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 (Manna 49: After God's Heart)
Accept and Trust the Lord
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Accept and Trust the Lord

Anessa Liew — Cambridge, United Kingdom

Unexpected Trouble

Although I knew that back problems ran in my family, I never thought they would affect my life or my faith in the way that they have.

I suffered my first prolapsed disc at the age of fourteen. I rolled out of bed one morning to find that I couldn’t move. An excruciating pain shot down from my lower back to my right leg. Shocked and scared, I literally crawled out of my bedroom to find my mother.

Since she used to be a nurse, I trusted that she could explain to me what the pain was. She calmed me and explained that one of my discs had probably slipped out of place. I thought, “How? I’m so young! This kind of thing only happens to really old people!”

Despite the pain of moving around, my body was young and within two weeks the pain dissipated and I was able to continue with my daily life. I didn’t understand the medical ins and outs of that experience, but I felt that as long as my family was looking after me, I didn’t need to.

That back episode, however, was the first of four—each one more painful and more difficult to recover from, as my body weakened under the wear and tear the prolapsed disc was causing.

By the time I went to university, I had completely forgotten about the painful experience. One evening in my first year, I was walking to my student flat and heard a distinct ‘pop’ sound in my lower back. Suddenly that area in my back became stiff, forcing me to hobble slowly. I wasn’t worried and that night as I lay in bed, I confidently prayed and felt that God would undoubtedly heal me as quickly as before.

But some things don’t turn out the way we expect them to. After a week, I was bedridden and reliant on painkillers. I couldn’t move, sit or stand for the pain and eventually had to leave and defer my first year at school.

The journey home with my mother, aunt and sister was torturous. For three hours I cried continually in the car and there was nothing my family could do for me. I couldn’t believe I was leaving university after all the excitement of going and the courage I had mustered leaving my family behind in the first place.

Once at home I became depressed. I refused to eat or drink and weakened physically and spiritually. My prayers, which at first were strong, became fewer and far between. I often lost the will to pray and I felt that God had closed Himself off from me. Some days were easier but most days I even lost the will to live.

I was bedridden for three months before I started to make a slow recovery. One day my sister said to me, “Move, get out of bed—otherwise you’ll stiffen up so much you’ll be paralyzed.” She almost shouted the words at me, and something in her voice and what she said jolted me out of my self-pity.

Slowly and painfully I started to move a bit each day until the pain gradually lessened. Eventually, after another three months, my back improved and I was ready to return to school. Moreover, my spiritual self had also recovered and I no longer indulged in the self-pity and hopelessness in God that had previously pulled me down.

Incredibly, a few weeks before returning to university, my back gave way again and my mind raced with fear, shock and disbelief. Determined to see through my first year of school, I decided to go back despite my condition. Although I couldn’t attend lectures or seminars, I somehow managed to write the essays and take my exams, getting good grades along the way. And through the support of some church friends who happened to be nearby, my spirits stayed high.

After a successful first year I was looking forward to a pain-free and fresh start to my second year. That feeling of confidence I had become used to, however, fast faded. After my second week, one small movement stiffened my body. The same familiar pain spread through my lower back and right leg. For the third time shock and disbelief washed over me.

I hobbled to the doctor’s while fighting back tears. I was prescribed bed rest and painkillers. The rest of that semester passed similarly to my first year. But my church friends had moved on to other places, so my housemates looked after me as much as they could. So many times I felt like shouting to God, “Why are You playing with me? What do You want? Don’t You realize I can’t take this anymore?”

Diagnosing My Faith

Even though I battled inwardly between self-doubt and trust in God, I believe my family suffered as much as I did. The helplessness of my physical situation and the sheer length of recovery time put strain and pressure on my family. Frustration turned to anger and often family fights would break out between me and my siblings.

Although no one said anything directly to me, I found out that some church members had suggested maybe God was punishing me because of sins and that my faith in God’s power was weak. Their words hurt because they questioned my relationship with God. Not only that, I knew that my situation had now begun to reflect badly upon my family.

Moreover, my grand-aunt would continuously relate testimonies about miraculous recoveries from illness and the power of faith and prayer to me. At first they were comforting, but after a short while they simply became irritating. Instead of being encouraged, I felt they patronized my situation.

Although I was initially angered and hurt by the judgments and criticisms I subtly received from others, it was soon replaced with self-evaluation. Had I sinned so terribly that God was punishing me? Was my faith so weak that I couldn’t touch God to heal me?

Whether or not their judgments were right, they planted in me a seed of doubt—spurring me on to reflect on my past behaviors and my faith. I started to think about the state of my relationship with God.

