Suffering (Part 3 of 3): God Will Never Test You Beyond Your Strength

torn_copyPain is awful.
 

Suffering can be unbearable, and unthinkable. Especially when the source of our torment is the suffering of someone we love, like our children, the discomfort can be extraordinary.
 

There is within scripture and Christian tradition the idea the God will never give us more pain, or a greater trial than we can handle.
 

Recently I noticed a couple articles online which argued the opposite: that God will overwhelm us.
 

In order to believe this a person must hold a very narrow interpretation and understanding of the commonly cited quote from 1 Corinthians 10, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength.” Beyond that, if we take two known characteristics of God, that He is both all-powerful and all-loving, then this also supports the notion that God would never test us beyond our limit.
 

Within suffering, powerlessness rears its ugly head. Our limitations and finiteness become apparent. That can be a terrifying realisation, but one from which the greatest drop of truth is born. In our helplessness comes the knowledge of our need for help, for divine assistance.
 

Those who seek to fight the crashing waves of suffering on their own are inevitably crushed and thrown about. Though a person may survive the onslaught, they emerge with jadedness, with anger. Either that, or they emerge with a dwelling attachment to suffering and the battle that surrounds it.
 

When you suffer, beg the Lord of all mercies for help!
 

He will come to your aid.
 

Not in the way you might expect or want, but He will come.
 

Do not forget, reliance on God is not a one off, once and done kind of deal.
 

Relying on God in our suffering means repeated prayers, a constant personal reminding, a striving to turn again and again, back towards He who can give peace in the world’s worst turmoil.
 

God will never give you more than you can handle.
 

Our human strength is frail, it is inevitably empty.
 

If it is our own strength which we seek to rely upon, then yes, we will encounter trials which are too great.

 

God always offers the grace, but it is up to us, the receivers, to accept it.
 

Like a tool with no one to wield it, without acceptance grace is impotent.
 

The notion that God will give us more than we can handle is a flawed one which extols the “glory” or significance of our suffering above God’s grace and love. Even if, as most of these articles point out, being overwhelmed leads to the knowledge that we need God.
 

One man claimed that this promise is not in scripture and remarks that the line from 1 Corinthians 10:13 is about temptation and not suffering. It is actually about both:
 

God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”
 

In every form of suffering we have a choice: to rely on our own strength, or to trust in God’s.
 

To rely on our own is a temptation, and a serious one because it can lead to despair, the greatest separation from God’s mercy. It is pride that motivates us to shirk God’s help, and it is from this pride that God gives us ‘a way out’. The choices we make during our suffering is exactly what Paul is writing about. He asks us to trust God.
 

Trust placed in God is never in vain.
 

If we only trust Him so that the world may unfold in our image, it is folly.
 

Some struggle just to be able to accept that good may come from suffering. Those who can accept this reality often endure suffering only because they have their own notion of what they hope to accomplish through it. It is no wonder then, that the pain becomes too much, because they hope for something which has never been promised.
 

When we plan out for ourselves what good things we will receive from our suffering, we will be overcome. When we seek to embrace suffering only on a temporary basis; we will be overcome. When we attempt to utilize suffering for our own ends; we will be overcome.
 

Only when we embrace suffering with complete openness and abandonment to God’s mercy, plan, and love, will we have the grace–and as a result the strength–to endure anything.
 

‘God will give you more than you can handle is satan’s motto.
 

He spreads this notion because he wants people to lose absolute trust in God’s goodness.
 

For a God who delivers His followers into snares from which they cannot escape is either not loving or not powerful enough to deliver them.
 

The evil one glosses over this lie with notions of compassion and understanding. He whispers that if we don’t acknowledge the lie we are not compassionate towards those who suffer. When if fact, we steal from those suffering the very tool to find help immediately, not after defeat.
 

One author introduced the idea that Jesus had claimed that the passion was too much for Him, that in His agony in the garden he paraphrased this to God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
 

And He went al ittle beyong them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
 

Shortly after He continues, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
 

If it was too much, Jesus would have fled. He would not have given His will up to that of His Father.
 

Instead, Jesus handed Himself over to his own crucifixion. He who could have called legions of angels to his assistance. Instead He humbled Himself to embrace torture, beatings, slander, and eventually death. It was not too much, because Christ allowed it to happen, he willingly participated in his own execution.
 

The immensity of Christ’s suffering should never be confused with a bowing of His will before the pain.
 

