The following is an excerpt from Hurting with God, available in May. You can learn more about Hurting with God by becoming a fan on the book’s Facebook page which includes an interview with the author, Dr. Glenn Pemberton, and early endorsements. To read the entire first chapter, click on the link at the bottom of the page.
We share a common story. What separates us—gender, education, wealth, and social status—are minor details; we are the same. We want a good life, a life that satisfies our hunger for relationships, security, well-being, and purpose. In short, we want a life that works. We don’t expect to live forever, but we would like to be healthy. We don’t need money to burn, but we do hope for enough to get by (or just a little more). We don’t want a dozen best friends, just a few meaningful relationships that last. And our shared hopes unite us against a common fear: What if? What if my health fails? What if drought wipes out the crops or my salary doesn’t pay the bills? What if my best friends abandon me when I most need them? And most of all, what if God seems far away when I most need God to be near? Your story is mine, my story is yours, and our story is everyone’s story.
Sometime in the winter of 2006, I injured my left foot. It was nothing serious; I couldn’t even say when it happened or when I noticed the first twinge of pain. I had been exercising regularly, walking and even jogging the nearly two-mile Lundsford Trail that encircles the university where I teach. All I know is that, over a period of weeks, the intermittent twinges evolved into a constant dull ache. Perhaps because I suffer from a hereditary condition of maleness, I calculated that I must have strained a muscle.
So I rested for a while. And, when rest didn’t help, I tried stretching and went back to walking, logically deducing that I needed more exercise. Well trained in American values, the voices in my head urged me to walk it off—work through the pain.
In midspring, I sat in a medical exam room feeling stupid for wasting time going to the doctor over a sore foot. Then when the doctor came in, put the x-ray film up on the light box, and pointed to a fine line in the middle of my foot, I felt really stupid. By his estimation, I had been walking on a stress fracture for three months, possibly longer. The diagnosis made perfect sense of my symptoms, though I had to admit to using less than good sense for the past three months. Even so, it was still nothing serious: wear a walking boot and I should be back on the track in eight to twelve weeks.
As I write five years later, both feet are elevated, propped up with soft pillows. I was in and out of my first walking boot within six months. My first surgery was the next summer in July 2007; my fifth was in November 2009. I’ve worked with podiatrists, orthopedists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, pain management specialists, physical therapists, and psychologists— so many health professionals that I’ve lost count. Today I’m learning how to live with pain and dysfunction for which there is no medical cure. Since the beginning of this journey in 2006 I have experienced the joy of my two children’s weddings and the devastation of my own divorce. I’ve been the recipient of powerful words of blessing and received counsel that would make Job’s friends blush. And while before this life-season I’ve had my share of struggles with God, the past five years has felt like one intensely long wrestling match with God at the Jabbok. Like Jacob turned Israel (“one who struggles with God” or “God struggler”), I now walk with a perpetual limp—and with unexpected blessings (Gen. 32:22–32). But all of this is getting ahead of our story.
We do share a story, though sometimes we forget. I’m fortunate that each semester the students who pass through my classes remind me of our common hopes, fears, and struggles. One semester early in my teaching career, I discovered that sitting in the first two rows of one class were a student who had lost a close friend, another his mother and then his father within the previous two years, and another her son. In a more recent class, my students wrote of their own Jacobian struggles with divorce, food addiction, anorexia, Crohn’s disease, the death of friends, academic failure, and faith itself. And beyond these self-confessed battles, I know from research about this generation that many of them are silently trying to cope with experiences of sexual abuse, alcoholism, pornography, and inner demons I cannot imagine.
These two classes represent what I’ve found everywhere I teach, at least if I take a little time and pay attention. In classes on the book of Psalms when I ask (okay, require) students to write their own psalms, 60 percent or more will write a lament, some of which are near-impossible to grade. How do you assign a grade to a psalm about abuse? But again, this is getting ahead of our story.
To read the entire first chapter, click here.