I used to share a lot of testimonies.
At the start of my journey with Jesus, they typically revolved around what I now recognise as trivialities: Favour at work, relief from stressful situations, a sudden stop to rain.
But as I matured, the sharing lessened, and the words dried up. It’s not that I don’t want to celebrate what Jesus has done and is doing in my life. It’s just that we’ve come to expect testimonies to end with the spiritual equivalent of a “happily ever after” – and that’s something my story can’t offer.
I am going blind in both my eyes.
This is hard for me to write, because until a few months ago I thought I was only really going blind in one of them. Sometimes it takes a while for the mind to catch up with reality.
Most people in my church know about this light affliction of mine. Many have prayed over me, declared verses of healing and promises of miraculous recovery that are mine to claim with the redemption of one mustard-seed of faith.
Within the first ten minutes of conversation, someone will usually ask me, “How are your eyes?” And I will pause, try to work out what I ought to say as though I haven’t had to answer this question more times than either “So what exactly do you do?” or “When are you going to find yourself a girlfriend?”
My usual answer, after some deliberation, is that things are okay, and that it’s hard to really tell. How else do you summarise a life-sentence into a pocket of small-talk?
Going blind forces me to acknowledge that I can’t survive on my strength alone
This is the longer (still grossly abridged) answer: I have been answering the same question for the past six years.
There is still no cure, apart from maybe stem cells and definitely a miracle. I am running out of options for treatment, even from Singapore’s best clinicians. There have been glimmers of hope, but the most positive results have been stays on execution at best: The apparent correction of negative test results … A few extra months on less-than-surgical treatment.
Most likely, they will cut my eyes open soon, and maybe again and again after that. Sometimes when people pray for me, I get angry enough to hit them, although I haven’t done so yet.
This story – my testimony – does not fit what people want or expect when they say “testimony.” It has no neat conclusion that sums up God’s goodness and mercy in a palatable way. It does not cause people to say, “Praise Jesus!” and happily return to their discussions of football or the latest in politics.
If anything, it echoes the grieving, beseeching cry of the nation of Israel in its darkest hours: “Lord – You are good, and Your mercy endures forever.”
So why doesn’t my story fit in?
My primary-school English teachers taught me that every narrative has three parts: Exposition (setting the stage), complication (bringing in a challenge), and resolution (solving the challenge).
I believe the issue is that we naturally frame the complication in terms of what we see, feel and expect – as opposed to His perspective on what’s the real problem. And as a result, we seek a resolution that deals directly with those physical or material complications, despite knowing that He is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than how our circumstances look.
There’s always something for which we can give thanks, even in our darkest hours.
My story looks a little different from that perspective. Going blind forces me to acknowledge that I can’t survive on my strength alone – a road that led me, spent and broken, to the feet of my Saviour. It tore down the walls of my parents’ hearts and brought them to know Him too. It not only humbled me like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but constantly forces me to test my faith, to build my endurance – to question whether my testimony edifies others or gratifies myself.
There’s no longer any pressure to craft up testimonies in my cell-group, especially not the “popcorn” ones that we fall back on in light of our program’s time constraints.
Instead, I ask them what they’re thankful for. There’s always something for which we can give thanks, even in our darkest hours. And doing so, as the words of Philippians 4:6 suggest, brings us to prayer and a removal of those anxieties that might otherwise mar our joy.
My testimony has no happy ending, partly because it hasn’t ended yet.
Perhaps there will be some conclusive moment of miraculous healing at which I can parcel up the entire narrative for all the world to hear. Perhaps not.
I can only see through a glass darkly, both figuratively and literally.
But here’s something to consider: Testimonies don’t have to have happy endings. Perhaps they shouldn’t. Suffering produces perseverance, then character, then hope. We are not called as children of God to be happy, but to be victorious: Over sin, shame, and death itself – through Him whose own story is the most tragic and yet most triumphant of them all.
Popcorn is easy to swallow, but carries little nutritional value. My testimony may be bittersweet, but that’s only because it’s been seasoned by His glory.