Ebb and Flow

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Prayer Requests, Reflections, Updates at 12:10 pm by Al

I am being weaned off the steroids used to treat the swelling in my brain that resulted from the tumor that grew there. I am also in the process of shifting from one blood-thinning drug to another. My leg remains swollen, so I am often reclining in order to keep my leg elevated. But the primary physical challenge at the moment is that I feel constantly washed out, weak (“wobbly” as I have put it) and exhausted. The desire and need to nap are constant. Physically this is primarily the product of treatments, dyes injected into my system for tests, and lack of exercise. So far the effects of the cancer itself seem to have been related to the blood clot and the brain tumor. Depression has continued to be a daily struggle.

I have been grappling to get a handle on something I have struggled with for years and continue to deal with now more intensely. During the last dozen years or so I have lived with the perpetual pain, exhaustion and brain fog of fibromyalgia. In that time I have felt constantly torn between the demand of my body for rest, and the demands of my job, family, church, etc. to carry out the responsibilities of life. I could never sleep deeply because of the 24/7 muscle pain, so day after day, year after year I became increasingly exhausted—sort of like experiencing a severe jet lag that never goes away. My body would incessantly scream for rest, but I set my jaw and “pushed through it” to do whatever it was that had to be done at that moment. When I could rest, it was rarely restorative, so I had to just keep going. Any time I “gave in” to the need to rest I felt guilty, thinking that I had too much to do to be resting, that people were counting on me to get X, Y, or Z done, or I that had committed to do X, Y, Z, or that I just wanted to help someone with X, Y, Z, and that my condition wasn’t that bad, that I was just caving in to weakness. As levels of exhaustion escalated because I resisted rest and worked instead, the desire for rest became more global and the overwhelming drive to give in to it made me feel even guiltier, as if I were being tempted to give up altogether.

[Intruding note from Libbie: People with fibromyalgia almost invariably look fine and normal on the outside, so others don’t realize how awful they feel. Al also has a habit of going to great lengths to mask his exhaustion and pain, not wanting to draw attention to himself, so probably even those of you who know him well may be unaware of how much he has struggled to function.]

Now that I find myself in a situation of being weaker than ever and seeming to need to rest a majority of the time, I’m not sure what to do with my sense of guilt. Am I “giving in” when I rest so much? Am I “giving up”? Is there a difference between those two? Is it okay to rest most of the time because my body needs that, and I don’t have much choice, and that’s really okay? Or does that equal “giving up,” and I should still operate in a mode of always trying to push through the fatigue? Having longed for rest for so many years and felt that I should resist that longing, now that I am more tired than ever I find my body and soul often longing for that Eternal Rest that we look forward to in Christ. Is that giving up? Or is it like what Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Was guilt genuine and appropriate before cancer but no longer? Or was it wrongly placed even before?

[Intruding note from Libbie again: A year or so ago someone sent us this quote from Richard Swenson’s “The Overload Syndrome” (I have not read the book):

“Since God is the author and creator of my limits, then it is probably OK with him that I have limits. He probably does not expect me to be infinite and is a little surprised when I try. It is OK with him that I do not have to be all things to all people all the time all by myself. As a matter of fact, it is probably not OK with him if I assume otherwise. You see, it is OK for me to have limits—God doesn’t.

I think a lot of Al’s feeling of guilt came from the demands of job, family, etc. being more than he had the energy/strength for—more importantly, more than God had apportioned him the energy/strength for. The Lord gave him limited strength, but his responsibilities required more than that (and he may have taken on more than he should have—writing projects, being an elder at church, being involved in people’s lives because he loved them…). So he was caught in an impossible predicament. In our culture, unless you are so debilitated that you can’t function at all and therefore receive disability, you are expected to perform at full tilt. In the Netherlands, at least in the past, a person with genuine limitations like Al’s would be given a medical notice that stipulated that they could only work, say, 60% of their job, and that would be accepted and worked around. During these past years of fibromyalgia, Westminster has been very understanding and supportive (and incredibly so since the discovery of Al’s cancer!), but Al never really let people know the depth of his exhaustion because, since the faculty and staff are already stretched and overburdened, he didn’t want to add more work to his colleagues by doing less himself. He wanted to pull his own weight—even if the truth was that he really couldn’t. And in that situation, the fact that his body was always clamoring for him to stop and rest made him feel guilty.]

