A complicated question stole my slumber for months.
A sudden, sharp pain scolded me for reasons I struggled to understand. It woke me up and kept me awake. I silently wondered “What is it?” and agonized over what the answer might be.
I winced in pain the next morning, and the next one after that too. My pain was complicated and confusing, and I felt trapped by the question I ached to answer.
Doctors and diets tried to help, tests and turmoil followed. Uncertainty bred anxiety and made everything worse. For months, fear kept me awake at night until finally, miraculously, we found gluten wreaked havoc on my body, and my doctor urged me to never eat it again.
And just like that, I went gluten free.
But regardless of that decision, my pain took a long time to fade. My body was free from one thing, but my heart was trapped by its memory. Fear intensified and taunted me, telling me a good God wouldn’t let something like that happen to me. The pain was loud, my patience thin, and unfamiliar food made life difficult.
Fear dared me to decide whether I would cower in despair or choose joy anyway. I kept moving, feigning courage while cowering inside, and questioning God’s goodness in the process.
Does that sound familiar?
Perhaps like me, the memory of what you lost cuts deep into the freedom that was supposed to be better somehow. Maybe you are free from what bound you before but trapped by a new sort of pain that made yesterday’s hardship seem better. And if you are really honest, maybe you wonder if God can be good in this uncomfortable place.
I lived in that place for a long time too.
Years passed. I learned how to manage without the gluten I missed. I cooked up a storm, covering up my cowardice with a can-do attitude until one day my sadness caught up with me, and I broke beneath the weight of so much change.
I was in the kitchen that day, frustrated with another failed attempt to get a new recipe right. My temper flared until my pretense crumbled. Tears came and I slumped to the floor, muttering “Why me?” between sobs.
A different question immediately stirred in my heart: “Why not you?” and I was surprised that God was right there with me in the middle of my temper tantrum. His question stopped my tears and made me think, and before long I asked myself questions I hadn’t considered before.
Do I feel entitled to a life without hardship? Why should I be protected from pain? Is my faith so shallow to believe I am somehow above suffering? Didn’t Christ himself say,“In this world you will have trouble”? (John 16:33 NIV)
As I pondered these things, my thoughts turned to stories of saints who endured troubles of all kinds, people like Paul and Stephen who watched their own world crumble despite their ardent faith.
Paul’s thorn in his flesh nagged him for life and Stephen’s brutal stoning took his life away—but neither circumstance stole the joy in their hearts.
Both pushed past pain to praise God anyway. I wished I were like them, but I realized in an instant I was more like the Israelites who bemoaned their problems instead of believing God’s promise.
Out in the wilderness, alone and upset—the circumstances of the Israel’s survival seemed confusing at best, calamitous at worst. No water. No food. No control over what would happen next. Fear stirred up anger, embittering their hearts and calling God’s goodness into question.
“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:3 NIV)
What is it about change that makes us question God’s goodness?
God dramatically rescued his favored people out of suffering and subjugation, and yet they still complained over food. Of course God had a plan for feeding them in that desolate place—and a good plan, at that.
Manna: sweet proof of God’s goodness sprinkled the ground each morning, but even something that tasted like honey wafers was not enough to appease their grumbling hearts. “What is it?” they asked about the bread straight from heaven.The bread was good; it was the change that was hard to swallow, so much so that going back to bondage seemed better.
“Again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’” (Numbers 16:4-6 NIV)
Their complaints sounded a whole lot like my own, and like them I was too busy focusing on what I lost to appreciate what I gained. My body felt great without gluten, but my heart grieved its loss. Gluten free living was peculiar and unwanted, and it stirred up sadness instead of satisfaction.
My body got better, but my spirit grew bitter. New food I struggled to understand filled my stomach, but it emptied my heart too, and I felt deserted and alone.
But if God faithfully fed and led that disgruntled group, why wouldn’t he do the same for me? What if God was leading me through my own wilderness because a promise waited on the other side for me, too?
“Why not me?” I murmured, all at once feeling heard and empowered. I wiped my tears and ambled to my feet, worn out and wobbly, but standing.
I started the recipe over again, whisking together unfamiliar ingredients as I whispered “I’m sorry. And thank you for all of this,” and at last, I really meant it. Grief-stricken and lonesome for the things I still missed, I dared to believe God’s promises are good, even in unfamiliar territory I do not quite understand.
I crawled into bed calmer that night because a simple question restored my slumber. Now I sleep in peace because I am content in this in-between place.
God sustains me right here with good things that minister to my body AND soul. The Unfamiliar food and unshakeable truth fill me up and keep me going.
Strange and satisfying as it may be, my manna is comforting and consistent too, and it keeps me dependent on God’s supply while I walk toward the promise of more.
I am certain it is waiting for me on the other side of this pain because HIS promise is always good—even when my circumstance is not.
God brought me through my wilderness as surely as he brought Israel out of theirs. He fed my body, and he fed my soul, and he satisfied me with good things. He taught me to live with a heart of gratitude for the magnitude of what he had done already regardless of what he would do next.
His promises are for you too: his faithfulness does not depend on your feelings. If you are stuck in a wilderness like I was, open your hands to receive what he is offering right where you are, and trust what he gives you is good—even here. Especially here.
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