When Difficult Questions Refine Your Faith
When my drug-heavy eyes popped open, I hesitated, then remembered.
I was in cardiac ICU in my local hospital, not caring for my parents or visiting an elderly church member, but hooked up to machines and wires and IVs myself.
The day before, I had scheduled an appointment with my family doctor for what I thought was the flu, or maybe pneumonia. He immediately discovered my very enlarged heart. And he immediately added the words “chronic heart failure” to my permanent medical record.
I spent 14 days in ICU as doctors tried to save my life. All of this despite having low blood pressure, low cholesterol levels, and a recent medical evaluation declaring that I had less than 3% chance of ever developing heart disease. I was flown to Cleveland Clinic and became my doctor’s most critical patient for 16 months. During that time, I wore an external defibrillator vest 24 hours a day, took supervised showers, and titrated potent meds to maximum dosages. I was eventually implanted with a Biventricular CRT-D, a combination pacemaker/internal defibrillator, specially designed for failing hearts.
We visited a cavalry of medical professionals— some turned away in tears, others started to talk about the heart transplant list. Things were moving at a dizzying speed. And, with children still at home, I felt myself falling apart in all kinds of ways.
Thus began a literal heartbreak story in my health, and a faithbreak story in my life.
Over the six years that followed, my heart function traveled to near normal, only to land back down in the red zone and hover dangerously close to transplant status on occasion. This fragile, stretched-too-thin organ was just barely getting by most of that time. Just like the faith I had claimed since childhood.
I was raised in a believing home and raised my own children in one as well. I can’t remember not knowing about God or trusting He was real. But this new chapter of my story brought up other basic questions: Is God always good? Can God’s plan be trusted?
I didn’t verbalize those pesky questions for many months after my diagnosis.
I wasn’t sure my belief system could handle it. My gut reaction was to take my carefully-developed, sheltered faith and protect it like an expensive family heirloom. To put it up on a shelf until my life came back together. I was afraid to ask God questions I wasn’t sure He would answer to my satisfaction. I effectively walked away and ignored God when I needed Him most.
But despite the distance I tried to create between us, God was undeterred. He put people in my life to form a lifeline back to Him. Hundreds of people prayed around the clock when I couldn’t. Friends came by with hope and humor and hugs and home-cooked meals.
And through that constant care, the Spirit eventually convinced me to ask the questions that nagged in the background as I learned how to manage my chronic illness in the long-term. By doing so, I began to understand how to manage my faith for the long-term, too.
I took my fragile faith off the shelf and began to poke it, and prod it, and at times wrestle it to the ground.
I lamented and complained, demanded answers and begged for help. I decided to ditch the worn-out advice: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In short, I mimicked the psalms, talking real to God: Why? Where are You? How long? Why not? I’m not sure I trust You.
The resulting miracle was this: Each day when I grabbed hold and confronted my questions, God was top of mind. As He has done throughout human history, He was finding a way for His child to maintain a relationship with Him, despite what was unfolding in my world.
By making room for my questions and complaints, God was expanding my faith.
Doctors don’t know what happened to my heart. With no risk factors and no family history, it is a mystery that will likely remain unsolved. For now, their best guess is a virus attacked my heart at some point in my past, and my heart grew progressively (and covertly) worse over time.
The treatment for heart failure is inexact and fluid, and any prognosis is unreliable. So I survive day to day, trying to figure out how to live without knowing when I will die. Not unlike the entire human race, as we all struggle to live—and believe—in a fallen world.
Some mornings (maybe most) when my eyes pop open, I still have to remind myself that I have this chronic, progressive disease. That my heart is weak and damaged. But I also remind myself that my faith isn’t nearly as fragile as it once was.
I remember that questions don’t threaten faith, but refine it.
I retell the truth that God wants to hear my complaints. Now, after all the contending we’ve done, my tie to God is tested and firm.
My eyes have been opened to something I might have missed in a safer, healthier life:
His strength has become the best kind of perfect through my own heart’s weakness.
After discovering a serious heart condition almost too late, Lori Ann Wood writes to encourage others to embrace deep faith questions along the detours of life. Her award-winning work has been published in several anthologies and dozens of print and online venues. Lori Ann’s first book, *Divine Detour: The Path You’d Never Choose Can Lead to the Faith You’ve Always Wanted was published earlier this year by CrossRiver Media. Learn more at https://loriannwood.com/books/ and connect with her on her website, on Instagram or on Facebook.
If you are on a detour, and find it difficult to communicate with God, get her free gift, 5 Prayers & Promises When You Can’t Talk to God at https://loriannwood.com/hope/.