[Back to Al.] I don’t want to give in to laziness, or self-indulgence, or shirking tasks the Lord has given me to do. And I don’t want to give up on life while the Lord still gives me life to live. Where guilt is real, I want to repent and receive the Lord’s forgiveness. At this point I am trying to sort out the correct and faith-filled balance between working through the pain and fatigue and taking time to rest.

In whatever time the Lord gives me, I have to choose very carefully what to do with my reduced energy and waking hours. Of course I want to spend time with my family most of all. Beyond that, there are unfinished tasks I believe the Lord wants me to complete. I am under contract to write two books (commentary on Judges and a book on the theology of Isaiah) that would give me great joy to finish. With only an hour or so per day when I can think clearly enough to work on those—two hours on a good day—they are progressing slowly. Writing clearly has always been a struggle for me, and as my concentration wanes it is more difficult than ever. Please pray for wisdom to know how to prioritize and use my time and also to figure out how Libbie and I can work most efficiently and effectively together to get these writing projects done.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that Libbie actually wrote this note for me after we talked over the content, and then I went over it and edited it. I didn’t have the oomph to get it done myself.)

Summarizing: Please pray

  • for strength in the face of weakness
  • for wisdom in how to deal with the fatigue issues in faith in Christ
  • for grace to serve and love him and his people in this time, and not to be simply caught up in my own struggles.
  • for Libbie as she bears so many extra burdens at this time. She has been amazing in her faith and her love. I am grateful.

Thanks so much! Blessings, Al and Libbie


  1. Craig Higgins said,

    June 23, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks so much for this posting, not least because of the direction it gives for our prayers. As a matter of fact, these sorts of concerns are often at the front of my list when I pray for the two of you. Partly that’s because it would give me such joy to see these two books completed; yes, I’d like to have them, and I think they would be beneficial to the church. But I also tend to think that time with family and friends is a higher priority–in other words, I’ll pray for wisdom on these issues, knowing that I don’t have much wisdom to share.

    I too often have far too many plates in the air, and some fatique is a part of my life (side effect of psoriatic arthritis)–though not as severe as you’ve dealt with these past years. So, Al & Libbie, I will be praying for wisdom, for strength, and for patience. We love you guys!

  2. Mark Strom said,

    June 23, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    Hi Al and Libby. I was corresponding with Tremper and he told me a little of what was happening for you and directed me to your site. It has led me to quiet reflection on many fond memories of you both from so long ago. You were, and through your blog are now once again, a wonderful encourgement. It also leads me to wonder at the teachings that can have us so tangled in needless fretting and guilt at times like this. We were made to know him and love him and to work out this extraordinary Imago Dei in knowing and loving others. Not in deadlines, projects, schedules etc. I don’t know if you ever saw my book Reframing Paul and the last chapter in particular, but there has and at times continues to be significant pain and weakness for me in many ways. I’m praying the fog of needless guilt and expectation lifts to reveal soime new vista of the riches of knowing him in weakness, foolishness, poverty and suffering. Libby, you write wonderfully. Al, if you do have the strength, you have found a way to see the book through. And if you do write, do not fear your life intruding in the text. It should. Love to you both, Mark

  3. Abby said,

    June 23, 2006 at 8:57 pm

    Hey Guys.
    Sorry to hear of the struggle you now go through, wrestling with duty and limitations. Here’s one of my favorites that freed me…

    “… and Jesus, TIRED as he was from the journey, SAT DOWN by the well…”
    (John 4:6)
    and God brought to him the person he needed to speak with and gave him an incredible opportunity to share and teach and witness – even as he rested. Sure Jesus could have pressed on, but he was tired, and God knew that and used that physical limitation for His glory. How much we all would have lost, if the conversation that followed had not taken place, if Jesus had battled and pressed on in guilt. What an indescribable gift God graced us all with through the exhaustion of Jesus.
    You just keep your heart on Him in whatever strength, or lack of it, He gives you. What He wants more than anything else is your love. Rest in knowing that He’ll provide exactly the opportunites and tasks He knows are best for you, and for His glory.
    Love you both so much!

