Near the end of April, I went to the emergency room with pain I had felt only once before, back in December. It is the worst pain I have ever felt. It starts feeling like gas discomfort beneath my rib cage, and then it gradually spreads north to my chest and upper back, where it stays for hours not as discomfort, but as agony. I can’t sit. I can’t lie down. I can’t breathe, but it hurts even worse when I don’t try. In December, at urgent care, they took me back relatively quickly and gave me a shot of painkiller right in the butt, which gave nearly immediate relief. They did a chest x-ray and saw nothing. They did an EKG, and everything was normal. The doctor sent me home with muscle relaxers, 800 mg ibuprofen, an order for a sonogram, and a diagnosis of a back spasm. My back was sore for a few days and the gas discomfort persisted for a week, but then it was over. The sonogram was fine, and the subsequent CT and MRI were fine. I wrote it off as a fluke and went on with my life.
But there I was, at the end of April, in the emergency room with the same horrible symptoms. A nurse called me back after a few minutes. I described my symptoms, and she diagnosed me with an esophageal spasm—which would be confirmed hours later by the doctor. Hours. Although she understood the extreme pain I was in (she had had one before), she patiently explained that 30 people were ahead of me, and sent me back to my chair. For hours, I walked, squatted, lay, and sat around the waiting room, crying and whimpering and praying as quietly as I could out of sheer embarrassment. People sat patiently and silently with broken bones and surgical masks, and there I was, with nothing visibly wrong with me, except that I was literally writhing in agony to the point that I vomited a little and passed out.
I have recently gotten into the habit of audibly crying out to God. About a year ago is the first time I really remember getting into a shouting match with Him. I was driving home from my previous job, frustrated and confused and uncertain, having just recently seen the posting of the job I would eventually take—a job that I desperately wanted, but a job that would require a lot of sacrifice. I was sitting in traffic on Georgetown Pike, waiting a thousand years to get onto the Capital Beltway, not caring that the people around me probably thought I was violently arguing with someone over Bluetooth. I remember feeling, after several subsequent shouting matches, much closer to Him and much more confident that I could trust Him. He brought me clarity in my distress, and as a bonus, He kept me calm in the traffic.
Back in October/November, when I was having a bit of a breakdown from my OCD and decided to go back to counseling, I audibly cried out to Him nearly every morning—not from frustration and uncertainty, but out of fear that I would never be able to put myself back together again. He quickly reminded me—every single morning—of my great need for Him, that His power is made perfect in my weakness, and that His Son is a perfect and capable Savior. I cannot save myself. It took months for my brain to accept this Truth again, and I’m certainly not “put back together,” but at least I can confidently say I don’t need to be.
In the emergency room, I cried out to God in physical pain for the first time, pleading for it to stop. He didn’t miraculously heal me, and the pain didn’t stop until I passed out for a short while. (It came back when my body woke back up.) He didn’t make time speed up. From my blurry understanding of the evening, He didn’t really do anything.
Except He got me through it.
It went away. And I never even got a painkiller until I finally got back home, opened up the 800 mg ibuprofen from December for the first time, crawled into bed, and had the best night of sleep I had had in months.
I have found that when I cry out to God, it’s always from a place of chaos. It’s when I am confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, scared, and totally without control. There are too many moving parts. There’s a whole lot of money at stake, there’s relocating yet again, there’s starting over in a new city, there’s my sanity on the verge of completely leaving me, there’s shame and guilt that just won’t go away, there’s something in my body that isn’t working right and is quite possibly trying to kill me in that moment. Nothing in life makes sense and everything is always spiraling out of control.
Except Him. He’s constant. He makes sense. He hears me.
I pray that I would learn to shout unto Him from a place of peace and not just from despair. From my harvest and not just from my desert. I pray that I would learn to need Him even when I don’t feel like I need anything.
As I pray every Sunday in worship when my heart isn’t in the right place (and oh, it never is): “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Let that prayer ever be on my lips.