Overnight my world had changed, I woke up with nerve pain in my hands, arms, feet and legs, it was burning and stinging all over; just the day before I was fine. Soon, I had fatigue, dizziness, headaches, muscle weakness and my tendons became loose and painful. Each day was worse than the next, I lost over 25 pounds within two months and it became difficult just to walk. Thirteen specialists later and a multitude of test, everything had come back negative. The doctors had no answer for what was wrong with me.
The questions that kept haunting me were, “Where is God in all this”? “Why doesn’t He do something”? “Why does He hate me so much”? “If He truly loved me why would He let this happen to me?” I thought of all the things I should repent of to get His approval and hopefully be healed. “If I just performed better and changed my behavior, then God would help me.” My entire life, I’ve never believed that God liked me, much less loved me. I knew me, and I didn’t like me, self-hatred abounded. “He knows me for who I really am, so no wonder I’m going through these problems.” This was my true belief system after having been a believer in Jesus for over forty years and a minister for over eleven years. The illness did not cause the heart attitude, but it did reveal it.
I decided to seek a counselor and Hannah was who God led me to. As a man, I was not really excited about going through counseling with a woman, but the Lord made it clear He wanted Hannah to be my counselor, so I contacted her, and we began a journey into some pretty dark and hidden stuff in my soul and heart. As we worked together, the Lord began to show me the lies I had believed about myself and Him. I grew up with a mother who rejected me, and a father who was passive and emotionally distant. My emotional concept of God was: there is something very wrong with me, so I need to perform to receive His acceptance and love, if I behave in a way that pleases Him, He might be willing to give me His love and approval, occasionally, but only if I am consistent (the relationship is all on me, what a load to bear). Self-effort, shame, performance and condemnation was the foundation of my relationship with God. I hated myself and lived with an ongoing inward anger and resentment toward God and women that was hidden deep in my heart, but growing like a cancer.
Over time, as Hannah and I unpacked the emotional bags, Jesus began to reveal the false identities and beliefs that had kept me mentally and emotionally tied up and imprisoned. Slowly I handed Him all the idols I trusted in, instead of running to Him each moment. He began to reveal to my heart, who He really is: a loving Papa father who doted over me and thought about me every moment of every day, whose love is unconditional and based solely on who He is, not what I do or accomplish. My acceptance was based on my new birth in Christ, and now I was His son. He was not my mother and father with their flawed version of love (though I know now they loved me the best that they could, considering their own hurts and hang-ups).
I gave Him all the horrible junk in my heart and said, “here Father, you have to clean it out, I can’t,” those were beautiful words, “I can’t, you can.” I’ve learned to repeat them to remind me, it’s His life in me, not my life working for Him. I’m His loved, cherished and adored child, nothing can separate me from His love. In my weakness is His opportunity to love me and other people through me.
The story isn’t over, I’m learning to live with an unknown illness and its effects (though some of the symptoms have improved for which I am grateful) while abiding in Jesus each moment with thanks. And I haven’t arrived yet in my concept of God as a gracious, amazing, loving Papa Father and Jesus as my very life. I find myself defaulting back to old identities and beliefs, running to idols that can’t help, and each time my Papa Father takes my hand and says, “come dance with me Scott, I love you!” I’m learning to receive His overwhelming, abundant, extravagant love and grace in Jesus, abiding in Him as MY LIFE, not asking Him to somehow help me do better. I’m learning to forgive Scott for all his past junk, and to love him in the moment, as one created in God’s image. How strange it is to love the person God made me to be, instead of loathing and despising myself, and to experience Jesus each moment who is my rest, rather than living in constant anxiety and fear.
I’m thankful to Hannah for her encouragement, patience and gentleness each time we met. I kept bringing up all the whys, she kept pointing me to Jesus Himself who lived in me and His true and genuine love for me. I know what it feels like to have ongoing physical and emotional pain and wonder, “does God care, am I of any value to Him, does He really love me?” The answer is “YES”, and I’m a testimony to His extravagant love and grace!