Lost to Worldly Ideals
Elizabeth Yao—Nanjing, China
I was baptized into the True Jesus Church (TJC) at Queens, New York, on August 23, 2003 when I was seventeen. During the following seven years, I attended the National Youth Theological Seminar only twice and went to Sabbath services irregularly. There were many reasons for this, some of which, but not all, were beyond my control.
My parents were baptized around the same time as I and, as new believers, we did not make spiritually-driven decisions. I chose to go to a college with no church nearby, and my belief system eventually degenerated into one consisting solely of worldly ideals. At that time, I did not know that I was in the world, when I should have been in Christ. In fact, I knew nothing about what it meant to live for God, and how amazing such a life could be.
My prayers reflected my weak spirituality. I would pray only when I needed something from God. When He answered me, I would be very thankful, but would later forget all the things I had promised Him in prayer. And when life became empty and unbearable, because I stubbornly followed my own will, I would once more kneel down and unashamedly say: “God, I can’t take this anymore. I give up!” Then, unanswered prayers would drive me once again to seek solace in other places.
There were times when I tried to reconnect with God and improve in faith, but I felt a huge divide between myself and other church members. I felt that somehow they met the secret “standard” that meant God would always be there for them; I was not part of that world, and I doubted if God even still loved me.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL TURMOIL
In June 2011, I was in New York preparing for summer classes. By then, my life was devoid of God and I was at my lowest spiritual ebb. My lifestyle was spiritually unhealthy although daily life went on as normal. Then, one day, out of the blue, an area of my lower back started to hurt. The pain increased daily and would shoot down the nerves of my legs whenever I moved. I worried that I might eventually lose the ability to walk. Two weeks later, I rang my parents in China. Since I had no health insurance and no one to take care of me, I had to drop everything and go home.
Back in Nanjing, China, I visited countless doctors in at least three different hospitals. For the first three months, I underwent medical examinations, misdiagnoses, injections of strong antibiotics, and endured many painful, sleepless nights. The intense pain rendered me immobile. And my condition remained undiagnosed.
As weeks turned to months, I was engulfed by mental turmoil and often burst into tears at the smallest things. Although initially concerned, even my parents began to think that the pain and everything else was purely imaginary. To them, I was just idling away at home and moping.
I did turn to God, but in prayer, I struggled with anger, doubt, sadness, fear, and aimless questioning. I was remorseful over my past, and begged God for spiritual and physical healing. But I wanted God to grant me these immediately; I did not want to put in too much effort. Not surprisingly, my prayers were unheeded.
SELF-EXAMINATION IN PRAYER
With no other option left, I continued to pray. I recalled the time when I received the Holy Spirit, and the times I was most fervent in faith. Deeply examining my heart and humbling myself led to true repentance. I acknowledged my past mistakes and shortcomings, and accepted the consequences of my actions. This experience, I realized, was not only God’s firm reminder to turn from my former ways, but also a sign of how far from Him I had become. I felt this urge to throw out all my sins, like waste to be disposed of. Hence, instead of just demanding healing, my prayers became: “Help me God to learn from my past, and teach me how to change. I understand there is a reason for my pain. Please give me strength in my heart to know how to pray. Keep me one more day.”
With every prayer, I felt renewed. Attending church at Nanjing TJC more regularly also helped to entrench God’s word in my heart. As God’s strength flowed into me, I felt strengthened and more willing to yield my will to Him. As God urges:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies, .... Therefore turn and live!” (Ezek 18:31–32)
The more I allowed God’s Spirit to strengthen me, the more I was able to empty myself of past wrongdoing. The less I focused on myself and selfish wants, the closer to Him I felt. I knew I needed His strength to overcome my fear at the thought that my back might never be healed.
This process of self-examination forced me to consider important questions such as whether I would be tempted to leave God if He did not heal me. I reflected on my life since baptism. I thought about the things in my life that I had held dear, believing that these would bring me happiness, and I realized that I had been looking in all the wrong places. At that moment, all the bling and glamour that Satan had used to adorn the fleeting pleasures of this world suddenly turned to dust. As God’s Spirit shone His truth into my heart, I knew that I needed God in my life no matter what happened.
Understanding this led to new breakthroughs in the way I prayed and perceived my life. The power that helped me do this was not of this world or myself. God was giving me a step-by-step tutorial of what it meant to rely on Him. God’s Spirit dwelling within us, strengthening our inner man, is powerful beyond measure (Eph 3:16). God’s power and truth work inside us through His words. The more we draw on the Spirit, the more we can cast aside our burdens, weaknesses, and fears.
