When afflictions fall upon us, they often bring with them a host of other problems that compound the effect of their pain. Some of these difficulties are short term, such as medical costs, lost time at work, funeral expenses, and such. Some difficulties are long term, and some will last a lifetime.
Affliction can bring disability, job change, the end of a career, the downsizing of a lifestyle, and the end of relationships. There may be some roles and responsibilities that we must step down from. And many people who depend upon us can no longer expect from us what they once did.
Affliction rarely comes to us as a singular difficulty. Affliction pulls behind it a cart full of collateral problems. Its manifest can include new limitations, losses, changes, dependencies, challenges, and additional afflictions. Sometimes these afflictions can grow, like a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger.
Some of these problems sneak under our radar and wreak havoc in our lives, like a hidden rust or rot. Afflictions can bring health problems, cognitive problems, relational problems, and, of course, spiritual problems. It can take years to learn to cope with grief and trauma. We can develop trust issues. We can lose our ability to function in normal society. World shattering affliction can cause us to lose interest in the joys and dreams we once had. It can knock the wind out of our spirit.
Some will quit their jobs, sell their houses, and uproot themselves from a home they’ve lived in most of their lives, moving away from the only community they’ve known. Some do this because of the affliction. Others do it because of the collateral damage their affliction brings.
Affliction changes us. We wonder if we will ever return to “normal”, whatever that is. Maybe the change is permanent? “Normal” is gone from us forever, so we blindly feel our way to discover what this new normal will be. We know it’s not what it is now. We’re stuck indefinitely in a weird limbo between the old normal and the new normal.
We wrestle with the will of God for us. Is this what He wants for us? Why did he allow this, and at this time, of all times? Was this his plan for us all along? Did he ordain this affliction for our good? When will we see the good?
As we learn to live with the affliction, we also have to learn to live with the wider impact, the collateral damage that it brings into our lives. We know clearly the epicenter of affliction, and so does everyone else. But how far the damage radius extends, only we know. This tandem cart load of limitations and losses contributes to the difficulties that we face, and they hinder our ability to find a new normal.
People are often confused about why it’s taking you so long to find your new normal. It’s because they’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg from afar. What they can’t see are the multitude of other problems that weigh us down. And that itself adds to the weight of our burden. It’s no wonder we’re exhausted and our spirits drained.
When people deal with affliction, they also have to deal with the cartloads of baggage that follow behind.
I thank God for the psalms of lament. They show me that my pain and despair are not sin, it is part of the experience of God’s people, and in that there can be worship of God.
I thank God for the book of Job. Job was a righteous man who knew the truth of God, yet he cursed the day of his birth, and he longed for death. He questioned God. He defended himself when everyone around him thought him to be in error, and responsible for his calamity.
There is one book I wish was in the Bible, and I’ll have to wait until I get to Heaven to read it. It’s 2 Job. The book of Job gives us seven verses that summarize God’s blessing upon Job after all the evil he brought upon him. Job’s health was restored, his wealth doubled from what he had when he lost it all, and he had ten more children, his daughters of legendary beauty. But that’s all we have. Seven verses. 2 Job would focus on what happened in Job’s life between verses 9 and 10 of chapter 42, between the immediate end of Job’s trial and Jobs two-fold blessing.
How many years did it take for this blessing to come to fruition for Job? What were those years like for this broken, wounded man and his wife to recover and learn to live again? How did they handle the long tail of such tremendous calamity in their life?
I don’t think we understand the scale of the tragedy, because we so easily look down at Job’s wife because she told Job to curse God and die. This is a woman who lost all ten of her children. Her family was bankrupt. Her husband was stricken by a horrible skin disease. Yes, Job was more righteous than she because he accepted both good and evil from God’s hand. But I don’t think we have a place to judge Mrs. Job. Who would we have been more like in their situation? We aspire to Job, but like so many things in life, we tend to be ten steps behind what we aspire to.
I know the pain of child loss. I can’t imagine the horror of losing ten. If losing ten is ten times the pain of losing one, I can understand her response. Preachers have said this statement of Mrs. Job reveals she was not a genuine believer. I would say to them to hold their judgment until they have lost a child. I’m not saying she was, but I am saying that what she said in a moment of tremendous pain and disillusionment does not define her faith, or lack of it. Mrs. Job’s reaction gives us a glimpse into the calamity that they were living.
It likely took decades for Job to recover and rebuild his life, even with God’s blessing. God could have rushed his restoration. Perhaps the Sabeans were conquered and Job’s oxen and donkeys were returned and the Sabeans placed themselves in servitude to Job’s house. Maybe the Chaldean ruler died and his righteous son took his rule and he returned Job’s camels and gave him herds of sheep after learning their fate from the fire falling from heaven. And just maybe, Mrs. Job had twins and triplets and repopulated their family in less than ten years. Maybe.
God usually works through the common and mundane. Mr. and Mrs. Job probably depended on family and friends for their food and well being until Job’s full strength returned and he was able to become independent again. They had ten graves to visit, no children to help them. He had to help his wife, who lost her ten babies. If their children had surviving spouses and children of their own, they would have needed care and comfort. The families of his servants had to deal with the loss of their father’s and husbands and sons. And they had the agonizing grief and trauma of their own child loss, and loss of employees. The calamitous impact around Job would have been unbelievable. It could have taken twenty, perhaps forty years, for Job to see the blessings of chapter 42 verses 10-17.
For those years, Job had to struggle not only with the scale of calamity, but with all the losses and limitations that followed in its wake. Imagine the birth of that first child, and all the work and all the emotions that would have come with that little life. God may have given Job ten more children, but those children in no way replace the children lost. Job and his wife would have carried that pain of child loss to the end of their lives. Consider Jacob, who said he would mourn the loss of Joseph until the day of his death. And he almost did, because he was near his death when he learned Joseph was alive.