In imitating Christ, we must all willingly lay down our lives in our sufferings. Our emotional reaction to suffering does not have to become our actions. We must acknowledge that without God our trials are too much, but with Him, in God’s love, we can do everything. God never gives us more than we can handle, because he also supplies the grace.
 

While staying at a community in Ontario I was suffering under immense pain and confusion. To find help I asked a question to three of the communities leaders: “What do you do if you’re overwhelmed?”
 

They responded, “Stop relying on yourself.
 

It is time to draw ourselves up, out of self-pity, and into God’s love!
 

Suffering is the precursor to glory if we remain in His grace!
 

Do not lose heart, but bear your afflictions with joy. For He who has created the universe, He who has risen from the dead, will also carry you through your current hardships and into a life so resplendent and glorious that this current moment of suffering will seem like a distant, faded memory.file8781234480355

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Suffering (Part 2 of 3): If God is so Good, Why do People Suffer?

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If your a sucker for repetition, look into a video or online story about a great tragedy in which either the author, or a commenter, thanks God for the salvation of the people involved.
 

If the article is broadly popular soon after you will see comments like, “If God is so good for saving this one person, why did he let the others die?” Or, “If God is loving and all powerful why did he let this tragedy happen in the first place?”
 

Rather than being genuine curiosities, these comments are sucker punches directed at the weak stomach of a suffering soul.
 

This ridicule is lacking in a proper understanding of human life. Those who wield them fail to fully include all elements of their own argument.
 

If God exists and is all loving and all powerful, as we Christians claim, then the reality of the soul is a fact. If the soul does exist then eternal life is a question of real importance. Thus, if God truly loves us, which we believe, then His chief concern is our eternal life, above all else.
 

That means that freedom from suffering and death are part, but not all of, the life of the soul, which is eternal by nature.
 

This very reality was exemplified by the God we believe in.
 

Not only does he treat us as a parent lovingly treats a child, but He went one step further and lived out suffering as we must.
 

Christ is the living example of pure goodness, pure love. What did He receive for being the unblemished lamb? Death, brutal death, at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans. Where was our supposedly good God then?
 

For Christians the crucifixion is not the end of the story, but the beginning:
 

This saga calls us to a greater intimacy, a greater understanding of this mysterious and often ridiculed God.
 

To heal only our physical sufferings but to pay no attention to our spiritual maladies is akin to curing the symptoms of serious disease but ignoring the disease itself. It may feel better for a time, but in the end the patient is far worse off.
 

Thus, forgiveness trumps relief from suffering every time.
 

Forgiveness brings intimacy and relationship. It brings the possibility of reunion which, since God is who we claim He is, is the most important aspect of every human being’s life.
 

Christ endured more suffering then can be imagined.
 

He was the only person who actually had no guilt, who actually deserved no punishment, let alone capital punishment.
 

He endured this suffering because there is something greater then relief from pain.
 

He endured this suffering so we might know freedom from the deepest pains of the human heart, those which are indescribable, and far worse than any external tragedy could bring.
 

Most parents, whether they are religious or not, understand the importance of attending to the greatest good. Parents will deny their children what they want, causing suffering to their children temporarily, knowing that a spoiled child will suffer tremendously in the future, something far worse then this mild discomfort that is occurring in this moment.
 

We all know that a parent who caves in too often will spoil the child, and this is not love. It is a form of selfishness because the parent caters to their own anxiety and not to the needs of the child.
 

If God merely relieved us from every physical discomfort, it would actually spoil us into decadence while our spiritual life careened out of control. It would cast into jeopardy the most valuable treasure any human has: relationship with Him. Because God exists, death is not nearly as final as it would seem. It means that death is a transition and not an ending, which means that our human understanding of what death is, is incomplete.
 

Though it can be unbearable as we remember those we’ve lost, those who die are not lost to us. If God would allow any human person to die in a world where death is final, He would be a lie.
 

But if death is only the gate through which we enter into His presence, then who’s to say death is ultimately bad?
 

Any person who attempts to undermine the belief of another with the argument “If God is… , then why does this happen,” would be wise to consider fully just what life with God means. There comes a time in every believers life when this very question arises, and it is an important question to flesh out. When it is born through a genuine hunger for understanding, amazing beauty comes from this query.
 

When it is wielded as an assault on the beliefs of others, or as an idle thought in an otherwise unconcerned mind, it serves no purpose.
 

As a good parent hates to see their child suffer, but may allow it for the good of that very child, so we may rest assured that God only ever allows suffering if it is for the greatest good of our own our hearts and souls.