Looking back, I now understand my tribulations opened a way for me to re-evaluate where my faith was going. Self-evaluation may not have helped my physical condition but it was the start towards my spiritual healing.

Having said that, though, I also realized that it ought not to have taken a prolapsed disc to jolt me into self-reflection. Whatever situation we’re in, it doesn’t cost us anything to examine ourselves and be honest with God about our faith in Him. Only by opening up our doubts and fears to Him can we start to renew and rebuild our faith.

Road to Recovery

I vacationed in Malaysia during the winter break of that school year. It was during my stay there that I got an MRI scan, which was the first time I had visuals of the inside of my body.

The scans were both enlightening and difficult to accept. They showed two severely prolapsed discs that almost cut off all nerve supply in my spinal canal. Major surgery involving a two-month recovery time to relearn how to walk was strongly recommended. In truth, the news terrified my family and me. Moreover, surgery could have adverse effects and I could suffer permanent nerve damage or worse, paralysis.

After returning home, I felt stuck in a bit of a dead end. What did God want me to do? I knew it was Him who guided me to get the scans done in the first place, but did that mean He wanted me to go ahead with surgery?

It so happened that after I returned home and while I stayed with my sister in London, we came across some chiropractors in a shopping mall who were promoting their treatment. I had nothing to lose so I quickly made an appointment for an examination and x-ray. The x-ray showed more bone complications: not one but two vertebras had slipped forward causing more complications in my pelvis and legs.

The chiropractors explained that through a series of bone manipulation, they could normalize the function in my lower back and legs. I felt hope for the first time in eight years. Finally an answer seemed to open for me. I believe that from getting the scans in Malaysia until then, God had been nudging me towards this cleaner, safer treatment. Since then, thank God I have not suffered any relapses.

There Is No Quick Fix

Although my suffering was long and painfully endured, this is not to say God was never by my side—it’s just that more often than not, that is how it felt. There are times when God doesn’t work in the ways we expect or want Him to. I now realize that God wanted me to go through the suffering I experienced.

For me, a quick miracle may not have been the best way for me to heal or reconcile myself to God. Because when it comes to whatever pain we may be suffering at the time, God knows how much we can handle and how much we can’t. Even though I was tempted many times to give up on my faith and on life, He delivered His promise:

            ….God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13)

Like my physical recovery, my spiritual restoration was also long and arduous. Little by little, slowly and gradually, my faith progressed and my relationship with God strengthened. But like anyone going through physical, emotional or spiritual pain, a journey of restoration can be riddled with relapses, and our path to renewal with God doesn’t happen overnight. There is no quick fix for broken faith. Just as my back took time to heal, so did my faith.

Now that I am physically better, it doesn’t mean that I take a break from strengthening my faith and renewing myself. Often when we achieve our goals or when we come through tribulations triumphantly, we feel as though we can reduce our need and fervor for God. The danger though, is that if we do fall back into tribulations, we can also easily fall into a spiritual regression.

It is important to be patient and understand that we may only be able to walk through our spiritual recuperation, not run. It can be at times very long and very painful. But just like a father to his child, God will be with us every step of the way.

Accepting and Trusting

During my illness I often oscillated between acceptance and trust. Sometimes I could accept my physical state yet I didn’t trust God to heal me. Other times I trusted that God had the power to relieve my pain yet I refused to accept why I was suffering.

The result was frustration both at myself and at God. What I didn’t realize then, but do now, is that acceptance and trust are intrinsic to each other. We can’t separate them because if we do, what results is a vicious circle and dead end for spiritual healing.

To accept really means understanding whatever is happening to us is for a good reason, and that if we trust God then we will have no need to worry. Likewise, to trust Him means that we know we can leave everything in His hands, which allows us to accept our situation with comfort and peace.

Paul also experienced great physical suffering. In 2 Corinthians, he writes that despite his prayer to God to relieve it, God chose not to. And instead of losing faith, Paul trusted God’s will and accepted his pain by remembering Jesus’ words to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

He turned something negative into something positive, realizing that in weakness, he could be strengthened. His faith in God refreshed a peace within him that allowed him to praise and glorify God.

So even though we feel we want to give up at times, or God isn’t sending us fantastic miracles, we need to remember that He will never allow us to be tempted more than we can handle. Whatever the trial, we can always find comfort in knowing that God’s grace will carry us to the other side.

Though the journey may be long and arduous, He is able to heal our broken selves back to Him. So let us surrender to His will with trust and acceptance, and let us allow God’s peace to enter our hearts and strengthen our failing faith and weak wills. For He has promised us that He will be with us always.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church