For five years, I lived with an unnamed illness that split my body wide open with pain every single night.
I’d seen doctors and had multiple tests and scans but always walked away with a clean bill of health. Except that I wasn’t healthy. I’d been stooped over with debilitating back pain that never allowed more than 2-3 hours of sleep per night. My hair had begun to fall out, my skin was broken out in strange, silvery patches that alternately itched, hurt, and bled. I was so consistently fatigued that I struggled to focus, especially when driving or reading. My body was so acutely aware of pain that it struggled to do much more than process the sensation.
Pain had become my new normal, the period at the end of every sentence.
And I’d learned to whisper the word chronic when I didn’t think people were paying attention. Traveling brought concerns of where I could refreeze my ice packs or warm up my heating pads. Would there be an upright chair in the room once I could no longer tolerate a bed? Would I be able to feel my right leg after the trip in the car? Would the shower be hot enough to provide some relief?
Home wasn’t much better, but it was at least manageable. Three hours of sleep at night was preferable to none.
I couldn’t fathom living a long, full life in that condition. I tried not to think about the future. There was only today. Now was all I could handle.
There was one particularly bad night in June, 2015.
I could find no position, no combination of medication, no rotation of ice and heat to alleviate my pain. I couldn’t stand, sit, or lie down without excruciating pain. My spine was a constant flame, pulled tightly in a vise of spasming, waves. Two-thirty in the morning found me shuffling across the floor in the front room of our house, hunched over in agony while my family slept. Moonlight filtered through the windows, casting a cold glow across the wood floor. Tears streaked my cheeks while I tried to find a rhythm of breathing that would still my racing pulse.
I was panicking.
And struggling to keep an even rate of breaths. I gasped for air while pain licked up and down my spine, hips, and legs.
The intensity of the pain clouded my vision, and I wondered if this was what the rest of my life would be. A cloudy, envelope of swelling, reverberating agony.
I prayed like a drowning man, like Hannah in the tabernacle, like a child stuck on the edge of a cliff, like David in the cave of Adullam, like Peter sinking on the sea of Galilee.
Fiercely, I prayed that God would heal me.
Desperately, I prayed that my faith would be strong until He did.
I was so weak. In body, in mind, in spirit, in faith.
Pain had robbed me of loyalty, and I despaired of ever being anything other than its slave.
In the quiet of that wrenching night, the Lord spoke to me.
Not in some special form of revelation.
But in words I’d read and held on to from Scripture—
- He would never leave me or forsake me.
- Though I walked in the valley of the shadow of death, I knew that He was with me.
- I could hold on to Him because He has taken hold me.
- He heard my appeal for mercy.
- He could give me faith, even when I was afflicted.
- Nothing could separate me from His faithful love.
I didn’t have to worry so much about holding on to Him.
Because He was holding on to me.
The next morning I sat uncomfortably at my piano and wrote “Hold Me Fast” in one swift outpouring of words and chords. I pictured Peter walking on the water with Jesus while the choppy waves of the Sea of Galilee roiled and churned beneath their feet. The rolling notes of the piano riff in the song are meant to emulate that churning of the waves. When fear pulled at his ankles, Peter began to sink, his eyes off of Jesus and centered on the severity of the storm.
In that troubled place where fear and faith converge, Peter cried out for Jesus to save him.
Jesus didn’t just grab Peter’s arm. He also calmed the sea.
He was showing Peter who He was.
A week after writing “Hold Me Fast,” we began recording the album. And it’s funny that what is now the title track nearly didn’t make it on to the album because it didn’t yet exist. It took a dark night and the paralyzing grip of pain to be born, and I’m so thankful that it did because in the clench of pain, I discovered that Christ is always present in the midst of it. When the dark night of the soul tears at your faith, clawing holes in your sanity and leaving tattered shreds of hope–in that convergence of fear and faith: this is when you see that faith is a gift, and that suffering is what makes it shine.
In the fall of 2015, I was finally diagnosed with a rare, genetic autoimmune disease, and to date, I have been in remission for one year. I have no guarantee that I will stay well in regard to this particular disease, but one thing I know—the Lord will never leave me alone in my pain. He will demonstrate His faithful love to me by reminding me of His character, by persevering my faith, by deepening my trust in Him.
Knowing Him in the crucible of physical pain prepared me to stand firm when sorrow came knocking on my door mere months after I wrote the song. God has never wasted my suffering. He has only loved me deeply in it.God has never wasted my suffering. He has only loved me deeply in it. Click To Tweet
I know that sounds illogical in a culture of permissive love. But the paradox of the gospel is that God is greater than our hearts, and if suffering is the means by which He can help me to see His goodness, then I can learn to say with Job, “blessed be the name of the Lord.”
How could I know that He is my refuge if I didn’t need a place to hide?
How could I know that He is my comfort, if not for pain and sorrow?
Pain may have held me tightly in its grasp, but Jesus held me tighter. It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I could learn to trust His Word.
“Hold Me Fast” is the title track from my new album Hold Me Fast. You can purchase it wherever you buy music online (iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp).
Scriptures referenced in this post:
- I Samuel 1-2, 22
- Deuteronomy 31:6
- Psalm 23
- Philippians 3:12
- Psalm 116: 1, 10
- Romans 8:38-39
- Matthew 14:22-33
- Psalm 119:71