On Foreign Invaders and Golden Eras

Lest my conscience should prevent my sleep, I should be forthcoming: the idea for this article has found its root in the thoughtful consideration of history by Barack Obama in his book Dreams from My Father.

 

In searching for meaning within black history–not only in America, but in Africa as well–Obama highlights a real gem of wisdom (one of many I should point out). Within a conversation Obama relays the thoughts of Dr. Rukia Odero: Through European colonialism the true history of many African Americans has become obscured. Ideas, traditions, and beliefs became idolized wholesale as the pure times before the white man.

 

The history of black people both on the continent of Africa, and in many other countries is often a pain filled one. Like the Jews, it seems that they suffered more than their share of atrocity and maltreatment. Though the situations are regretful, it is possible to learn from them. I believe these experiences can shed light upon human nature in every culture. The African American history as discussed by Odero highlights the human tendency in times of strife to cling to the ‘good ol’ days’, whether or not they were in fact good.

 

Which one of us is not prone to reminiscing about the ‘old days’?

 

I know that once I left the rich extremes of highschool, I nearly made a profession out of reminiscing. Conjuring up the memories of times spent with friends, relishing the excitement of making new friends, or trying new things.

 

Looking back to the past from the future is a dubious enterprise at the best of times. When reminiscing, we tend to only see the good things in our memories, the things we want to remember. Conspicuously left out of my own foggy highschool memories is the uncertainty I felt, the panic and nervousness of learning to be a man while not having the faintest idea of what that meant. I fail to recall the broken friendships, the pain, the misunderstandings, the anger I felt in those days, and the many mistakes I made. With that said, in relation to the challenges and suffering of the present these rose coloured dreams are often a delightful temptation.

 

If we return for a moment to my earlier example, it is easy to see why this is the case. With the forceful invasion of European culture, a war on African society was waged: real and brutal. In the face of the horror and suffering of slavery, inequality, and disdain from the white man, the blacks had little other option but to cling to what they knew. That is not a bad thing, but it can be if that which is clung to also contains error or hidden pain. Obama quotes Dr. Odero from the black perspective:

 

Without the white man, we might make better use of our history. We might look at some of our former practices and decide they are worth preserving. Others, we might grow out of. Unfortunately, the white man has made us very defensive. We end up clinging to all sorts of things that have outlived their usefulness.”

 

It is not much different for our own reminiscing.

 

Ironically, many prefer reminiscing because of the effect it has on our present emotions and feelings. The peace we perceive as existing in the past is somehow bleakly transported to the future. Other times such reminiscing motivates us to make changes to the present, like when an addict realises how his life really has crumbled around him. In yet another context we could see reminiscing as an excuse to procrastinate about fixing the present.

 

Memory in and of itself serves a vital role of educating the person, reminding us of what to avoid and what to pursue. It is useful to remember what a bully looks like or which dogs nips on the heels of passers-by. It is not useful, however, to reside completely within the otherwise non-existent past.

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In the movie Inception a incredible idea is fleshed out. Through technology the characters of the movie harness a kind of deliberate lucid dreaming. In doing so, some people become so consumed with the dream world that they prefer it over reality. Likewise, someone who spends too much time living in the past may wish to live there instead. This forgetting of the present is often born of a hatred of the circumstances we may find ourselves, whether it be abuse, hard times financially, or social tumult to name a few. The tragedy is that to prefer a faded and drifting memory over the occurring present, is the same as choosing a picture of a meal instead of eating the food. The trouble is, it is easy to write this idea in a blog, but it does not answer the problem of suffering.

 

I have trouble writing about the usefulness of being present to our lives, especially when their is pain, without delving into theology.

 

From a secularist point of view it may be argued that “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger”. Such sentiment is rarely appetizing when you are the one suffering. Suffering is painful and ugly. Enduring suffering for the sake of another, however, can be one the most beautiful human actions, precisely because suffering is uncomfortable and detestable. If I told my wife I’d eat this next bowl of ice cream for her, she’d understandably be rather unmoved by my gift. On the other hand, what if I offered her the last seat on a rescue vessel?

 

The consequence of avoiding pain is overarching numbness. While hiding from the emotions of pain, we also turn off joy, love, and so much more. You can see it in the eyes of someone who has experienced rejection too frequently, a kind of distance, hesitancy. Conversely, the opposite extreme is to become identified by our pain, to believe that it defines us. This only leads to hatred, anger, and confusion.