  4. Diana Frazier said,

    June 23, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    Al and Libbie:

    As Jeff’s father struggled under cancer, he too dealt with a great deal of fatigue and, I think, guilt at not being able to do everything he felt called to do. Over the months I noticed a real change and deep peace develop. It was most evident when the youngest of grandchildren were present — then aged 3. Jeff’s father then seemed the most relaxed and accepting of the new call God had for him.

    Although my father-in-law started and engaged in numerous good and valuable works through the years, his greatest ministry may have been in his acceptance, and what seemed to me, embracing, of the rest he needed.

    May our good God give you what you need. And may the rest of us be pointed to Christ as we walk with you on this journey.

  5. alan gibble said,

    June 24, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Dear Groves,
    I don’t know you, only know of your situation through WTS’s website. Been following your blog because of an interest due to my wife’s own struggle with an incurable blood cancer. She also has fibromylagia, and I was interested to learn Al has suffered from this for many years. Your latest post has enabled me to understand her suffering much more, as her “complaints” usually are only that she has so much pain and fatigue, the latter also greatly increased by her “sticky” blood and poor circulation. Praying for you both, and thank you so much for sharing. I hate to offer advice – we get so much that is poorly offered and ill informed – but I’ll pray you’ll quit feeling guilty. This is not real guilt, only culture induced. May God by his Spirit give you both strength.
    In Christ,
    Alan Gibble

  6. Craig Combs said,

    June 24, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    How tender and how real and how wonderful it is for you to share that struggle with us all.

    I don’t have the wisdom to tell you anything about how to sort it out…
    …but I can relate to the struggle of not easily distinguishing between ‘godly guilt’ (i.e. sorrow over sin that leads to repentance) and ‘false guilt’ (i.e. feeling bad about something that you really can’t help and shouldn’t sweat, but ought to just release and go with the flow).

    My own besetting sin leads me to go with the flow when I ought to be sweating more things. Yours sounds rather the opposite to me.

    I am really feeling privileged to be in this arena of contemplation with you, brother Al. As you wrestle with these things it is an honor and a real help to me to pray along with you and learn from you and share in it all.

    May the Lord give you the strength to finish the work he has called you to do, the wisdom to discern the things he is not expecting you to fix or finish, and the humility to let go of the things you would like to see through which are not His plan or purpose.

    As for me, I am hoping and praying it is his plan and purpose to bring forth that commentary on Judges (and Isaiah’s theology would be a welcome sister volume on my shelf, too…) But that’s just me.

    My love to you all.

  7. Gerard said,

    June 25, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Dear Libbie and Al,

    Yes, of course I will pray as you asked. This tiredness and guilt are not a result of the situation but part of the situation.

    When we are depressed, we find it difficult to read a simple book. But we know we have not lost the capacity or the skills necessary to read. When we are low, sometimes we find it difficult to hope and even doubt our prayers. That is cruel.

    God bless you both,

  8. Gail Obenour said,

    June 25, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    sweet friends,
    what a devotion you have put forth. i must tell you again, how your words, your willingness to share so openly and your struggle to see HIM FAITHFUL and BEAUTIFUL, are doing such IMPORTANT kingdom work! the LORD brought you to mind throughout the worship service down here in North Carolina today. as we sang Blessed be the LORD, i could not help but praise the LORD for how you all are LIVING THIS.
    Every blessing you pour out, i’ll turn back to praise. when the darkness closes in, LORD, still i will say; blessed be the name of the LORD, blessed be YOUR name…
    we also sang How firm a foundation and great is thy faithfulness. i prayed through each of these hymns for you. i wholeheartedly recommend reading them for your encouragement.

    finally, this verse, i offer to you believing that scripture is GOD BREATHED…As you know we consider blessed those who have perservered. You have heard of Job’s (AL and LIBBIE’S) perserverance and have the seen what the LORD finally brought about. The LORD is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11 IT WAS THE LORD’S Compassion and mercy that validated the perserverance, not what JOB DID or DID NOT DO.

