In the Darkest Night, in the Deepest Pain

By Joe Aldrich   •   April 26, 2012

Can one live well with Parkinson’s, or pain, or loss, or loneliness, or poverty? How about living well with divorce, or a stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease? Sooner or later we all encounter times of adversity. But even in the midst of difficult situations, it is possible to give thanks.

I am not sure what I enjoy the least—moving or going to the dentist. Recently my wife, Ruthe, and I moved. With the arrival of Parkinson’s disease in my life, it seemed prudent to find housing that is handicap friendly. And so we did.

But moving seems to take forever. There seems to be no end to the things that need to be boxed. Many boxes hold memories, some hold family treasures, most hold glorified junk.

What we keep is often a reflection of who we are and who we perceive ourselves to be. What should I do with a box full of awards, achievements and other recognitions? Ruthe said, “Toss them. You’ve never had them on a wall, so why start now.” She’s right. But on the other hand …

Uprooting and relocating can be challenging. For Ruthe and me there were times of sadness, moments of discouragement and seasons of anticipation.

In the Old Testament, Joshua received word that he was to lead Israel into the land of promise.(1) Israel had waited to move for 40 years. God gave them three days to get ready.

When Billy Graham learned that I have Parkinson’s, he sent me a wonderful book titled “Living Well With Parkinson’s.” Sounds like an oxymoron. Can one live well with Parkinson’s, or pain, or loss, or loneliness, or poverty? How about living well with divorce, or a stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease? How about getting a bunch of people ready to cross the river and face the enemy?

Wherever we go, whatever we do, will put us in contact with circumstances that are beyond our control. As God helped Joshua gear up for the invasion, God commanded Joshua on several occasions to “be strong and courageous.”(2) Why? Because Joshua was about to face circumstances that would test his strength and measure his courage: “Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”(3)

“Can one live well with Parkinson’s, or pain, or loss, or loneliness, or poverty?”
God told Joshua not to be terrified or discouraged. Terror is a response to that which strikes like lightning—something unexpected, something overwhelming, something before which we cannot stand. Terror also is a person trembling in anticipation of the worst-case scenario.

Discouragement is not so much a flash of lightning as a fog bank. It’s what happens when we are alone, when hope is gone. Discouragement comes when we feel worthless and incapable. Though not as spectacular as terror, discouragement may be more lethal.

The people of Israel were about to face enemies that had been described as giants.(4) We all face giants on a regular basis. I’m discovering that chronic illness is a giant. Parkinson’s disease assures me that tomorrow I’ll be unable to do things that I can do today. I notice the subtle ways that my abilities are diminished, my stamina reduced and the level of my achievements declining. These realities temper my every decision—they define my future boundaries.

As I gave away many of my things, I saw parts of me die inside. I can’t use three chainsaws, but they’re part of who I am. As I watched my beloved Shop Smith leave in another man’s truck, I felt the close of another part of my life.

What do we do when we feel trapped, when giants seem to be converging on us? Is there a game plan for dealing with giants? Yes. We take our burdens to God and leave them there. Four truths from the life of Joshua underscore God’s provision for the needs of His people.


First, nothing should terrify or discourage us if we rest in God’s presence: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”(5) … “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”(3) … “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”(5)

To be able to walk through adversity, we must rely on God’s presence. God was with Moses, He was with Joshua, and He is with us. He didn’t forsake Moses, He didn’t forsake Joshua, and He won’t forsake us. In the darkest night, He is there. In the deepest pain, He is there. In loneliness, He is there. In seasons of despair, He is there.


Second, nothing should terrify or discourage us if we rely on God’s power: “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.”(5) No one! The universe is under God’s control—He leads forth the stars. Not one star is missing.

The Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who enables me.”(6) Satan and his demonic hosts are subject to God: “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.”(7)


Third, nothing should terrify or discourage us if we believe God’s promises: “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.”(8) … “You will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.”(2)

Note that God’s presence provides us the power to appropriate His promises. God promises to get His people over the river. He will be with us when the river is calm. Enjoy His presence. When the river is a torrent, trust His power. When difficulty comes, rely on God’s promises.


Fourth, nothing should terrify or discourage us if we obey God’s Word: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. … Meditate on [the Book] day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”(9)

Success is predicated upon obedience to God. To do that we must grow in our personal relationship with God. We must trust His power, claim His promises and obey His Commandments.

How am I handling the giants in my life? Sometimes Ruthe accuses me of acting as if I’m in denial. I’m sure that’s true. I’m still in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s, and at this point the disease is a tolerated inconvenience. I have times of discouragement. Sometimes I feel trapped, and on occasion I weep.

The Lord Jesus continues to work in me. His grace truly is sufficient. I still teach, write and work with students. I’m learning to rest in the Lord. Each day is a day that He has made, and I rejoice because of it. God’s presence assures me of His care. His power protects me from giants. His Word feeds my soul and directs my path.

Joe Aldrich was a national evangelical leader and former president of Multnomah University who died in 2009 after a 15-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He wrote more than a dozen books, including “Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You.” Aldrich was instrumental in bringing Billy Graham to Portland in 1992, canceling classes at Multnomah so students, faculty and staff members could attend the crusade.

(1) Joshua 1:1-4. (2) Joshua 1:6, NIV. (3) Joshua 1:9, NIV. (4) Numbers 13:32-33. (5) Joshua 1:5, NIV. (6) Cf. Philippians 4:13. (7) Romans 14:11, NIV. (8) Joshua 1:3, NIV. (9) Joshua 1:7-8, NIV. Bible verses marked NIV are taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, Colorado Springs, Colorado

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