In the midst of my own struggle with chronic pain, it requires of me a tiring, no, an exhausting work of maintaining some sense of sanity as I try to find a purpose for my suffering. I just cannot do what I once did and what it requires for me to survive is an act of constant examination and reexamination. So in the midst of this insanity, I read whatever I can find that will allow me the chance to understand my suffering.
“Listening to Your Life” by Frederick Buechner is a book of daily devotions whereby one reads the devotions according to the day for which they were compiled by Mr. Buechner for inspiration and guidance yet somehow I forget what day it is and thereby read the wrong day or fall behind or whatever. So today, I read the devotion for January 26 which is several weeks past. The background of this particular devotion comes from a sermon that Mr. Buechner had heard from a preacher by the name of George Buttrick.
Mr. Buechner quotes the Rev. Buttrick where he refers to the story of Jesus going to the wilderness after His baptism where he is tempted by Satan to become a kind of Messiah of great power for every segment of society. Each time Jesus declined the offer and finally delivers the news to Satan that He would become a Messiah of great humility and suffering and service and one where he would give his very life in order to take on the very sin due us in our stead. Rev. Buttrick goes on to say in his sermon that “Jesus Christ refused the crown that Satan had offered him in the wilderness but he is King nonetheless because he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that coronation takes place among confession, and tears, and great laughter.”
I read this as I find myself in the midst of dueling neurosurgeons and the song they are playing is not in tune. From Neurosurgeon A; “Mr. Smith, your fusion is not as “robust” as should be in order to remove the rods and screws and hardware that was placed there two and one half years ago as a part of your fusion surgery.” (Seems that no one informed Mr. Smith that there was a better than average chance that the hardware that they would place in his back would have to be removed as a result of the pain it created. As well, no one informed Mr. Smith that about a third of all fusion surgeries result in a non-fusion union.) If Neuroguy A is correct, a twist or turn would potentially break my back creating big issues without the support of the hardware.
From Neurosurgeon B; “Mr. Smith, your fusion is just fine. We would like to go ahead with tests and if indeed the pain you are feeling in your back is from the hardware that was installed, it will require another surgery, a less invasive surgery than the initial surgery to remove the hardware. (And this surgery has its own set of risks and many who have this procedure still live in pain.)
No surgery, no procedure comes with a guarantee of reducing the pain that I live in. None of it.
In his book, Buechner focused on Buttrick’s description of “great laughter”, the kind in which our soul laughs out loud and sings especially when the planets are aligned and it all feels and seems right and good, a place where we usually say that we are “blessed”, and therein we crown Christ as King of all! But for me, for my own stuff of life that leads to this battle with pain, where at this time it is just real heavy, it all causes me to focus on the phrase from Buttrick’s words of that coronation of Christ that takes place among my own tears and not only mine, but the tears of so many that crown the living Christ King during their own struggles and tears and pain.
When I first read this line of thought, it took me a few days to wrap my head around the concept that was created by the few words Rev. Buttrick shared because that concept was just way larger than the words seem to echo.
It has all forced me to look at my pilgrimage with God, that place of the road where few travel and even fewer stay on as we journey with our own tears instead of the goodly feeling of “blessing” and it is here that I come to a crossroads as all journeys take at one time or another and that crossroads is this: at this junction of pain, and hopelessness, and sadness, at the crossroads of confession, tears, and great laughter, whom will I follow and thereby crown as King? Is it me and my own shallow understanding of the stuff of life and my own suffering that I will coronate as the King of my own existence? Or is it the one who suffered and died in my place, the one who has guaranteed a far greater future than even I could create with a pain free life?
If we walk this path, we experience a living God who holds us in our tears and laughs with us during the times of the rising tide of goodness that we interpret as blessing. And it is right here that I have figured something out. When we crown Jesus King through our tears, our confession, and our laughter, He is crowned thusly even in our great pain.
And it echoes, in this one statement, that I hope you too can hear: “Where can I go, that thou are not with me?” And would have I have ever known this unless I went to that place of pain and discomfort?