    Finally, Jesus was tempted in every way we are and so we can BOLDLY approach him, and say, ” LORD, what did you do when you were tired? WORN OUT and SUFFERING.” do not be afraid of the darkness. The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where GOD was. Exodus 20:21. the struggle in darkness is that so often we are called to go into it alone, BUT HE IS THERE…count on it.

    may you experience DEEEEEEPPPPP in your soul HIS PRESENCE, HIS PLEASURE and HIS COMFORT. HE is so beautiful and full of LOVE and Peace.

    With so much love,

  9. Mark A. Stone said,

    June 26, 2006 at 8:11 am

    Thank you for taking the time to share a life-long burden. I too have struggled with “jamming” too much into my hectic schedule. I never rest because I have too many things that need to be done. The big difference is that I have never had to struggle with any physical limitations. My heart goes out to you — knowing the guilt to keep moving but not having the physical strength to do the work without bordering on exhaustion (or actually being exhausted). I will definitely pray for wisdom. There is much yet for you to do. Only know that He will give you the strength you need to complete the tasks that He wants you to complete — not what you want to complete. Continue to trust in His love and mercy.

    And Libbie, keep the faith. You are serving your husband and your Lord well in your faithful service to both.

  10. Rick said,

    June 26, 2006 at 8:42 am

    Al and Libbie,
    I have prepared for worship the last few times with you guys in mind and your sharing has begun to affect everything I touch. I held Alice and Grayson (my grandchildren) last night and laid on the bed reading them stories and treasured it differently because of your sharing. I have watched you and am learning much about faith and Jesus.
    Thanks – praying for you.

  11. Ellen Sutherland said,

    June 26, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Greetings, Al and Libby and family,

    Ryan’s mom here. First off, let me say that we will never forget your love and compassion for Ryan and Rachel and the way you supported them in THEIR time of need last year. I know their hearts are hurting for you as you live in this struggle of your own. Denny and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts and keep you in our own prayers.

    Al, I have struggled with fibromyalgia for about 15 years. I understand all of the mixed emotions that accompany this affliction, especially the guilt and the feeling that “I should be able to at least do ……” whatever it is….then the wish that you had never said yes because you just don’t know how you can get it done. That is, of course, followed by the guilt of not being able to do justice to everything you’re trying to do, and the circle begins again. I have felt better physically since I finally gave in to the knowledge that I could NOT do as much as I wanted to do in all areas of my life. But there still remains all that we each HAVE to do, and I usually end up overdoing.

    I read with interest the wonderful advice and scriptures given you in response to your post by many who obviously care a great deal for you and Libby. I am not going to pass on any of my own, except to say…go back and re-read the post from Abby. She has spoken TRUTH.

    Your sister in Christ who is keeping you in my prayers,

  12. Belinda Millar said,

    June 27, 2006 at 9:47 am

    I just read a fascinating article claiming that lemon juice can significantly slow down the growth of cancer cells and even kill them….if you send me your email address (because I didn’t keep it), I will email it to you. It sounds very believable and worth a try!!


  13. Steve Lutz said,

    June 27, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    Dear Al & Libbie,
    Thank you so much for putting your pain, reflections, and faith out here for us to see. Your words on the struggle with chronic pain are timely for my wife Jess and I, as she nears her 10 year “anniversary” with CFS/FM. We both resonate with the struggle with guilt, lack of energy, giving up, prioritizing, appearances, isolation, lack of understanding, and the desire to take on more than God has given us. Nothing like illness to expose the idols of the heart. God is using your struggles to bless others.
    We are praying for you.
    Steve Lutz

  14. Mark Moser said,

    June 28, 2006 at 12:35 am

    Al and Libbie. With all the deep, Spirit-born fruits of suffering on this site — both from you two and from others leaving comments — I feel able only to leave a trite comment. But here it goes, because I’m thankful for you both sharing, as I’ve heard others at New Life also say. You two are doing rich service to the church by simply talking. Sharing. Sharing pain, hopes, joys. The ambivalence of the Christian life, I suppose. As a youngun’ — and someone who feared maybe he was coming down with MS or Parkinson’s earlier this year (and PTL I’m not) — you both are helping me be prepared for when the vigor of youth leaves me. (Please tell me I’m still young, right?) I will be following in some measure your examples. Grace to you both.

