance.

Hope this is helpful!

God bless,