David Brooks in his book, The Road to Character writes when suffering “is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people. When it is not understood as a piece of a larger process, it leads to doubt, nihilism, and despair.” To that end, I wanted to share several truths I learned (or learned more deeply) as a result of my brain surgery. Each of these truths I learned were only possible because they were connected to a providence that oversees and sustains my life. God is always in control. God is always good. He is for me and not against me. For that reason and many others here are four truths I learned (and continue to learn) from my brain surgery.
Suffering can teach us gratitude. I experienced gratitude to a depth I had not experienced it before. I was grateful for my family, specifically my bride who waited on me day and night for several weeks. Her compassion and love are unmatched in my life. I was grateful to my parents and second parents (in-laws) who loved and served us in so many ways, as well as the rest of our family. I was grateful for a church family who repeatedly told me to take as much time as I needed and shared with me that they just wanted me to rest and recuperate. I was thankful for Dr. Spetzler who successfully performed my craniotomy. I was thankful for the hundreds, if not thousands of people who sent texts, emails, and tweets, made posts, wrote letters, and dropped off gifts letting me know they were praying. I was grateful to a sovereign God who has given me a hope and a comfort that was not tied to a successful surgery but to the promises of Jesus. I was grateful to a degree that I had not been before.
Apart from being unjustly fired, issues of infertility the first 5 years of our marriage, and brain surgery, my life has been relatively free of hardships. I’m not downplaying those circumstances, because they were difficult, and at times they were emotionally and physically exhausting. But they pale in comparison to losing a child, a spouse, walking a loved one through cancer, and a number of other circumstances. God’s kindness has been evident in shielding me from significant hardships. To be biblically balanced, it is also God’s kindness that brings us through circumstances too (such as the premise of this point concerning brain surgery).
Suffering can facilitate a perspective where one individual is more attuned to what another individual is experiencing. By God’s grace, I am more aware of the sufferer than I was prior to my surgery. I am more inclined to sit and listen. I am more inclined to pray. Simply put, I am more compassionate. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say I am more aware of the grace I have in Jesus to actually be compassionate.
I’ve never been a napper. I’ve tended to be the guy who can’t sit still. Active, productive, efficient, assiduous, and stewardship are all words I would share to describe who I am as a husband, dad, and pastor. I want to get things done. No time for naps. No time for relaxation. However, God used brain surgery to confront my sinful view of work. Obviously, God wants us to work in such a way to honor Him, but the pace at which I was working and my mindset of work were a physiological affront to a God who created an entire day dedicated to rest. I still work hard. I still need to be more balanced. But I am learning to rest more regularly. I read more. I take an occasional nap. I enjoy a good episode of West Wing. I work out more faithfully and regularly. I am learning to rest, and as a result, my soul, my bride, my kids, and my church are better served.
In the days and weeks after my brain surgery, I came face-to-face with my finiteness in a way that I had not before. Getting off the couch and walking 10 steps required a physical strength that was simply not there. Speaking was difficult. For the first several weeks I stuttered like a champ and found putting sentences together arduous and frustrating. I had a desire to read but simply couldn’t as periods of concentration brought about intense headaches.
Involuntarily relinquishing control was hard, and yet God used brain surgery to teach me about my finiteness. It was indeed sobering, but it was also refreshing to embrace more deeply who I am in comparison to an all-powerful, sovereign God. He’s in control and providential. Not me. And I think it best to operate in that mindset rather than seeking to be in control and oversee every detail of my life. He’s much better at it than I am.
To read my first post on the details surrounding my brain surgery go here.