 

To be aware of why we experience emotional pain, where it comes from, how our past effects it within the present, is to understand pieces of wisdom that lead to maturity. Though the past is often used as a refuge from the legitimate injustices of the present, growth cannot be found there, only stagnancy. Like a tree in perpetual shade, the leaves slowly wither and die. However, to embrace the sunlight of the present, though it may be uncomfortable or draw to light things we’d rather not see, only within these sun rays can life find strength to outstretch its limbs.

 

Why the present is powerful is both obvious and obscured. The obvious fact being that no conscious action can occur in any other time; the obscured, it is within the present that our trials and experiences are brought to fruition. It is within the present that we come to understand ourselves, to find healing for wounds previously unseen. Most importantly of all, it is only within the present that love, the true source of human life, may either be expressed or received.

Lessons Learned From Life on the Bus

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Many people when they hear the phrase Public Transit react with disgust or frustration, as though they were remembering someone who had wronged them personally. On the other hand, many praise its value for society (truly it is impossible to do without in larger cities).

 

Raised in a small city, I never used public transport. So when at the age of twenty three I moved into the “big city” suddenly I had an opportunity to use this widely discussed service. As an ex-hitchhiker I found it both effective and extraordinarily useful. True, there are a few situations for which transit leaves much to be desired, like trying to return home while lugging several bags of groceries. Otherwise, I was impressed by the fact that I could get within walking distance of almost every corner of the city, albeit not always in “good time”.

 

There is a second quality of using public transport in the big city that still makes a lasting impression upon me. Our communal transport is an unintentional source of gathering, a place where people who would have no other reason to come together, find themselves face to face, in conversation, and at least if only by proximity alone, sharing a mutual experience. Though there is much pain and discord, I have also seen many truly humbling acts of kindness during my frequent trips on the bus and subway.

 

Ironically, as population density increases, so does our anonymity. Public transit has the potential to be one of the last strong bastions of community between residents. I can’t help but feel a sense of camaraderie when I notice someone I know riding the same bus as me. There is an unspoken awareness of the fact of, “Hey, we’re in this together!”

 

The most poignant and urgent needs of humanity can be seen so plainly while riding the bus: The hunger and fatigue on the faces of those carrying overburdened bags of empty cans onto the bus, or the despair of a drunk and homeless man, riding only to keep warm, or the stressed and belligerent mother who may be using the only skills she learned in a broken home. In our offices, schools, and homes it is easy to bypass the poor, the needy. When we travel only from house garage to parking garage we need never brush shoulders with the homeless, with the working poor. On transit however, it is all but impossible not to encounter the suffering of the disabled, the despair of the addicted, the pain of those who have been mistreated or abused.

 

In this reality lies one amazing and awesome opportunity: every transit rider has the daily opportunity to reach out to someone who needs compassion, to offer a listening ear to a lonely heart, in effect to reach out in so many different ways with small acts of kindness to those who may otherwise receive none. True, many simply shove their earphones in or bury their attention into their cellphones, and pretend that the suffering doesn’t exist, but those who take this route become shrouded to their own humanity.

 

Their is a temptation we experience when we recognize the brokenness of humanity: we try to flee, doing everything to convince ourselves that we are different or somehow above it. In order to achieve this end we must close off our hearts, to allow our compassion to wither away. A psychologist who doesn’t recognize his own capacity for mental illness, will never have the proper insight to profoundly help those who come for aid. As a wise man once said, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” If I don’t see my own vulnerability to end up no different then the homeless or intoxicated person beside me, I am blind to the very reality of human existence and weakness, and thus I cannot be a light to the feet of my brother or sister.

 

On one hand we could look at all the inconveniences of public transit and lament why our fortunes have been so poor as to land us a bus pass instead of a new car, but on the other hand we may recognize that within our common transportation lives the riches of God’s kingdom: jewels, diamonds, souls, beyond reckoning and without valuation. Instead of seeing all the reasons why public transit has made our lives worse, we might instead look at the immense opportunities at how we might make someone else’s life better.

Walking With Tolkien: A Journey From Desolation to Life, Part 3 of 3

 

Though Frodo is crushed by his journey, we are given insight into how this pain and suffering can be translated into opportunity for gift and life. No other situation highlights this effect more than Frodo’s interactions with the miserable and pitiable Gollum.

 

Isn’t Gollum a bit like the pain and discomfort in all our lives?

 

Without Gollum the Hobbits could have actually had some good sleep, but instead they needed to be on their guard. Without Gollum they could have relaxed somewhat and enjoyed each other’s company, but instead the vile ex-Hobbit acted as a wedge, creating conflict between our two protagonists.

