I’ve prayed prayers that comfort, prayers that glorify, prayers that seem routine and empty, prayers that ask a lot or ask a little, angry prayers. Once, I prayed a scary prayer. A prayer where I wanted to shove all the words back into my brain and end with, “You know what, God? Nevermind! Amen!”
At the time of that prayer, this past winter, I had been drifting away from God. It wasn’t because I was mad at Him or because I was no longer “believing.” I was just doing really good in life. I had some stresses at work and school, sure, but my disease problems (usually my biggest problems) seemed to be on the back burner. I just didn’t feel like I needed God’s help anymore. I was praying and the words were just slipping from my mouth to the floor, not really going anywhere. I believed God was out there, but my praying was more out of obligation than desperation or joy. There was as much depth to it as a, “Hey, how are you?” “Good. See ya.” encounter with those old friends you haven’t spoken to much over the past few months. But life was feeling hollow despite how smoothly things were going.
People in church often talk about learning what God’s thematic plan for them is, whether it be to teach, become a missionary, be a caregiver, be a behind-the-scenes supporter, etc.. For me, it was always to endure hardships with a positive attitude and be a living testimony for God. That’s something I’ve firmly believed since high school, despite me very often giving into completely negative attitudes. So I was sitting there all nice and tidy in my life, feeling like the climax in my life had never been reached, that I had a testimony that was as simple as, “Things were rough, but I still go to church.” I felt like I was supposed to go through a tremendous storm and go through so much that it would be known only a power as incredible as God could get me out with a smile on my face.
So, I prayed to be broken so I could rediscover the strength found in relying upon God.
I expected maybe some job failures, bad grades, a sickness, or a break up at worst. I didn’t expect to go completely deaf, need a lung transplant, have all career plans ruined, and move to an unfamiliar place.
If you’ve kept up with this blog, you know I have drawn closer to God during this time. But I’ve been struggling with how I am supposed to “worship.” I’ve attended church a handful of times since becoming deaf, but just haven’t gotten anything out of it. I can’t hear preaching, can’t keep up with the singing, can’t keep up with group conversations in Bible studies. And where in-person fellowship used to energize me, it now exhausts me. I fell into the old trap they warn you about in Sunday school, of thinking that being a Christian is about doing “churchy” things. Yes, I was praying far more than I ever did before, and exploring more of the Bible. However, I’ve always believed you can’t be a Christian in isolation when the Bible puts such heavy emphasis on evangelism and community-based worship (church).
My last Sunday in Hawaii, I gave up on trying to follow the sermon by reading my pastor’s lips (sorry, Pastor James! Love you!) and went outside to read the Bible. I opened my Bible pretty randomly and read 2 Corinthians, a letter written by Paul to the church in Corinth. So much of what Paul wrote took my breath away. It was all just so relevant. There were two big takeaways for me.
- I must remember why I asked to be broken.
I wanted to be able to share an undeniable testimony to bring glory to God, even if at the cost of my own comfort. Paul wrote this beautiful passage when talking about bringing glory to God (not to ourselves):
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)
I’m not going to give up. While my body is dying, I want my spirit to only get stronger with each passing day, each passed trial. I want my joy to be adamantium and be able to publicly acknowledge that it is not of my own natural character, but of something bigger than me (trust me, I’ve lived much of my life without a drop of joy). Worship isn’t just singing songs or listening to sermons. Worship is also found in living a life that gives all glory to God, in the good times and bad.
Paul also confirmed the original conflict I had before this storm hit me:
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NLT)
- Isolation is a circumstance where I can still be an effective evangelist.
This part came, not necessarily from the words in 2 Corinthians, but from thinking about Paul in general. Paul was constantly finding himself under house arrest or in jail (but not during the time the letter was sent to Corinth). Despite this, he was one of the most effective missionaries to have ever lived. While in jail, he evangelized to other inmates and even the guards (Acts 28:31). I need to stop thinking of places I can no longer do that type of work in Hawaii and start focusing on what I can do in California. Attached to an oxygen line 24/7, only knowing four people in my area (including my parents), and being deaf, I sometimes think the feelings of isolation are unbearable. As an extrovert, I sometimes feel like a shadow of my past self. But I have the power of technology, I still have a mouth, I can leave my house when I want to. And my parents are a lot better than prison guards.
Speaking of technology, I now think of my blogging as a form of worship. It’s kinda like the letters Paul wrote from his house arrest in Rome. I want to encourage others and let them all know that I’m still pulling through! I want to be very open about my weaknesses, as he was, and ask for help when I need it. Paul was a man of many, many flaws, but he didn’t let isolation and suffering get in the way of him praising God for blessing him and others. I want this blog to be an active, fluid testimony that will survive beyond my time (unless WordPress goes out of business, I guess).
I am hopeful that it is in the plan for me to get a lung transplant and cochlear implants. I want to one day participate in the fellowship I used to, and I want to tell the story of how I once prayed to be broken so I could become whole again — both spiritually and physically (Job 33:19-33). Even if things don’t work out that way, I still want it to be a story of how I didn’t give up and went down with praise on my lips.
I know my friends who aren’t believers might not understand this. I know that you may think my response should be to angrily blame this chaos on God or on the inexistence of God. But I’ve tasted something very real that goes beyond human understanding. I hope you experience it one day too.