By Jerrod Byrne, Director of Worship & Arts
So, I’ve run into a few people who have been check’n out the “God Loves Goddard” blogs. One good friend of mine’s wife said, “When you were talk’n about the ‘Fireman,’ you weren’t talk’n about my husband were ya?”
No Ma’am, I was not, Your husband’s faith inspires me. And for the gal who’s been itching to hear what the “four-year illness” was, here comes the darkest chapter of my life.
Okay, quick recap: It’s May of 2005 and God has been politely tapping me on the shoulder. Due to my selfishness, arrogance and (my wife’s favorite) stubbornness, the tap wasn’t working, so I got punched right in the mouth. DISCLAIMER: Okay, before you email Pastor Elliott and ask him why his Worship & Arts Director is saying that God punches stubborn people in the mouth, hear me say … God never punched me (although I’ve certainly deserved it at times). What I’m saying is that I could’ve learned this lesson a much easier way, but due to my own fault, God allowed me to enter “The Pit.”
“The Pit” is a place that most of us have been in. If you haven’t, just wait, you will. See, God promised us that “in this life you will have trouble,” John 16:33. Now when I read that I think “trouble,” the kind I can handle, trouble that I’d rather not be annoyed with or bothered by, but manageable. What I don’t think about is the kind of trouble that paralyzes your will to wake up and live another day. The kind of trouble that tears at every fiber of your marriage and robs you of wanting to be a parent to your children. The kind of trouble that takes you to a place where you begin flirting with the idea that if this is the new reality of the game of life for me, maybe I’d rather not play anymore.
Let me define the place I found myself as I woke up that morning in May: “Chronic Pain.” Now you may be think’n, “That doesn’t sound so bad.” Well the problem with chronic pain is that you may deal with it ok at first, but eventually you become a product of how you feel, and if everyday you feel horrible for long enough, you become a horrible person.
I went to bed the night before feeling fine, and by “fine” I mean pain-free, selfish and remember, I was two different people who did NOT get along, kinda fine. I was a Jesus “fan” when I went to bed, and when I woke up, (I didn’t know it at the time), I would begin the lifelong journey of being a Jesus “follower.” I got out of my bed and within five minutes of being up that morning, I started having this cramping, spasm-type feeling in the right flank area of my back.
I had four years to learn how to describe this pain, and the best description is this: You know that soft area of skin between your thumb and your pointer finger? I’m not talk’n just about the skin, but if you use the thumb and pointer finger on your other hand and reach way back where you can feel the tendons, the real meaty part, now squeeze that until you can’t stand it, and then let go. You’ll notice that the pain doesn’t leave immediately; it lingers a bit as if to remind you of what just happened. That kind of pain hit my back in a single moment and would come and go at will. Maybe it did this for an hour, then gone a while, or maybe it decided to drill me all day long. (I will say it would start and stop a lot, but there were plenty of days when it was just flat relentless.)
My initial thought was that I had pulled something or over used a muscle perhaps. If you recall, I was a pretty intense mountain biker and I did my share of tumbling. I let it go the first few days. I couldn’t let anybody know I was hurt’n. (That would be far too smart. People might think I wasn’t the toughest thing go’n.) A week later, I called my doctor, and he prescribed some muscle relaxing pills (which did nothing). So I found myself in his office getting a steroid shot in my back — after all I was describing this as “cramping spasm-type pain.” Again, no help whatsoever.
I will fast forward this part a bit. I went to a chiropractor, acupuncturist, physical therapist, neurologist, orthopedic surgeon — you name it, no help. I even flew to New York to see a doctor who was a “muscle specialist” (which was a nightmare in itself). I found myself in serious trouble, and this time I couldn’t fix it. My attitude was tank’n, my will to do stuff with my wife and kids was disappearing. It was all I could do to go to work.
Lots of things began to change over the next three years. (That’s how long we searched and struggled to find any answers as to why this was happening.) It’s interesting how close you grow to God when you wake up every day and turn to him, all day, just to make it through. He literally took me down to ground level and started sculpting all over again, because I had become something so far from what he could work with. Piece by piece he was building me up, making me new.
Now hear me say this: We disagreed at times, I mean really disagreed. I’m talk’n the kind of disagreeing that finds you cussing at God. Oh yeah, I said it, I cussed him out, told him what I thought of all the spiritual progress “I” was make’n and how much “I” was doing, and his lack of empathy for my pain. If I’m totally honest, He p*#@ed me off, big time, more than once. After all, “I” had been do’n such a good job, the least he could do was answer this one little prayer of mine, and do it on “my” timeline. Please tell me this sounds familiar to some of you and I’m not on an island here.
Okay, for those of you who are still trying to catch your breath cause I cussed at God, let me help. This God we serve, and I’m talk’n about the Risen Lord, the Alpha and Omega, is ENORMOUS, and his love for us is SO GREAT that if it’s jealousy or trust, patience, lack of strength, anger, forgiveness or anything else that is squeezing the life out of you, he can take you further than you would ever want to go, knowing full well he’s gonna be the punching bag along the way, just to get you past it, cause he can take it, and GOD IS THAT AWESOME, and he LOVES you that much. Can I get an AMEN?
God knew I needed to talk to him that way. You see that way, when he brought me through the pit (in his time), I would know that he was a God who loves me — not because of my performance (because my performance was pretty pathetic at times, I think we would agree), but because I was his child. I’ll admit, I thought for a long time that God’s love for me was a ladder I moved up and down on. It’s not at all; it’s more like an ocean with no banks. Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” That tells me his love is based on his principles, not mine; I live under his grace, not my lack of grace. Come on, that’s just good stuff right there.
I look back at the evenings when I had to excuse myself from the dinner table because I couldn’t compose myself due to the pain, or all the times I told my kids “No, Daddy can’t play right now,” or the nights that my wife would listen as I told her this might be more than I’m willing to deal with. You know, let’s spend a minute talking about my wife. I’ll start by saying she’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. This woman has saved me from myself more than a few times. She fought for me through this dark season like William Wallace. She prayed for me, cried with me, and took on the responsibilities of mother, father, wife, husband, and anything else she had to be. She spent countless hours on the phone talking with different doctors, and even more time researching on the computer for anything that might shine a light on all this. You see, one of the horrible things I was dealing with was watching my wife’s life change because of me. I had a problem, it wasn’t her fault, yet she was being freight trained by it. I’ll wrap up with this: For a long time I came across as the “tough one,” the “strong one,” but she is without a doubt the toughest thing I’ve ever seen. Thank God for praying wives!
Here is a picture that describes where we’re at in the story …. On day one, I started praying that God would take this pain away so I could get back to the selfish life I was enjoying, and now three years in (and a lot of battle scars), I was praying that God wouldn’t take it away. (What is that all about?) I had become so dependent on him every day just to make it, I was afraid if he healed me I would go back to the same old me that only called on God when it was convenient or when something was broke that I couldn’t fix.
In the most “Do you trust me or not?” moment from God, I got challenged to follow him in a way that would surely leave everyone thinking I’m crazy. Jen and I were about to break; we had prayed so hard that God would intervene in a new way. We set out for a cruise, just the two of us, truly hoping to encounter more of God at this specific spot in our journey. Only this was no ordinary cruise. This would be God showing us just how big he is. Remember the “ocean with no banks” kinda love? We were about to swim in it….
Ephesians 4:22-24: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”