To live is Christ and to die is gain... Paul's context for writing this was vastly different from anything that I could ever face: he was facing life-threatening situations on a regular basis on account of the gospel. I have no idea what this is like. There is absolutely nothing in my life that compares, and I feel guilty every time I try to write about this passage.
It's easy for me to put my pain into a teaching context factually, to distance myself from it and speak about it as if it didn't matter or as if it happened to someone else. This makes it palatable for me in a certain way, almost like an anesthetic. But living it sacrificially is something very different... And living it sacrificially is part of what Paul meant when he said, "To live is Christ." To die would be gain both because he would gain his reward, the crown that awaits those who overcome, and because he would be free of the suffering he endured in this life. But to live in the world would have required continuing to endure the pain of the thorn in his flesh and the trial of repeated life-threatening persecutory events--and to do all to the glory of God, without complaining. To live is Christ because Jesus, out of his oneness with the Father, had commissioned Paul as an apostle to share in the giving of the gospel. Only Christ could shed blood on behalf of humankind; but Paul, as an apostle, was commissioned to model grace and truth.
This commission has been handed down through the ages; and there is no room for a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude as one who shares in this commission. To live is Christ. I cannot just present my pain as a teaching moment. I must live it as Christ. I must live it fully, to the glory of God.
Alexis asked me if I had struggled with feelings of discouragement during the breaks as an undergraduate. I don't remember having these feelings. On the other hand, there are several reasons for this. One huge one is that I had not embraced the journey. I fought against the emotional trials I experienced at school; and I was relieved to be free of them for a while, even if this meant being shut up in the house. I had things to occupy me, and I didn't mind occupying myself so much at that time. I was not so accustomed to the idea that I should be doing anything but lounging--I was young, and young people lounge. I am not young now, and people my age don't lounge, even during their breaks. I feel my difference and my dependency; and it stings badly. The break is not a relief but another trial to be endured. In many ways, it is a harder trial. There are things I want to do, but I must overcome my negative emotions in order to do them. Overcoming those negative emotions is much easier said than done. I would rather that God just took them away, "healed" them. But healing is often a process that involves exercising through the pain and doing things I don't feel like doing.
I have struggled at times in my life with suicidal thoughts. I always pushed them away. My choice of life has been based on the idea that God did not give me life so that I could throw it away. This has only been a partial truth. It has worked throughout the years; but I have wondered why "resist the devil and he will flee" didn't work. Why was such intense depression such a plague to me? It almost seemed that the harder I fought against it, the more circumstances came into my life to create opportunity for the battle to intensify.
I must embrace the whole truth. To live is Christ. To live through being unable to sing hymns because I can't read the words is Christ. To live through getting up at 4:30 in the morning on a daily basis to get all my work done on time is Christ. To live through walking to class in excruciating pain is Christ. To live through losing my vision is Christ. To live through my friends' premature deaths is Christ. To live through my aloneness without striking out at the world or drowning my sorrows in fantasy is Christ. To get up and do my three loads of laundry in spite of severe pain in my hands is Christ. To scan next semester's books all day when I'd rather zone out and sleep is Christ... It may not all be a teaching moment right now. It matters practically for me. It's part of resisting, overcoming, running the race...