Hallelujah When It Hurts
By Jean Tan
It’s easy to sing praise when all is well. What happens when the realities of your world don’t seem to match up with the goodness of God’s promises?
I was born with a cleft palate and lip. My first operation was at 3 months of age, my second when I was 1 year’s old. My third at 9, when they discovered a hole under my lip. My fourth at 16, when my jaw grew out so much I couldn’t talk or eat well. My fifth at 17, and then sixth at 18.
I had to go through 6 surgeries to look and speak as normally as I can today.
I have been called a monster, crooked, ugly. People stared in the streets, boys laughed or recoiled.
Somewhere along the way, my parents divorced and my dad went bankrupt. I did well in school to make things better for myself and ease the finances on my family, but also so that I could go away for college and live life on my own terms for a change.
And when life was finally heading somewhere, I was diagnosed with kidney disease at 24. The doctor’s prognosis: a 30% chance that this would go away after treatment, another 30% that symptoms would recur through life, and another 30% that I would have kidney failure by the age of 40-50.
It didn’t make sense. Somewhere, somehow, I felt betrayed, unfairly given a load I’d never asked for, and one that few else understood. I stood by pews and cried, soaked up hospital bedsheets with blame, couldn’t utter the words of the songs on Sundays.
But even through all of that, I couldn’t rid myself of an undeniable sense that Someone was with me. And that, despite the madness of life and the questions that came with it, that He was palpably real, present, and was giving me a great measure of resources to deal with whatever I needed to deal with.
So through all that madness, I knew I always had a choice: to turn further inward, and away, into the poison of bitterness, doubt, and anger, or move into the light in an almost insane trust in the goodness of God. The former consumed me alive, again and again; the latter was the only thing left to save.
For the next 6 years, as I lost practically everything, I kept turning to the light. Every time I stumbled, I turned. Every time I didn’t understand, I turned. Every time I was hospitalised, I puked, I fell, I turned –
Turned to One I was angry with, and yet the only Person whom I could trust. The only One who saw it from the start and understood; who knew pain and chose to take it upon Himself so we would know what strength and hope was. The One I’ve come to intimately know as Lord, because He’s proven Himself faithful, time and again.
Because when I began to turn to the light, regardless of the darkness that loomed – the light began to form itself in me. Light replaced night, and hope replaced the hollow. Instead of anger, thankfulness grew. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I learnt to give strength to others. Instead of despair, I found confidence and faith: that no matter what happens, everything will be okay.
And strangely, as I turned – all the things I’d lost began returning, one at a time, like flowers blooming out of the wintry cold. Relationships, job opportunities, money, music, travel… they came back with a vengeance and with a beautiful sweetness I’d never known.
It was in that journey that “Hallelujah” was written. It’s a song about giving your very last breath and turning to the light again and again, even when you don’t see the good that comes out of it. It’s about making the choice to trust, even when you are riddled with doubt. It’s about knowing that there is darkness in this world, but that His goodness overcomes it.
Because He is good.
And He will never fail you.