Like some, we choose a book to read based on a situation that you may be currently facing and it comes recommended. A Small Cup of Light is one of those books for me. For almost the past year, I have been dealing with some stomach ailments. I have had numerous tests done but all came back negative. Though I am thankful that nothing serious was found, still, not knowing what is causing these problems has been frustrating. What I deal with feels like having a constant stomachache—the feeling when you have the stomach flu and your stomach hurts, but it is constant. I know my affliction is so minor in comparison to others, and by no means do I want to compare, but it is my affliction nonetheless.
In A Small Cup of Light, Ben Palpant shares his personal story of affliction. The description of the book on the inside of the dust jacket says, “Ben shares his two-year physical, mental, and spiritual crisis. In a matter of a few weeks, he was reduced to an infant—learning again to read and walk and feed himself. With no clear diagnosis, he was left alone with the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why is this happening to me?’ This book is his attempt to reenter that dark season and come to terms with the mystery, brokenness, and hope that he encountered in the wilderness.”
I picked up this book because I was going through not just the physical pain but I was asking the question of “Why is this happening to me?” The danger for me was that darkness was creeping in. I was facing a form of depression that I didn’t like. The darkness was creeping in and I couldn’t control it. I wanted to read what Ben had to share, knowing what he faced was far darker than what I am currently facing, and if he could point out the love of God through his affliction then there was hope for me.
Reading this book helped as there began this change in my thinking. It went from “Why is this happening?” to “I want to see God’s leading through this affliction.” Ben writes, “Christ leads us into the wilderness of suffering to engage us there. When he meets us in the wilderness, he is manna, he is water from a broken rock. But he is also the one who wants us to potently feel our lack so that we can cling to him. The Apostle Paul expressed as much when he wrote, we are ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’ God is the one who leads us into the desert and who makes us feel exposed and frail there. He is the one who turns the wilderness into a womb from which his children are born into gladness” (page 138).
He writes poetically with the mindset to share his journey to where he came to the realization that God, who is good, deserves all glory, and even in our infirmities, God is glorified.
I can say that I walked away from reading A Small Cup of Light with a profound awe of God. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads me and is leading me even through this momentary affliction. Through my affliction, I realized that I cannot control what is happening to my body. Something deeper was revealed. I saw that I put my identity and worth in small gods called work, family, pastoring, success, and busyness. These gods in my life are at war against God and His desire for all of me. I am learning that I am weak and I need to surrender my control. The things that I put my trust and worth in are mere gods trying to distract me from the Creator. As much as I thought I was dependent on the Lord, this trial that I am in revealed to me that I was independent. Trials will reveal how much control you would like to have because you can’t control the trial and it is hard. I have learned (though this is a dark time in my life of not knowing what is going on, or asking when will this end, or if this is the new normal), it is OK because the Good Shepherd is leading me. Where He goes, I will follow, even in those moments that seem hard to follow.
Author Tony Reinke shares this reminder about Jesus being the Good Shepherd and leading us: “Little do we appreciate the danger we face at every moment of life. All our attempts at self-preservation are laughably insufficient. We are poor and silly sheep, unable to add one inch to our statures by all our worry. The fortresses we build around our souls for protection are castles of cardboard. The dangers we face far exceed our frail powers to defend ourselves. Our vulnerability and weakness draw out God’s compassionate love and care” (Tony Reinke, Newton on the Christian Life, page 53).
I can honestly say through this endeavor that I have been able to see that the Lord does allow pain to teach us His closeness, which we may otherwise be unaware of. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God has been doing some shouting and I am so glad He has been. In a way, it has forced me to be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10). It has caused me to see Jesus as the Good Shepherd leading me in this journey of life.
I would recommend A Small Cup of Light to everyone, even if you are not suffering at this moment. The thing about suffering is not so much the if, but more of the when, and it is never too late to be prepared on how to suffer well for God’s glory.