I Can’t Hear and It’s Driving Me Nuts
MARCH 2, 2016
They say old people only talk about their health and restaurants. (At the end of this letter, I’ll give you the names of some great restaurants.)
I can’t hear and it’s driving me nuts.
Let me tell you what happened. Pete Alwinson—my former pastor, our go-to guy for men’s ministry, and author of Like Father, Like Son (it’s wonderful)—and I went shooting about a month ago. We were out in the Florida wilderness on 80 acres where Pete’s son, Joel, lives, and has built a beautiful house and barn. There are alligators, bears, wild pigs…and a reasonable facsimile of a shooting range with bottles and cans. I have a Glock, Ruger and Sig, and did fine with those; but someone had given Pete an M-1 from WWI. It’s a mother of a big gun that sounds like an atomic bomb when you fire it.
I fired it…and lost my hearing. Well, not completely, but when I can hear, people sound like Donald Duck.
And before you start giving me advice, I’ve tried everything, including steroids, with almost no improvement. I even had a brain scan (to see if there was a tumor in my inner ear) and the doctor said that everything was fine. Actually, he said that I was “normal and had a brain,” neither of which is said to me very often. The doctor said that nerve damage is causing the loss of hearing, the distortion and the constant ringing in my ears. So in about a month, the doctor is going to give me an injection of medication in my eardrum.
“Oh no, you’re not,” I said.
He assured me that they would use a drop of anesthetic and I wouldn’t feel a thing. I told him that I would prefer two drops.
I just returned from teaching a course at Knox Seminary and you wouldn’t believe the problems this causes in class discussion.
When I’m in our small group Bible study, I have absolutely no idea what is going on. The teacher is quiet-spoken. I can see his lips moving but I can’t hear what he’s saying; so to cover, I watch other people. When they laugh, I smile. When they look serious and engaged, I try to look serious and engaged. And when I’m asked a question, I try to read lips but I’m not very good at it.
“You took off your clothes at church?”
“No, no, no…I said that I wore my gloves to church because it was so cold.”
Are you feeling sorry for me yet? If you aren’t, I have enough for both of us. I told the Lord, “If you really loved me, this wouldn’t be happening.”
At least that’s what I told him at the beginning. Actually, as time has passed, I’ve realized that there is a lot of stuff I don’t want to hear. When someone is critical, it’s easier to take if they sound like Donald Duck. And you wouldn’t believe how well I sleep at night. It’s very quiet, almost as if I’m wearing earplugs (although I can’t take them out in the morning). All in all, it really is doable.
During this time, I’ve also seen some things about me that I don’t like and Jesus isn’t particularly pleased with. I’ve repented of them and got hugged by him. I’ve found out that I try to control people with words (isn’t that awful?) and one can’t control if one can’t hear. I’ve repented of that. I’ve discovered that my ego is as big as a barn and when I’m with other people, I like to be the center of attention. That’s hard to do if one doesn’t even know what’s going on. I’ve repented of that too.
But even more important, I’ve seen God’s loving and sovereign hand in every bit of it. A friend asked me if I had thanked God yet for the hearing loss. I told him he was crazy. And then he had the arrogance to quote the Bible to me…and I’m a Bible teacher. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that God’s will for them was to give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Not only that, he told the Ephesians that no matter what was happening they should be happy (“make melody in your heart”) and then give God thanks for it in the name of Jesus (Ephesians 5:19-20).
It took me a long while but for the most part, that’s what I’ve done. I recognize that my hearing loss isn’t nearly as bad as what you guys are going through. I see the emails and letters, and I know about the dark and the pain that many of you are facing. In fact, as I’ve written this, I’ve felt like an ungrateful brat. But still, I have learned some things that are central to our faith and we must affirm in the dark.
For instance, it is a good thing to trust God whatever is happening in our lives. Actually, we don’t get a vote and don’t have a lot of choice. Once when I told my friend, Ken Nanfelt, that I would have to trust God in a sermon I planned to preach, he started laughing and said, “Trust God! Isn’t it terrible that you have to trust God?”
The writer of Proverbs said that we should be “all in” with God, trusting in him with our whole hearts and not depending on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). That sounds good but it’s a lot harder to do than say. I want to keep a little for myself and God gave me a mind (understanding) for a reason. So God helps us. He sometimes puts us in holes so deep that, if we do get out, it’s clear that we had very little to do with it. My hearing is like that. I don’t like it much but God has me in a hole and all I can do is trust him. I might never hear well again but I’m learning to trust…with moments of “cussing and spitting.”
But trusting in God is not a very pleasant thought unless you know that God is good. If he isn’t, we’re in a whole heap of trouble. Spurgeon said, “God is too wise to be wrong and too good to be cruel.” However, this hearing thing makes me wonder about both God’s wisdom and his love. We love to quote Romans 8:28 to others; but when everybody sounds like Donald Duck, we rarely quote it to ourselves. I’m learning.
And there is one other thing. My hearing loss has nothing to do with discipline for my sin. If there were a correlation with my sin, my shame and my situation, I would be dead. Frankly, when this happened (despite knowing that the Hebrews 12 passage on God’s discipline is often grossly exaggerated and misapplied), I started confessing. It didn’t work. People still sound like Donald Duck and I still can’t hear. So I stopped confessing. I started just hanging out with my Father and being in his presence. When one can’t hear, it’s amazing how often one is quiet. I often pray that God will give me quietness “inside and outside.” I just didn’t think this was the way he would do it. In his presence, I’ve discovered again that I’m loved, forgiven and accepted without condition. And he is there and he is good.
Don’t get me wrong. I hate this thing. It’s driving me nuts. But with that being said, I’m growing and in some really good ways. I might just become a spiritual giant.
Did you hear about the woman who stopped smoking and was asked if that had affected her attitude and mood? “No, actually it hasn’t,” she replied. “I’ve remained my normal, sweet and lovable self. However, I have noticed that my friends have become quite a pain.”
I want to say something like that about my hearing loss. But in fact, if we should meet and I seem irritated and treat you in a way something less than kind and irenic, you’ll know why. So try not to respond in kind. My family, friends and staff have treated me with an uncommon gentleness during this time and I “rise up and call them blessed.” (That’s something else I’ve learned…but I’m out of time and space so I had better end this. Besides, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.)
So be kind to the irritable.
If you don’t, God might cause everybody to sound like Donald Duck to you too.
He asked me to remind you.