“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
“To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.”
-St. Theresa of Avila
A few days ago I went to the dentist for the second time in a month. Clearly, I am a girl who knows where to go to have a good time. I wish I could say I got hooked up to some kind of magical sleepy drug machine while my teeth were sprinkled with fairy dust and made shiny white, but real life is never that exciting. I went because there is a strange, foreign, alien dull-aching pain in the right side of my mouth, and I hoped someone could FIX ME.
Turns out I am a medical anomaly, a freak, a case for the books!
Actually that is a lie. The dentist thinks I’ve had something caught in my gums for a month. This is what’s causing the tiny-massive-elephant-sized-bit-of-pain I’m experiencing. As he dug around my gums with that tiny Captain Hook tool, I closed my eyes and distracted myself by remembering the parables of Jesus- mainly the bit of leaven in the dough, the fox in the vineyard, and the speck in the eye.
Ah, yes, the speck in my eye.
I drove home from the dentist, mulling over the fact that ten days ago I went to the optometrist because I really did have something caught in my eye. The pain was unbearable. It turned out that my faithfulness to my skin regimen/middle-aged vanity had finally caught up to me. A tiny microbead from some anti-aging facewash was embedded in my eye. The doctor USED A NEEDLE to remove it. I felt like I was in some kind of Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller and she was about to harvest my visual memories. Not at all disturbing.
In order to avoid either of these things happening again, I plan to never wash my face or eat in the future. It seems the wisest course of action.
But with two bizarre doctor visits behind me, I'm beginning to wonder if I have become some sort of modern day Old Testament prophet. (Because that is totally possible.) The more things I have dug out of my head, the more I feel the need to warn the world that my trial of pain is surely a sign.
I just wish I knew what the sign meant. A proper prophet should know the meaning of her prophetic tribulation. So maybe I'm not a prophet after all, but just a common, everyday paranoid woman with stuff stuck in her eye and teeth. In fact, it’s entirely possible that these inconvenient, uncomfortable problems of mine aren’t a sign at all, but an invitation. Most of the really hard things in life seem to be invitations when we get down to the heart of them. God parts the Red Sea of our comfort and convenience, and invites us to cross over and learn who we really are, how much we really need Him, how little we can really save ourselves.
For so many years of my life, I thought that pain and suffering, conflict and confusion were the worst part of life. If they were invitations, I thought they were invitations to some kind of ultimate fighting cage match, created for the sole purpose of proving my inadequacy.
I am finding that all the unbearable things are gifts. I get happy blessings from God, too, but these unbearable gifts are a kind of delicacy. I unwrap them and set them on the shelf of my soul, awaiting their full revelation. Happy blessings have brightened my life. Unbearable things have carved space for more of Jesus in my soul because I can't carry them alone.
The thing caught in my eye and my tooth is probably just my tendency to try to be the center of my own life.
My eye and my tooth and all my other trials remind me I’m supposed to need grace and patience and straight-up salvation. To need is not a weakness, to be broken is not shameful. Unbearable things tell me to kneel down, and ask for help when the darkness surrounds us.
So this is me today, on my knees, tired, weary, a pain in my eye and my tooth inviting me deeper into the peace of Christ that never makes sense, and yet always ends my striving. The speakers in the living room are blasting some sad, soulful songs and I'm waiting for all the stuck things in my head to come loose. I want to know freedom and grace and total dependence on a faith I will never be able to see or taste or hold in my hands, but is more real than any cure a doctor could prescribe.
I am answering God's invitation to know Him better by refusing to wish all my problems to disappear. I think that's the beginning of the joy James 1 offers us, and it's certainly a step closer to the courage St. Theresa wrote about. I'll take it.