 

Gollum invokes pity and ire, but we must admit, without Gollum’s selfish desires, there would have been no guidance to Mordor, and in the end, all would have been lost.

 

Gollum contributes almost no good actions of his own intention to the entire story, but he cannot be removed from the tale. The undeniable reality that pain must be a part of our earthly lives rings true. Frodo was spared from his final caving into the power of the ring by Gollum removing the ring along with his finger. Ironically, the power of the ring over Gollum, is what spared Frodo from the pain and inevitable torment of accepting the ring as his master. Frodo would have become as dark and faceless as Gollum. It is my own pain that steers me from my pride. My agony showed me what some people endure throughout their entire lives. Now, when I meet someone who’s grumpy and vile I wonder, trying to understand, “What dark days have they suffered in their life?”

 

When Gollum became the Hobbit’s guide to Mordor, is when the story really began to strike home. The endless journey through the stinky, damp, and uninviting swamps, for example, was easy for me to imagine. I too looked down into the water and saw death looking up and was almost consumed if not for a select few who stood by and pulled me up. I smelt the stench and hated it; I wanted to be free.

 

Sam and Frodo continued forward, and with every mile their weariness grew. The ring crushed Frodo with its physical weight as well as its pressure upon his very will. Always, Frodo fought the temptation to give in, end his struggle, and accept the ring. Failure hung over me with the same effect. Joe, like Sam, was nearby to remind me of the goodness and light I was pursuing in such an endless endeavour. I experienced a deeply spiritual process in which, despite not hearing the words of someone who cared and continuing on a self-destructive path, somehow, I would register the words in a subconscious place and would be strengthened when I least expected it, but needed it the most. Joe’s words often served this function, like Sam’s for Frodo’s sake.

 

Despite many incredible challenges, the two Hobbits kept moving onward.

 

They survived Shelob’s onslaught and escaped Gollum’s betrayal. They even pushed forward with the realisation, always in their minds, that there wasn’t enough food for the return trip. Their final stretch through Mordor is the most intense and bleakly described setting in the book. The region is nauseating and filled with pockets of pain and orcs. It was here that I recognized a complete resemblance to my own struggles. It seems like you never get any closer, but you get more and more tired. Yet, within this desolation, the love of Sam grows and carries Frodo further and further. Eventually, Sam literally carries Frodo towards the cave of Mount Doom. This is sainthood. To achieve true love it is not enough to simply care, but we must carry the one we love.

 

Love this strong is real.

 

The Lord of the Rings didn’t appeal to me because it is fanciful, but because it is powerfully descriptive of reality. The setting, races, and lore are fascinating and outlandish, but every person in that story could be a breathing living person. Watching Sam struggle with real life decisions draws to mind the battle of discernment in a loving relationship. It might be argued that Sam’s love would never have become so strong if not for the harrowing nature of such a journey. Heartbreakingly, their bond is cemented only to have Frodo ravaged and affected permanently from his travels and inevitably sent away.

 

It was hard for me to forgive Tolkien, but they had to be separated.

 

Their separation was the ultimate manifestation of their love for one another. They let go, when their emotions said everything contrary, for the sake of the other. Inevitably, I had toseparatemyself from the ones who did so much to help me during my duress. It was less final however, because I still have contact with the people who were so helpful and dear during my dark hour. Joe remains a steadfast friend and support in my pursuit of a University Degree and the fulfillment of my dreams.

 

So to finish my own story, or at least bring it up to the present: Eventually after increasing my boundaries enough to look after my own needs I moved out into a friends house. After a few months of learning to feed and take of myself I felt confident enough to start an easy job. As providence would have it, an old friend who was my boss at a restaurant I once worked in, was now working as the general manager of a nearby branch. To my delight, he took me on as an employee. Like everything else in my recovery, I started small. I worked for three hours, two or three times a week. From there, I worked my way up, and after one year I was working full time as a waiter.

 

In conclusion, Tolkien played an integral role in my realisation that my suffering was united into a greater cause and purpose. Tolkien showed me that no matter how dark my life became, I was struggling for a reason and it was worth the toil. Like Tolkien, I’m using story to convey God’s love and that in Him is the real great pilgrimage. The worst of my recovery is over, but I still have many obstacles to overcome. I do not find myself distraught by my inabilities, but in awe that God walked so closely with me during every step.