As God’s Spirit moved me, I learned to be more God-centric and less egocentric in prayer. I sought His will. I became more patient and longsuffering, characteristics many would not associate with me. There were still days when I felt hopeless—when I would kneel down to pray many times, but could not find a position that was without pain. This made me aware of human frailty in a way that I had never known before, and reminded me about putting God’s will above mine.
UNDERSTANDING HIS WILL
One day, a family member suggested that I get a bone scan. Up until that point, only my internal organs had been examined. A full-body MRI scan, revealed a herniated disk in my spine. This was bad news, but my heart was bursting to praise God. When I arrived home, I knelt before the Lord and poured out my gratitude. The three months I spent waiting and learning to trust Him were affirmed by this sign that He had heard me; He was guiding me to a deeper relationship with Him, to understand His will, and to fear His almighty power.
Identifying the problem with my back allowed me to start looking for interventions. Though still eager to return to a normal life, I was not anxious anymore. God had taught me through those three months how to trust in His strength and love, how to patiently pray and wait for His will to be done, and also, how to be thankful. In fact, the healing that was occurring in my inner man, the transformation of my heart, had started prior to any obvious sign of hope. As Paul said:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that
the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side,
yet not crushed; we are
perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but
not destroyed. (
LIVING BY GOD’S STRENGTH AND DIRECTION
In mid-September 2011, I started acupuncture, which had to be carried out over a month or more in order to be effective. It is an enduring source of wonder to me how I survived those days. Acupuncture dulled the pain, enabling me to walk and be functional in daily life, which was important as I started work as a teacher. However, pain, though less intense, was a constant companion. Moreover, thrice a week, my father would shuttle me to the acupuncturist, who would prick needles into my body and pass an electric current through them. I dreaded these sessions. Only that complete reliance on God got me through this period.
In late December, my parents took me to see a doctor in Changzhou, three hours away from my home town. This doctor was known to have “cured” many other patients suffering from herniated disk problems with his special methods which involved injecting nutrition into the spine, medical massages, manual chiropractic treatment, as well as daily exercises.
At first, the pain increased because the treatment reactivated the nerves in my back that had been numbed by acupuncture. But once the treatments were complete, the doctor pronounced my back cured. He qualified that it would take at least one to three years for it to fully heal and advised me not to travel by air for at least a year.
I was really thankful and directed all my lingering worries into prayers. Though healing would take time and back pain remained, I had learned how to trust that God’s will would be shown according to His time.
Once my teaching assignment had ended, I started planning my possible return to college in New York in the spring. My level of trust in God led me to do something that most people would consider foolhardy. The college semester would be starting at the end of January 2012 and I did not want to remain idle in Nanjing. I felt that if God was with me, there was no reason to put my life on hold because of fear or human logic. However, I did not want to tempt God by defying medical advice either so I prayed a lot about this. Something in my heart told me to ignore the doctor and trust God.
I thus took a flight to New York. I had been forewarned that the pressure changes during takeoff could cause my herniated disk to pop out again. My back was painfully sore for the entire flight and continued to hurt even after a night’s rest back in New York. So I prayed and told God: “I love You so much. I have learned a great deal in these recent months and am so thankful for Your guidance, grace, and strength. You have led me and kept me until today. Here I am. I trust You completely. I am here alone and will be for the rest of the school year—I don’t know if I can handle a flight back, or if my disk would be herniated again. I have only You, and You are powerful beyond measure. I know you can heal me if You are willing, but if it’s not Your will, I will accept it. Because no matter what, I will follow You all the days of my life, as long as You are with me always.”
That following Saturday, I prayed before I left to attend Sabbath service at Brooklyn Prayer House. I cannot quite explain why but I just had a strong feeling that God would heal me as soon as I got there. During the 20-minute cab ride, my back ached, but I felt an indescribable peace. And the moment I stepped inside the place of worship, the pain disappeared. I knelt down, and at this point, I knew how to pray. I cried. I thanked God. It was the joyful prayer of someone who had been healed physically. But, all the more, one in which I felt my soul had been completely revived by God’s awesome grace.
In the past four years I have witnessed how God used that point in my life as the beginning of my spiritual journey back to Him. It has been a struggle at times, but whenever I despaired or doubted, whenever I felt lost with no way back, the strength and perseverance I gained during that six months have been critical in helping me resist the tide of my former life. He has always led me back to His embrace.
For our light affliction, which is but for a
moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things
which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are
seen are temporary, but the
things which are not seen are