The book of Job deals with Job wrestling with his immediate afflictions. 2 Job, a book in heaven, deals with Job wrestling with the cart of afflictions, limitations and losses that follow in the wake of severe affliction. Many of those would have burdened his heart and his spirit.
So what’s the point of bringing all of this up?
Just this: When God visits affliction upon us, he also visits the limitations and losses that accompany it. The debilitating effects of grief and trauma, the brain fog, the lack of cognitive function, losing interest in things we once found joy in. Maybe we will withdraw from pursuing that second degree or certificate, or that side business we hoped would allow us to quit our day jobs. We might have to stop serving at that camp, or step down from teaching Sunday School, or resign from that position on the community board. Our capacity to take on such things could be limited. Some of those dreams need to be set aside, and they might even be lost.
These collateral limitations and losses can sometimes turn into afflictions of their own, birthed from that first affliction. How many marriages break up after child loss? How many afflictions bring with them job loss, career change, or the end of a dream?
We have good friends whose world has completely changed after affliction. The husband was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular degeneration. He worked in IT, running cables and keeping computers functioning. In time, he had to take a desk job, and then that was too much. He had to leave his occupation while his wife, who was a stay at home mom caring for their children, had to return to the workforce to be the sole breadwinner, while he took over the domestic duties of the home. Both of them saw their dreams, and their sense of role in the family, change dramatically. And as he continues to deteriorate, he won’t be able to care for the home, and will need to be cared for until this disease takes his life. Two of their boys have since been diagnosed with the same rare disorder. Every part of their lives has been impacted by limitations and loss brought on by this disease.
Losing a child not only brings grief and sorrow over the loss of that life, but it can inflict trauma. It can knock the wind out of your spirit, or bring cardiac arrest to your soul. You might just be at the place in your career where you are poised to reach those goals you have worked so hard for, but now that your child has died, you feel like your legs have been cut out from under you, and all of that skill, talent and experience you once had is in critical condition. It’s hard for you to even attend meetings, much less contribute anything of value.
This is what I experienced. Not only did I lose a son, I lost my brain and my heart, and in losing that, I have lost relationships, roles, and perhaps my career. By the time I recover, I may then be past my prime in life.
What is my response? The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. If I can embrace the reality that the Lord took away my son, I need to extend that trust in God to the other limitations and losses in my life. The Lord gave me my son; he gave me my skills and experience; he gave me my career, and I trust he gave me the goals I had for my life. What God gave, he can also take away. He can take them away one by one through a variety of unrelated means. He can also take them away through one affliction, one tragedy. He can take away that one card of our life that causes many others to fall down as a result.
God is in control of every detail of our lives, from the affliction, and from the limitations and losses that the affliction brings. Both the affliction and the cart of collateral damage that it pulls behind it are in God’s hand.
Charles Spurgeon takes it one step further. He sees this pile of problems to be by divine design for our work. In writing to seminary students and pastors, he says:
“These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness. They may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as a necessary qualification for his peculiar course of service.
Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail. A drag on the carriage wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill.
Pain has, in some cases, developed genius, hunting out the soul which otherwise might have slept like a lion in its den. Had it not been for the broken wing, some might have lost themselves in the clouds, some even of those choice doves who now bear the olive branch in their mouths and show the way to the ark.
Where in body and mind there are predisposing causes to lowness of spirit, it is no marvel if in dark moments the heart succumbs to them; the wonder in many cases is—and if inner lives could be written, men would see it so—how some ministers keep at their work at all and still wear a smile upon their countenances (from “When a Preacher is Downcast”, by Charles Spurgeon.)
Our afflictions, and the baggage they bring to our lives, could be placed there to produce qualities and circumstances in our lives to shape our character, our work, our lives, and ultimately, how we give glory to God. We need to embrace the first affliction, and embrace those that follow along with it. You are not outside of God’s will because of these added forms of suffering, limitation, or loss. They are all one.
We need to give ourselves the permission to deal with them, even when others can’t see it. We may need to step down from volunteer ministry to give ourselves time to heal. We need to hold up a shield against the fiery darts of our own self-deprecation for not handling things as well as we as we think we should. We need to cast off the expectation of others and their criticisms.
We also need the wise counsel of others who know us, who understand our suffering, and who have gone through these waters before. We shouldn’t go through our affliction alone. And I know that is a hard thing not to do.
You need to give yourself time to adjust to this new life, this new experience. You need time alone, without distraction, to work through this with God and his Word. Without the medicating salve of prayer and the surgeon’s hand found in Scripture, our adjustment will take longer. Do not neglect your soul in the midst of the disorienting landscape of your life. We need this tether to the hand of God. And we need to learn how to deal with our situation without being swallowed up by bitterness and despair.
Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking those he may devour. What do predators seek? They look for the weak and the wounded. Satan looks for us in our weakness, in our woundedness.
We aim so much strength and energy at the primary affliction, to respond in a godly, biblical, and victorious manner, and then, often, it’s those secondary, unexpected forms of affliction that catch us off guard and cast us to the ground.
Job wasn’t restored overnight. In fact, the Bible doesn’t use the term “restored” to describe Job. Job was blessed, not restored. Affliction can mark us for life. It’s often something we have to learn to live with, even when the first affliction has been cured.
What we do know is that Job trusted in God for all of his affliction. He trusted God for the inconceivable calamity that fell upon him, and he trusted God for the decades it took for God to bring him to the blessing of Job 42:10-17.