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Wednesday Writings

The Narrow Place of Chronic Illness

I love driving down Main Street. At night. When the streets are empty and the air is quiet and only a few people move on the sidewalk under the glowing lamps. 

Put me on Main Street in the middle of the day, however, and you’ll find me gripping the steering wheel with both hands, gritting my teeth and desperately praying I don’t whack off this car’s mirror or scrape that car’s side and DON’T hit the young mom crossing with her stroller three yards in front of me. 

Photo by Dave Norton. Used with permission.

If there were ever a perfect metaphor for the “narrow place” described in Scripture, Main Street of little Flemington, New Jersey, would be it: a regular two-way street with cars parked on this side and cars parked on that side, leaving what feels like barely enough room for me to drive through, let alone pass the UPS truck coming in the opposite direction. I know I have enough room to drive, but I hate feeling so hemmed in, so restricted, so limited. Suffocated. 

Sometimes that’s how I feel in life, when the pressures mount on this side and the stresses close in on that side and one problem after another comes whooshing past me with inches to spare. My spirit can’t handle it, and I cry out to God to take away the parked cars and lessen the oncoming traffic and please can there not be so many distracting pedestrians?

I identify with the psalmist when he writes,

“In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God.”

Psalm 18:6

In the Old Testament, the image of a narrow place is often used to convey a situation of difficulty or adversity.

This word “distress” translates out of the Hebrew word tsar, which comes from the root tsarar meaning “to bind, be narrow, make narrow, cause distress, besiege, be straitened, be bound.” (Can anyone say “limited”?) These Hebrew terms show up in English as the words “affliction,” “trouble,” “distress,” “sorrow,” “enemy,” “adversary,” “strait,” and “narrow.” (Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.)

This narrow place could be not just my Main Street but also a valley, a small valley with mountains rising high on either side, blocking out the sun, casting shadows, threatening claustrophobia. 

But what does the psalmist say later in the chapter?

“[God] brought me out into a broad place.”

Psalm 18:19, italics mine

This term “broad place” translates out of the Hebrew merchab, a derivative of rachab, which means “to be or grow wide” and translates into the English words “enlarge,” “large,” “wide,” and “room.”

I’ve prayed with the psalmist for deliverance many times. But God doesn’t magically transform my Main Street from midday traffic to midnight tranquility. He doesn’t open up a secret shortcut out of the valley.

Instead, He whispers, “Don’t be afraid. I’m with you. I’ll help you. I’ll take care of you. Just hold my hand and I’ll lead you” (Isaiah 41:10). 

And then I have a choice: do I throw a fit because I don’t like the closed-in feeling and I don’t want to be here (I didn’t ask to come this way in the first place), so I sit down and cross my arms and refuse to budge, anything to keep from going one more inch through the narrow place? 

Or do I accept that I’m only leaving on God’s timetable, not mine, and that I have no option but to keep going, so I embrace the challenge and take His hand and let Him lead me–as slowly as necessary–the rest of the way until the narrow mountain path opens up into a flat meadow of grass and sunlight? 

Photo by Dave Norton. Used with permission.

If I stay put, if I fight, if I close my eyes, I won’t see God’s protection as He leads me through the narrow place, and I’ll never see the glorious change at the end of the path. I will miss so much. 

But if I keep going, if I put my hand in the Lord’s and one foot in front of another beside His, I’ll grow. I’ll get stronger. I’ll learn more about my Guide.

And by the time I step from rocky valley floor to soft meadow grass, out of the darkness into light–be it the light of earthly relief or the Light of His Heavenly Presence–I will be a different person. A stronger person. A more Christlike person. Because of the valley. 

It may be a hard experience–uncomfortable at best, excruciating at worst–but the pressures of those narrow places are what squeeze the impurities out of us and pack us more tightly into the mold of Christ’s image (I Pet. 1:6-7, Ro. 8:29, 12:2). And then, when the mountain-sized sides of the mold fall away, we will be a closer likeness of our Savior, bearing the unmistakable imprint of His loving hands. 

I still hate driving down Main Street at midday. But my consolation is that Flemington’s little Main Street doesn’t go on forever; eventually it turns into one of those slow, winding roads that climbs the hills and dips into the valleys of rural Hunterdon County.

And if I drive far enough, I’ll be able to check my rearview mirror for a glimpse of my pretty little Main Street, and I’ll think, I’m glad I came this way.

Photo by Dave Norton. Used with permission.

 

4 replies on “The Narrow Place of Chronic Illness”

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