I broke my ankle playing soccer back in high school. It needed surgery, and the healing took months of casts and crutches and braces. I went to my junior homecoming dance wearing one glittery high heel and one orthopedic boot.
That, come to think of it, pretty much sums up my level of cool throughout high school. #nerdsunite
That ankle break occurred nearly two decades ago, but I still remember the ache. As I sat in class, crutched up the stairs, and lay in bed at night, the ache kept me company—faithful, painful, a constant throb in time with the beat of my heart.
“That’s good,” my doctor said when I complained. “It means it’s healing.”
The pain of healing is a hard pill to swallow. Surely, we think, if I’m getting better, things should be less painful, not more. Yet the process of getting better is rarely a comfortable one, whether the mending is physical, emotional, relational, or yes, even spiritual.
My husband and I spent the last year vibrating with financial stress. Our landlord decided not to renew our condo’s lease, and we’d been gradually priced out of Southern California. I’d taken on some additional part-time work, but that was just a drop in the bucket compared to the skyrocketing rents.
We weren’t sure what to do. Move away? We still felt called to the church we serve together as pastors. Rent a smaller place? A family of four can’t very well make it in a one-bedroom apartment. Live more frugally? I already cut my own hair, and both of our cars are over ten years old.
In my worst moments, I questioned God and everything he stands for. In my slightly better moments, I journaled and sobbed.
God, I wrote, if you’ve called us here, you’re going to have to solve this one. We need a home, and without your help, we can’t afford one.
The uncertainty and instability chipped away at my self-sufficiency, my self-reliance, my pride. I was angry with God for the many months of waiting, the open questions, the gut-wrenching fears.
“Perhaps,” our senior pastor said gently, “God has lessons for you in the uncertainty. In the waiting. Lessons that can’t be learned any other way.”
As the months ticked on and the end of our lease grew closer, I found my spirit aching with the impossibility of it all. We have nowhere to live, went my inner drumbeat. Nowhere to live. Nowhere to live. Nowhere to live.
Yet amid all the financial uncertainty, the kids still needed dinner and baths and books. New initiatives at church needed attention as they moved from theory to practice. The condo needed its floors swept and its carpets vacuumed, even if we’d only be living in it another month.
Missionary Jim Elliot once wrote, “Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.” He penned those words to his fiancée as they awaited their wedding day. I needed them stitched into my soul during our housing crisis. I longed for stability; God wanted to teach me how to trust him in the storm.
The ache wore on me. It aged me. It angered and saddened and exhausted me.
And to my utter amazement, it healed me.
Through the ache of waiting, God began the tough process of sanding down the sharp edges of my pride. The ache became the antidote to the serious strain of up-by-my-own-bootstraps-itis I’d suffered from my whole life. The ache slowed me down, brought me to my knees.
Desperation is a painful thing, but when you are desperate, God is everywhere. “Desperation is a good place,” a dear friend told me. “An awful, awful, awful place, but a good one too.”
My prayers shifted from diatribes against God’s unfairness (I guess I thought he owed me?) to simple requests. “God, you know our needs.” “God, we can’t do this without you.” “God, help me to wait until you show us the next step.”
I became especially fond of Anne Lamott’s “Help me, help me, help me.”
The ache stripped away my illusions of self-sufficiency, and I found, at the very bottom of the well of myself, more of the love of a God who went to the cross for me. Who himself had lived through uncertainty and promised never to leave his children on the road.
For the first time, these words of 2 Corinthians began to make sense to me: “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (6:10 NLT).
Where do you ache these days? What is God healing in you?
Photograph © Marina Vitale, used with permission