I'm seated in a hospital room right now, looking out at the Pittsburgh skyline as my daughter sleeps on a medical gurney. She's tired after a morning of scans: MRIs, CT with contrast, CT without contrast. And now we await her monthly immunotherapy infusion and an appointment with her amazing oncology team.
We're just chillin'.
Actually, I've had one of the most peaceful days in a long time, with long bouts of silence and quiet, as I put on my classical music Pandora station, checked emails, graded student work, and waited. The radiology team let me into a small, private waiting area with a bathroom nearby, and no one else around. It was heavenly.
Waiting Rooms are aptly named. Also, sometimes we are in seasons of life in which we are in the liminal space of a cosmic Waiting Room. Or, maybe it's more truthful to say that some of us are more acutely aware of Waiting than others, due to life and circumstances, but we are all waiting, to some extent.
Romans 8:22-25 says:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
This is the first year in three years in which we don't have a major surgery planned for my daughter. I am so, so, so grateful!
We do not have to await the scheduling of an unknown type of surgery with an unknown outcome. We can stay the course as our daughter undertakes the wonderful medical innovation that is immunotherapy. And yet it isn't without its difficulties.
I want to write about the psychology of faith, and there is so much to say, Biblically and theologically about one of my favorite topics: faith (I know, I know, I'm one of those people who has a lot of favorite topics. But, I promise, this is way up there!).
A.W. Tozer and Simone Weil made such an impact on me in their descriptions of faith. They opened my eyes to the truth that the best synonym for faith is probably trust.
Back in 2018, I wrote this journal entry:
What is faith? A lifting up of the eyes, as the Israelites did with the bronze serpent (Simone Weil and A.W. Tozer). A leaning on a pillar. An opening of your mouth to eat and receive Christ (Walter Marshall). A reaching out one's hand. In all the images, we are a drowning, bound people that can take only the most basic and rudimentary step as a means of receiving grace.
I would add now that, more than Weil and Tozer, Jesus Himself used this imagery and these teachings regarding faith. We get all focused on the "born again" part of Jesus' teaching to Nicodemus during that nighttime visit. But Jesus explained further what He was talking about:
You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3: 10-15)
We struggle over faith and works and our part and God's part. Maybe we don't think we do, and maybe we think this was all settled during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, but I disagree.
I would argue that, by and large, Christianity these days falls either into Antinomianism (seeing ourselves as freed by grace from Mosaic law and therefore viewing the very idea of obedience and spiritual disciplines as legalistic...or at least, this is an excuse in the back of our minds to be disobedient and spiritually lazy) or we translate our obedience to the public sphere rather than the spiritual one and attack with moral and religious fervor all the wrongs of the world (on the left or the right, depending on one's inclination).
So, we either eschew works or we reframe them to be unrecognizable from a Biblical standpoint.
Where is faith in all of this?
Jesus says we should be like the Israelites in the wilderness, looking up at that weird snake statue that Moses made, as a symbol of what would heal them. They were in the wilderness literally surrounded by snakes that were biting them, and they were helpless to save themselves from this terrible dilemma. So, God told them to look up. Look up at something representing their sin (because they were being afflicted because of what they had done), and be saved.
This is Jesus' answer in John 3 for what it even means to be born of faith. He says that anyone who "believes may have eternal life in him," but his sentence right before this statement explains what He means by belief. It means to look up to God. Look up to Jesus on the cross. Jesus is literally teaching that that strange deliverance of the Israelites in the wilderness was a foreshadowing of Him being lifted up, "being" sin for us, so that we could look upon Him (i.e. trust, have faith in) and be saved.
Faith is keeping our eyes on Jesus. This involves a lot of waiting. Which makes sense, if time is a dimension and God, as Creator, is outside of it. His ways are not our ways. His time is not our time.
I have encountered many people, through their writings and in person, who would say that they wouldn't remove the suffering that they have gone through or are going through in their lives, knowing now the spiritual impact that it had on them. Most who write about suffering admit that there is literally no better way to grow our faith. Which is probably why, God in His strange mercy, allows us to suffer. He knows that our total salvation (and also, the full restoration and redemption of the world) is the ultimate goal. It is worth it in order to get there.
Doesn't feel like it, though, when you're waiting and have no idea whether your life is about to become disastrous or you'll make it through.
Somehow our prayers make a difference as well, in some mysterious way. Prayers in the Bible are likened to incense rising before God. In the priesthood of all believers, we have a priestly role to lift one another up before the Lord.
We were lifted up yesterday as we waited for scans, waited for test results. From the moment I got up, I felt it. It was a supernatural sense of peace and well-being. It was almost like a sci-fi movie, where something happened to the lead character such that he or she knew that he was invulnerable and that anything undertaken in that state would be successful. Or, like Invincible Mario in Super Mario Bros.!
Literally carried by the prayers of many friends and family, prayers that God heard and responded to, inside of time, outside of time, in a physical dimension, in a spiritual dimension--wherever!
And I've been learning to just wait on Him.
As my friends and family know, Isaiah 43 has been our go-to passage through all of this. God tells us that He will be with us in the midst of waters and rivers and fire. That in itself is of supreme comfort. But I wonder whether the additional promises, such as "they will not sweep over you," and "you will not be burned," are more matter-of-fact statements that because one is going through suffering and because God is right there alongside us we will be in such a state that these severe problems (which God doesn't promise He'll remove, by the way) will not hurt as at all. In fact, I wonder whether this is the logic: We will not be burned or swept away because the Lord is with us and He is with us because God is "near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).
We will not be in that state of peaceful waiting without these trials of fire and water. I don't know why he doesn't give them to everybody equally, but the monastics and early Christians looked at suffering a whole lot differently than we do today, much more in keeping with James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Look at that--faith mentioned right there in this passage. I think we often see faith as something you either have or you don't have, but the New Testament has numerous passages showcasing the "in-progress" nature of faith this side of heaven. Faith must be tested in order for it to grow.
Where is the psychology in all of this? This is a full-bodied, holistic antidote to some pretty devastating emotional states. Fear and anxiety are crippling, and are afflicting so many in our world right now. Peace and trust and reliance on the Lord and allowing yourselves to be trained in this way are not only good for us spiritually, but emotionally and mentally as well. The subfield of the Psychology of Religion is full of research on the benefits of meditative practices, among other spiritual disciplines. All truth is God's truth, and the Lord knows what is best for us. The very practices that draw us closer to God and help us to be mindful of Him as we go through life's difficulties are the ones that are so very good for us psychologically. Consistent across many religious systems is the evidence that we can get ourselves into states mentally in which we are just not as thrown and concerned by the reliably inconsistent and frustrating circumstances in which we frequently find ourselves. We can indeed wait on the Lord and trust in Him, and those words "wait" and "trust" can be a physical, mental, and emotional reality for us.
A song, drawn directly from Psalm 27, has been with me since an amazing worship conference at Calvin University earlier this year. I felt in my spirit that when I came to God with my troubles, His answer was, "worship me." Translate trials into true praise.