The last two months have been some of the most difficult since we moved to Scotland. It is difficult to articulate exactly how frustrating these times have been in a blog post without sounding as if I am depressed or complaining. Neither of these is the case, yet times have been difficult all the same. It started in November, a month I had specifically set aside to finish a vital part of my PhD project. By the end of the month, I was to have about half my project done. Having engaged Philo of Alexandria on early Jewish spiritual formation and education sufficiently, my hope was to move into the New Testament and start exploring and writing about the Apostle Paul’s views on the same subject. Things didn’t go as planned and here I am in the middle of January still trying to finish off this section.
Despite all of the things we are involved in, our family seems to be engaged in a good life rhythm. What has been increasingly frustrating is when that rhythm is disrupted by a horrible thing called celioac disease. After moving here, my wife was diagnosed with a severe allergy to wheat gluten, a product that is in just about every food item out there. We have to be very careful and she is on a strict gluten free diet.
For those of you out there who don’t have a clue what it is like to struggle with celioac disease, picture getting really bad food poisoning from something you have mistakenly eaten. This includes vomiting and diarrhoea for 5 or 6 hours while your body tries to purge what it considers an attack on your system. Following this pleasant experience a person has sever migraine and joint aches basically immobilizing them for the next 5-6 hours. After that, the intense fatigue can last another day or so. It is a lot like recovering from a really bad flu.
In the last two months my wife has had at least 5 of these attacks. When this happens, our family goes into survival mode and all other priorities fall sharply away. We have tried just about everything to avoid these attacks, even going so far as to remove all gluten-based products from our house and only stocking celioac friendly food. It doesn’t matter that we have to miss out on some of our favourite foods or that most gluten-free products cost significantly more than the normal store brands. We just want my wife not to suffer like that anymore.
But, despite our best efforts, she has still been getting sick. A few times it was a product that was supposed to be gluten-free and had most likely been contaminated somewhere in the manufacturing process. The other times have been hard to discern what specifically caused the attacks, we have attempted to narrow down the possibilities in order to avoid more mistakes.
I’ll be honest, I was pretty mad a God for putting us through this junk. We are here in Scotland solely because of the way he has provided for us to be here and are financially sustained through school loans and the generous support of some people back home. But, with my wife being sick, it has been difficult to focus on the research that I have to do in order to engage in the high level of scholarship that is required of a PhD thesis in the UK. I let God know how I feel through intense and sometimes superlative laced prayer.
There is a real danger in letting bitterness settle in my heart. Seeing my wife in the throes of sickness, feeling the gut wrenching futility that comes with knowing there is nothing I can do to help her or ease her pain, dreading the fact that it is going to wreck whatever tenuous rhythm our family has established, all of these things, despite our best efforts to avoid them, come crashing down. Yet, there is a peace that enters into the picture if I stick with the prayerful conversation. I wouldn’t exactly call it joy, that comes in bits and pieces later. This peace that passes understanding comes when I am at my limit and I have exhausted my cares and concerns, ranting and ravings, and basically unloaded on the God of the universe who is big enough to handle me and my problems.
The key, I have found, is to actively remain open to God and listen for his response. The worst mistake I could make would be to use prayer to vent my frustration and then abruptly cut off the conversation, closing off myself to the work of the Holy Spirit and negating any chance of learning anything about myself in the context of God’s love.
I guess that is the key to being frustrated with God, being honest in his presence and open to his post-human-obnoxiousness care. Psalm 77 is a good guide for this, I encourage you to check it out!