January 18, 2010
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8.
To understand why this verse might be significant for a person who experiences so much pain, it is necessary to know the characteristics of a green olive tree. This robust tree can live for centuries, even in dry, barren, and rocky places. To harvest the olives in Biblical times, the green olive tree would be beaten with sticks to knock the fruit from its branches. In spite of that, the tree would continue to produce new fruit. The strength of this tree comes from its roots, which go deep into the earth. The green olive tree’s roots are so deep and so strong that they survive even if the trunk is burned or cut down. The roots will send up new shoots, and they will bear fruit. The green olive tree knows how to survive and thrive even in the harshest of environments.
If you live with trigeminal neuralgia or other types of face pain, you have experienced a hostile environment. Years ago I felt that my body had become my own prison. By God’s grace, I was released from the pain. I went back to a “normal life,” and was teaching a Bible study for the ladies’ group at my church. In the course of the study, we discussed Psalm 52:8 and another verse about an olive tree, Deuteronomy 24:20. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
I cautioned the ladies to preserve some of the fruit that they bear for people that God will send to them. It’s so easy to get depleted, to have every piece of fruit (or every bit of energy) taken from us. Today’s demands are heavy: careers, children, aging parents, ministries, volunteer activities, and church functions. The list is endless, and our heavy obligations can leave us with no time or energy to help someone that the Lord puts in our path. At the time I wasn’t working, but a few months later I returned to the work force.
Last March, I went on a business trip to meet with a group of people who were experiencing facial pain. A couple of hours before I departed, I was gripped with terrible pain. It radiated from my jaws and into my face. The pain left during the last leg of the flight, but when I arrived at my destination I was exhausted. I enjoyed the visit, and it was soon time to return home to Florida. I was on a tight schedule, with an appointment the day after my return.
I learned that my schedule was going to be much tighter than I expected. The weather caused flights to Florida to be cancelled for the day. I left the airport and went to a nearby hotel. The first thing I did when I walked into my room was take the Gideon’s Bible from the desk. I don’t ordinarily open the Bible and read it where it falls, but on this day I was desperate. I wanted a word to calm my frustration. I looked at the open page and began to read Deuteronomy 24:20. Tears fell down my cheeks as I realized that I had ceased to bear fruit. I had nothing left to give to strangers, to the fatherless, or to widows. In fact, I had nothing to give to my family. I was always in need of their strength and support.
I surveyed my life that day and realized that my roots had not found the nourishment they so desperately needed. In Gainesville I had not found a church that I could call “home.” I was living away from my family and saw my husband only on the weekends. I missed him terribly. My noisy neighbors got home from work every morning at 3:00 a.m., and sleeping through the night was difficult. Worst of all, my own pain continued to increase.
Had I forgotten about God? No. I still read my Bible each morning. I was sad because life had become so difficult. I wondered why I was having so much pain in my jaws and neck, and I longed for home. I faced this fact: circumstances had beaten me down.
That day in the airport hotel, I asked God to restore me. Because I had experienced trigeminal neuralgia, I knew that that the current pain was very different. It wasn’t long before I began to notice some things that pointed to the root of my facial pain. For example, my teeth, which had always been straight, had become crowded and crooked.
In the diagnostic process, the facial pain and jaw dysfunction grew worse. I could not continue working, but I had answers about the root of the pain. Having a diagnosis gave me some relief, but it did not make the pain stop. It was clearly caused by my jaws, which were often locking shut. I resigned from my job and stayed home. Several months went by before I began to feel better. My body rebelled if I moved around a lot, so I stayed still. Very still.
Sometimes the Lord wants us to be still, to wait for Him. Sometimes we have no choice. It was while I stayed still that I could really focus on Jesus. My roots began to receive the nourishment they needed. Jesus is my source of strength, the One who helps me grow.
Although I was overwhelmed and beaten, my roots had not died. Your roots are still alive. You can also experience growth and restoration. We are like green olive trees, and the Lord wants us to bear fruit. We willl be able to help the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger once again… with God’s help.
Have you read With Great Mercy?