“Hard work, disappointments, failures, criticism, misinterpretations, opposition, sorrow, and bodily suffering are the tests which show you what you really are. Your virtues are proved and your faults are revealed during these adversities.” (My Daily Bread, Confraternity of the Precious Blood, page 443)
“Ughhhh,” I exclaimed as pain shot through my lower back. I exhaled noisily.
My knees buckled. I went down. I gripped the bathroom vanity tightly as if I could somehow transfer the pain out of me and into the vanity. No luck. I crumpled onto the brown carpet. The pain went from my lower back to my left leg. I turned myself from my side to lay flat on my back instead. I felt some relief. I closed my eyes for a few minutes and took heavy breaths. Then, opening my eyes, I tilted my head back. Behind me, the bright moon centered in the open window. Beautiful.
I pulled myself off the floor a few minutes later and shuffled into the bedroom. My wife was relaxing on the bed, reading a book.
“Are you ok, honey? I heard you moaning in there”, she inquired.
“Thanks, honey. Everything’s fine. I overdid the gardening this weekend. My lower back is acting up again”, I said wearily.
“Aw, I am sorry to hear,” my wife replied warmly and returned to her book.
A couple of days later, I walked the dog during my lunch break. I had a similar episode and had to lay down flat on my back on the sidewalk. It was the only way to get rid of the pain. I fended off the dog from licking my face as I lay flat.
The following day, another episode at work. I got a cup of tea and went to a break area with a TV and some tables and chairs. A colleague of mine was having lunch.
“I am sorry, I have to lay down here on the floor for a moment,” I said as I set my cup of tea on the table, “I am having some back issues.”
She looked up from her lunch, “Not a problem, I understand.” We proceeded to have a friendly, somewhat awkward chat while I was laid out flat on the floor, and she finished up her lunch.
Things got better after about a week and a half. However, these painful episodes still resonate with me, and I think about them often.
Could these episodes be about more than just the physical pain I experienced? How did I react? Do I generally respond well to being shown my limitations? Not always.
These episodes were reminders of my dependence on God.
I believe in God’s providence. Easy to say, right? Now, if I believe this, I then also have to trust that God permitted these episodes. Is this a crazy way to think in this modern age? After all, we know so much about medicine and what causes physical problems. What does God have to do with it? Nothing at all, you might say. But is this true? God’s divine providence penetrates everything at a higher level - all creatures, matter, causes and effects, scientific processes, etc.
God is upstream of everything. He is completely reliable and trustworthy. He is the Highest Good.
Being the Highest Good, does He enjoy inflicting pain on me? No. Why does He permit me to suffer, mentally or physically? To help bring me closer to Him. To help me grow in humility and gratitude. This can be the only reason. He is not cruel, playing a cosmic joke on me. No, He has my best interests in mind. He wills the best for me. Is this a crazy way to think? I don’t think so. It’s a palpable reality. I have seen Him at work more than once in my life. He is entirely trustworthy.
Before the episodes, I had been praying for more gratitude. It worked. Wait, what? You pray for gratitude, and God sends you excruciating lower back pain? Yes. He knows how to get my attention. Subtlety is lost on me. I am too thick-headed and stubborn.
We come to God with nothing of our own except for one thing. Our will. All else, our talents, intelligence, resources, health, and many others are gifts from God. Our will, however, is different. God placed free will into His creatures. God wants us to come to Him freely. In His love, He pursues us, but He will not force us to choose between Him and ourselves. We have to make that choice. We have to show up with the right attitude if you will. And, by our daily thoughts, words, and actions, we essentially manifest our choice to Him. It’s not a one-time event. God is patient. He pursues us and waits for us. He knows our limitations. We need a reminder of our limitations from time to time.
We all have to face trials and adversity in our lives, and, with or without God, life can be very hard. Making ourselves into the highest good, distrusting God’s providence, and preferring our will over His usually results in misery and unhappiness, at least in the long-term, and often in the short-term.
When instead, we place ourselves in the service of God and our brothers and sisters; while this path is full of sacrifices and difficulties, it aligns us with God’s plan, gives us peace, and fills us with the hope of eternal life with Him.
David grew up in Germany and currently lives in northern California. He is married to Maya and enjoys spending time with their blended family. David works in banking and helps with RCIA in his local parish. He enjoys tennis, reading, and religious and creative writing. In 2020, he self-published a short suspense novel, “Point of Convergence”, and in 2021 a collection of personal writings titled “Turning Back”. He also writes a religious column for St. Peter’s Church that is published in the Dixon Tribune.