 

As the great eagles came in to save the day, exactly like in Tolkien’s story, so I saw the workings of the Holy Spirit in my journey to freedom. I saw the fires of mount doom with my own eyes and tasted the ash of death in my mouth and I looked back upon the most impossible journey and felt Him lift me up and away from the desolation. Like with Frodo, my journey left permanent scars, remnants of the awesome struggle that will never go away. This is a unintended consequence of many great adventures. If I had stayed indoors and shirked the immense risk I took upon myself, for fear of such consequences, I would have brought upon myself an even greater tragedy: I would have denied myself the very occasion to make real the extraordinary, majestic, and beautiful qualities waiting to be born within every person’s life.

Walking With Tolkien: A Journey From Desolation to Life, Part 2 of 3

 

So Adam, Joe, and Megan journeyed together. A pilgrimage of many now.
 

Admittedly, I clung to anyone who showed me authentic support. Long before this time I came to realize how my condition alienated me from people; understandably, they never knew how to react. To be confronted with someones utter vulnerability is not an easy thing to do. The one major exception being the kind ladies at my parish who took me into their hearts! It was just like Frodo and the Ring. The Ring had a strange effect on the people around him, it seemed to polarize people. Either they began to turn on him, for lust of the ring, or they rallied behind him. More on Frodo later! 
 

I became obsessed with counting.
 

It gives me chills to look back at the calendars of meticulous records I kept. I could tell you how every day went: I counted how many stairs I did in a day and even detailed how many constituted right legs and how many left legs, how many seconds I listened to an audio book, how many minutes I’d spend sitting, how many times I swung my arms around, how many times I shook my protein shake in the morning and with which arm, the number of dishes I removed from the dishwasher, etc. Anything I did, I counted. Through these records I could control to the smallest degree how much I increased over time. Also, I had factual numbers to argue against my over-active imagination and anxiety, and this was a critical weapon in my arsenal.
 

I crept and nibbled at my boundaries.
 

From walking I went to stairs, from darkness I went to tiny amounts of light, from silence to small snippets of audio books. Every increase ran a heavy risk of increasing my pain for varying lengths of time, varying from hours to days. If I remained steady without panicking, usually the pain would settle back to what it was at before the new increase. Once I was steady for a time, I could try upping the amount again. I’d go from doing twenty four stairs a day to twenty six and try that out for a week. It was grueling and exhausting work, but I kept chipping away, one step at a time.
 

Another unforeseen difficulty arose after my initial successes.
 

Sometimes I’d be so encouraged by my new abilities that I’d develop “Superman Syndrome”. Essentially, I’d feel like I was in control again and make some large new advancements. This usually didn’t cause pain immediately, but after it was too late I’d receive heaps of pain signals which would last for days. Imagine having all the chocolate chip cookies in the world, a completely empty stomach, and being told by a cranky old miser that you could only have one. Wouldn’t you try to sneak another? It wasn’t totally unlike Gollum’s insatiable hunger for the ring. It took great strength to resist these temptations, and to continue on at a healthy pace.
 

Every time I took more than was good for me, Joe was there to help.
 

He took my calls, told me a thousands times that the setbacks where just as important as the victories. He calmed me, told me I wasn’t doomed for failure. He confirmed my trust in God’s plan and carried me when I had no strength left. Notably, Joe never called me, and this was the way it had to be. I learned to ask for help and to express what I needed or didn’t need. This distinction was crucial because it taught me to exercise my own will again, to fight with my own action against the obstacles set before me.
 

I had Joe for aid, but Christ was the greatest support in my journey. Every few months after receiving the Holy Eucharist I would go to the chapel and let it all out. There, I would allow all the pressure and sorrow to release in an effusive outpouring. It was a small gift I could make to the most compassionate love in my life.
 

How could God allow such a horrible event in my life?
 

It was irrelevant. I knew He was guiding me, and on more than one occasion He showed me the depth of his love and care. When truly in love and knowing that we are beloved, we become more willing to exercise trust. I learned to exercise this trust, and it became a solace in the desert of my afflictions. There’s something a person may experience in the depths of their heart that is as undeniable as their own existence. A whisper, a soft word, or rather – The Word. Christ was the primary person who brought total trust to my otherwise dismal and hopeless condition.
 

At the two year point I hit the halfway mark.
 

I was spending just as much time walking around as I was lying down. Though I was limited by where or how I could walk, it was a remarkable achievement. In order to train myself to walk on uneven surfaces, I began making trips outdoors during my “up” periods. Imagine your neighbour making seven trips to the mailbox and back each day! Not only that, but he’d swing his arms around like a madman (Megan made me in order to increase my arm flexibility) and wave at you when you just wanted to drive quietly into the cul de sac unnoticed. What fond memories! My neighbours really rooted for my recovery.
 