    I’d love to see your 17 foot J slip in the net again, Al.
    -Mark Moser

  15. Jessie Bible said,

    June 28, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    Dear Al & Libbie,

    I will continue to keep you in prayer.

    I have been studying Sabbath off & on for a while, and wanted to share a few thoughts with you — your resting is not exactly on the Sabbath – but it is resting, nonetheless. There are amazing things that can happen when we rest —

    In our resting – we cease from striving to accomplish & very clearly wait upon God to accomplish.

    In our resting – we experience the inbreaking of eternity.

    I pray that God will accomplish his purposes through the entire Groves family. And I know that our all-powerful, all-good God will do just that. And I pray that God will give you the strength to do exactly what he has for you each day, and that you will not be discouraged.

    Much love,

    Jessie Bible

  16. Fred said,

    July 4, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    Hi, Al & Libbie.

    You are right–I knew that there was a lot of discomfort in you, but did not guess the extent. Thanks for explaining; it helps my prayers for you both. What I have seen and known is your unfailing courtesy & sweet kindness.

    On our way back to Bucuresti on Saturday, we were talking about differences between our East Coast culture and Romanian; someone said that the only acceptable answers to “How are you doing?” are “I’m tired, but hanging in there” or “I’m really busy [overwhelmed with work, too busy, &c.]”, i.e., that busy-ness and visible productivity are the summum bonum. Nor is there any acceptable substitute to those answers unless we are literally flat on our backs with a medical “excuse” (NB: we need to be “excused” from being busy). And even then we’re supposed to be getting ready to jump back into the race (I deleted the word “rat” as displaying a rather unChristian attitude, but added this note, because it seems accurate). Let the rats run–that’s all they know–and let us rest and work in the Christ who alone offers and gives true rest and a gentle yoke.

    My prayer is for discernment to use well that daily period of clarity, and the grace to persevere in patient rest in Christ, who ever lives and reigns with the Father & Spirit, one God.

    With great respect & deep affection in him,


  17. donna b said,

    July 21, 2006 at 5:43 am

    Dear Ones–just back from South Africa and catching up with you guys. Amazing stuff God is doing in you ALL–really appreciate your children sharing their hearts, too. You would have been encouraged to see 500+ children in the black township of Tembisa (many orphans) singing and signing, “I have a Father, He calls me His own, He’ll never leave me, no matter where I go…He knows my name, He knows my every thought, He sees each tear that falls, and hears me when I call.” In the wake of suffering–these are the truths we cling do…Jesus our Rock eternal.

    As far as gulit and decreased energy (I hear you)…The Lord has enabled me to see no one ever died from a dirty house (no one I know of anyway) and so my house ain’t clean. Relationships are important. Your sharing your struggles leaves you vulnerable for people to give you advice–although one sharing their struggles and what they’re learning–is just that. It is not an invitation for the world to tell you how you should think, feel, be, do etc…and I don’t want to do that to you. You are gracious and humble servants of the Lord and just having you share in an open forum is a ministry to all who read. As I have struggled with limitatons since 1981 and all the things you know go along with that, I have seen that the Lord will give me the strength to do what He wants me to do. There have been times when I have said, “Lord–I can’t do this–but if you want me to do it–put my feet on the floor and let’s go. If you don’t want me to do–provide another way.” I don’t always yield in this way–but when I do–I am amazed at what God does. Sometimes I make a meal for someone else, sometimes I get a call and am told it has already been taken care of. It’s a heart and God thing, isn’t it?

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