This morning I read something in Martin's book which hit very close to home. The author has a condition which has been diagnosed as repetitive strain injury. Since his theological study days, he has suffered shooting pains in his hands and wrists which affect how much he can type and write. While working at a magazine, he became increasingly frustrated at the situation. He asked: "Why would God do this? What was the sense of a writer who couldn't write? What was the point? ... Why would God prevent the work that I was missioned to do?" He tried everything from holistic healers and acupuncturists to faith healers. Nothing much changed. Over time he learned to manage the condition through massage, exercises, and stretching, but he was still limited in how much time he could spend writing. One day when Martin was confessing his frustration about the situation to his spiritual director, the man asked him, "Is God anywhere in this?" It was a question Martin had grown to hate and he responded emphatically, "No!" His spiritual director insisted: "Really? Nowhere?"
Martin, almost despite himself, began to recount all the ways this condition had changed him. Let me quote his words:
Since I could only type for a short period of time each day ... I was more grateful for what I was able to write, because I knew that it was only thanks to God's grace and gift of health, even if temporary. I was more careful about what I wrote too. Perhaps I was becoming more patient, too, since I couldn't do everything at once. And I was less likely to get a swelled head, since I couldn't talk about the grandiose plans I had for future writing. And I was more aware of others with physical limitations and with far graver illnesses. Maybe I was becoming more compassionate. ... I'm more conscious of how much I rely on God ... since I can't do anything on my own. (Martin, 288-89)
I often privately bemoan the weaknesses that I have as a student, teacher, and writer: I also experience occasional pain in my left arm and hand from strain, I feel uninspired and unmotivated too much of the time, I can't remember things I read a few days or even hours ago, I write agonizingly slowly, taking hours to eek out a paragraph or two, and compared to others in my field, my writings appear ineloquent and often lack the necessary breadth of knowledge. In pressured situations, I sometimes draw a blank when asked a question about something that I should know. Preparation for any kind of teaching situation usually takes a tremendous amount of energy, time, and labour.
And yet, with Martin, I admit to seeing signs of God in my situation. I am grateful every time I finish a writing project of any length or complete a teaching assignment, knowing how impossible it seemed before and during the task. I have grown in patience with myself and others and learned diligence. I am more gracious with those who have learning difficulties or must overcome limitations. I am learning that being careful with each word and thought is to be valued above the ability to finish things quickly. I study and write in a state of peace most days, calm and focused. Like Martin, my weaknesses make me more aware of the presence of God and how much I rely on divine guidance to help me through daily tasks.
Talking about suffering with any integrity, Martin suggests, demands a personal narrative. It demands that we live with acceptance, grace, humility, and obedience in our present situation. And we learn how to find God in it. Thanks, Jim.