As you can see, up until this point I’d seen some pretty harrowing and overwhelming obstacles. Tolkien shows great insight into human suffering and grief. The Lord of The Rings is a beautiful revelation of the deeper realities contained within our own lives. His epic tale is a poetic parallel to my own great adventure.
 

Once I decided to introduce sound back into my repertoire, my father picked up an audio book from our local library. The first story I would hear in many silent months would be The Fellowship of The Ring, the first book in Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of The Rings. Those few seconds I got to enjoy the spoken tale were unbearably delightful. As Gollum waited for his chance to snatch back the ring, so I waited in agony a whole day just to get three more minutes of the story. This was my only entertainment at the time, so it was a long wait. It also meant that when I did get some audio book time I listened carefully and enjoyed all aspects of the story I could pick up on. My tolerance for audio increased and likewise the amount of time I could listen. After a few weeks, I could get fifteen minutes a day comprised of smaller chunks. I progressed through book one and then on to book two: The Two Towers. My investment into the characters was enormous. Tolkien captured beautifully the essence of a long tedious journey done on foot; I could easily apply the story to my own experiences.
 

Frodo and Sam became extensions of my own capacity for adventure and the fellowship something akin to supporters.
 

I took the death of Gandalf with great sorrow. The pain of the characters was vivid and personal. It was irrelevant that I already knew of Gandalf’s eventual “resurrection”; I too needed a respite in the forests of Lothlorien to recuperate my desire for more adventure. On the flip side, I remember literally thrusting my arms in the air and cheering when Gimlee, emerging from the shadows screaming a war cry, saves Éomer during the siege of Helms Deep. My victory thrust was followed by half an hour of elation, and occasionally skipping, as I reconstructed the scene in my mind over and over again.
 

Inevitably and fortuitously, the company split up.
 

Sam’s burst into the icy waters of his own doom made me cry for appreciation of the beauty of such an action. His utter devotion to the end was stupefying. For me, Sam’s act of devotion was totally believable, thanks to Joe. I had seen my own friends depart and so it would be with the fellowship. The full support cast is whittled down to a skeleton crew. The extras peel off and the real fight comes down to the most unlikely characters, our friends the Hobbits.
 

My recovery didn’t carry the same heroic goal of “saving all good things”, but it was heavily weighted with consequence.
 

I had no days off. The thought of taking even an hour off left me in cold sweats. I couldn’t stop, to go back was unthinkable. To admit defeat would be to give up the last chance I ever had to succeed. The pressure was horrible; I had nothing which I could use to say, “Ok, lets stop for a moment and do something else.” I could do nothing else. The soft prison, my couch, was there waiting for me endlessly. Months and eventually years of darkness and little mobility crushed my spirit. The immensity of Frodo’s undertaking weighed heavily upon his shoulders as well. How could one small Hobbit carry the enormous burden of the ring? I also wondered just how much pressure I could endure, before I could take no more.
 

I hope you have enjoyed Part Two. Soon, I will post Part Three.

Walking With Tolkien: A Journey From Desolation to Life, Part 1 of 3

A quick foreword. Due to it’s length I’ve split this post into three segments. The first two will detail portions of my recovery from a severe injury; while the third, using reference to my story, will draw parallels with and comment upon Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. Without further delay…
 

 
My life was in dire risk and to find my way to safety required a journey of epic proportions.
 

 
Tolkien’s novels were a sympathetic view to my own impossibly difficult adventure that was forced upon me, not totally unlike our dear Bilbo. My great adventure nearly drained me to complete emptiness, it breathed fire and death down my throat and gave no mercy. It took no survivors and annihilation was the price for failure. To even remember this great trial is burdensome, but I must.
 

 
There is something of every great tale, no matter how tragic, that cries, begs, to be told. It is essential that our tales be told because stories told by humans are human, are coloured, are subjective, and thus, alive. My story began over three years ago. I decided, against the warnings of many, to walk across Canada. I carried no food, no tent, no money. I had no support, only a tarp, basic clothing and belief in something greater than myself.
 

 
My trek was short sighted. Lack of physical preparation left my body ravaged by the unending toil. Yet my will prevailed, unintentionally spiting my body in the process. I walked to what I believe was the outer edge of my human capacity. Severe cramps nearly stopped my pilgrimage on more than one occasion; I couldn’t sleep without my legs jolting in spasms in the darkness. I won out over my difficulties, but at a great cost.
 

