I have been so bitter lately. Like, so bitter I don’t really want to tell you about it, because I don’t want you to know how nasty my heart has been.

I am dreading my surgery. I’m angry I have to go through it. I’m mad at people who don’t understand, madder still at well-meaning people who think they do. I am holding so tight my knuckles are white to every little inch of my recovery. My hands are working; I can almost pinch something in two fingers. I don’t want to lose that. I’ve worn my hair down every day this week, reveling in the fact that it’s all there, bitter, bitter, bitter because it’s going to be gone.

And then, on top of all that nastiness, I am bitter because I feel like I can’t be bitter. Next to others who have experienced major illness, I feel cruel and ungrateful and small. I think of all the times someone has extolled the virtues of a long-suffering patient who never once complained, only rejoiced in their pain, and I wince because I am not that person. I am angry that I’m not that person. This is how cyclical it gets.

It’s one of those times when I’ve just had to give it to God, just give it up entirely and say look, here’s what’s happening, my heart is all messed up and I can’t fix it.

So I left it in His hands. I waited. And tonight on the train, as a panhandler was offering me two for $5 scarves out of a trash bag, I cried as I came to this passage in the book I’m reading. (It’s by John Piper.)

“The fight for joy in Christ is not a fight to soften the cushion of Western comforts. It is a fight for strength to live a life of self-sacrificing love. It is a fight to join Jesus on the Calvary road and stay there with Him, no matter what. How was he sustained on that road? Hebrews 12:2 answers, ‘For the joy that was set before Him [he] endured the cross.’ 

The key to endurance in the cause of self-sacrificing love is not heroic willpower, but deep, unshakable confidence that the joy we have tasted in fellowship with Christ will not disappoint us in death. Sacrifices in the path of love were sustained in the New Testament not by willpower, but by joyful hope. ‘You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.’ [Heb. 10:34]

The aim of this book is not to salve the conscience of well-to-do Western acquisition. The aim is to sustain love’s ability to endure sacrificial losses of property and security and life, by the power of joy in the path of love. The aim is that Jesus Christ be made known in all the world as the all-powerful, all-righteous, all-merciful, all-satisfying Treasure of the universe.”

I can imagine how frustrating it might be for someone who’s not into the whole God thing to hear me talk about my experience of illness, but it’s the only way I know how to talk about it. It has been so God-centric for me.

I don’t know how to explain it, really, but it’s gone something like this: You seek Jesus, and you ask him for joy in spite of pain, and what He gives you instead is joy that is in the pain. The moments of my worst fear, my worst discomfort, my worst pain and my worst bitterness have been soaked in His goodness, and I have known His character more through these moments than anything else in my life.

We’re less than a week out from surgery now. I am very, very afraid. And I am throwing myself in His arms and, quiet, choosing to trust. I don’t know what to ask Him, don’t know what to say. I’m just here waiting, sitting still in His presence.