 
I was plagued by constant pain.
 

 
Even after resting and doing light labour for six weeks the pain only got worse. I returned home and began the real pilgrimage: a journey through unimaginable hopelessness, suffering, and solitude. Once home, I was confronted with complete separation from my friends, from any activity, from any source of life, other than the divine. Not only was my body in disrepair, but also my spirit and emotions took a heavy toll from the pain and isolation. Only God, and His angels, could see me through this time of agony.
 

 
My mother and father had a close perception of my struggle, but they could only help with my daily needs. Headaches I struggled with from before the walk became worse. My leg pain increased. Slowly, I lost the ability to do anything. I lay prostrate on my couch, motionless, hoping and waiting for healing. As my headaches overcame all forms of entertainment I had left, I inevitably covered my eyes and lay in darkness. No TV, no music, no audio, no visual stimuli. Even looking at the ceiling caused me pain, glancing through the window induced greater pain. I was trapped and could see no way out.
 

 
Something akin to death touches you in a situation like this.
 

 
A dark, dark night overcomes everything you once understood. A vast gap was created between myself and all forms of relaxation, of escape. I remained hopeful of a miracle. I reasoned, “This is so horrendous that God must be planning a miracle cure, so I’ll wait.” I was not idle, however. I saw doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, a rheumatologist, and many other professionals; yet, I found no relief. Only pain. Unending pain.
 

 
My salvation came at first through Megan, my physiotherapist.
 

 
By indicating that I was incapable of lifting my foot a short distance onto a stepping stool, she crushed all the remaining hope I had left in believing that things weren’t that bad yet. Sure, I was only bed ridden twenty three hours a day for nine months, using my arms to go up stairs (which caused many shoulder problems), unable to sit for more then fifteen minutes to eat, and only capable of living headache free in utter darkness and silence. It wasn’t that bad.
 

 
I nearly cried, but couldn’t in front of this relative stranger. So I stomached the pain of my realisation: I was horribly lost and only getting worse. She made a “gentle” suggestion: either start working at increasing your boundaries or you will continue to spiral downwards and live the rest of your life in constant pain. This wasn’t the first time “expanding my boundaries” had been suggested to me. I tried many times, but every effort resulted in my condition worsening. So, I didn’t take her words to well. More of the same I thought.
 

 
I started at a good pace. At that time I had twenty three hours per day couch time, and even that one hour was a bit of an exaggeration of time spent walking from the couch to the fridge or bathroom and back. Megan began my therapy by getting me to get off the couch for short timed intervals. Every 20 minutes I would get up and walk for 1 minute. So I did, and I hated every second of it. I despised this time like a fish hates the desert. Turned out, I could only do that for five hours a day, but I now had 15 minutes of walking in one day! Have you ever celebrated 15 minutes of walking as though it were 100km’s? Unfortunately, I have. That was the quickest my recovery ever went.
 

 
Next step: Get up every 20 minutes during 7 hours of the day, then 9 hours/day, 12 hours/day, etc.
 

 
Finally, after three weeks, I had just over a half hour of walking a day in intervals no longer than one minute. Unforeseen obstacles arose everywhere. The floor hurt my feet, I had severe pain from bending to get up and down from the couch (my flexibility had become nil due to complete inactivity), the extra exposure to light increased my headaches, weirdly I was incapable of standing still, and on and on. Not to mention, a general sense of hopelessness, increased overall pain, and complete despondency would overcome me at most times during this process.
 

 
Urged on by my victories, it was time to push the boundaries further.
 

 
Every time I rose from the couch I remained walking for an extra five seconds longer than normal. The increase was unbearable, too much, too far from my comfort zone. Megan’s only job at this point was to convince me that I wasn’t going to crumble into oblivion and be sucked into an abyss. I had never really known fear and anxiety until then.
 

 
The second vital source of my path to recovery was a friend named Joe.
 

 
Joe gave unimaginable support. He was a friend who was dear and close, who could carry seemingly any burden for any length of time. Imagine a crazed and nearly depressed youth with more pain than youthful insensibility calling you for seven hours a week, on a good week. He was always there, always ready to affirm and set me back on my good path.
 

 
The impossible was being accomplished; I was getting better, but believe me it did not feel like it. It was like trying to encourage one’s hair to grow and checking the mirror every half hour to see if any progress had been made. The more I looked, the more I convinced myself that nothing was happening.
 

 
Thus ends Part One, please stay tuned for Part Two!