Lessons from Dialysis: Fill, Dwell, Drain … repeat

I don’t miss dialysis one bit. It was hard, uncomfortable, inconvenient and sometimes unbearable. But it kept me alive. And I learned so much from this unique experience of having to do it over the past five months. God used this unpleasant time to teach me things I would have never learned otherwise. And so today is lesson #1.

Most of my dialysis involved a machine. Here’s a photo of it:

dialysis machine

This machine would go through a three-step cycle that involved pumping 2 liters of cleansing fluid in and out of my abdomen every two hours. The three steps of the cycle are:

  1. Fill – where the machine fills my abdomen with the fluid
  2. Dwell – where the machine lets the fluid stay in my abdomen for about an hour. During this time the fluid is pulling out the toxins that are residing in my body.
  3. Drain – where the machine drains all the fluid out of my abdomen through a tube that goes to our bathtub. Usually, I drain an extra 300-400 ml of toxic fluid along with the 2 liters of fluid.

Then it repeats the three-step process again and again and again. At the height of my dialysis, I would go through six cycles a night, from 8pm to 8am. It was effective because it would remove over 2 liters of toxic fluids from my body each day; those fluids were the cause of my nausea, fatigue, disorientation, loss of appetite and mental lapses that I experienced as a result of kidney failure.

But sometimes the dialysis process was uncomfortable. The fill was painful at times. Filling your body with 2 liters of fluid is not fun. It pushed and stretched my stomach area out to the max (I wondered if this is what pregnancy felt like?) And the dwell was often discomforting, keeping me awake, making me long for it to be over as soon as possible. I usually enjoyed the “drain”; there was always a sense of relief to have the fluids exit my body. And I felt good afterwards because the toxins were removed and it made me feel as light as a feather. But then within a minute or two, the new cycle would start – here we go again!

As I thought about this three-step process of dialysis, God gave me a spiritual parallel: this describes, very aptly, the process the Holy Spirit does in the life of a believer to bring about holiness and transformation.

First, there is the “filling” of the Holy Spirit. While our initial experiences of being filled with the Holy Spirit might have been joyful, even euphoric (after all, we were living in darkness and the filling of the Spirit brings forth light and life), the day-in, day-out experience of being filled with Spirit can be difficult and uncomfortable. In being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are asking another Person to come and direct our lives. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means we have to de-throne our egos, our wills, our false self, our need to be right. And being filled with the Holy Spirit also means we will be stretched beyond our abilities or capabilities.

Then, there is the “dwelling” of the Spirit. Too many Christians think that the Holy Spirit’s role is to just zap us with good spiritual experiences. That has not been my usual experience with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit needs to dwell in me because there is a good, but hard work that needs to be done: holiness and transformation. So the Holy Spirit examines me. The Holy Spirit identifies the “toxins” in my life and starts pulling them out of me (ouch!). The Holy Spirit convicts me and is relentless until, out of my own volition, I face the truth and surrender areas of my life that I’ve clung onto – things that I treasure, but lead to death and harm. Now, the Holy Spirit is always loving and somehow always brings His strength and presence to help me endure His often painful work of sanctification and transformation. However, welling is no picnic by any means.

But then comes the “drain”: having removed the toxins of sin, self-centeredness, ego, harmful pride, unforgiveness, stubbornness, judgmentalism, fear, and anxiety, I now live in freedom, peace and joy! Chains come off, my eyes start to see clearly, my heart is now open to love, the Breath of God flows into me. I am becoming a new man! As the toxins go out from me, a fresh new desire to do God’s will is formed in me. That is where the Spirit inspires me to do “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). I am moved and empowered to do things like: forgive, seek reconciliation, be generous, meet a need, encourage someone, serve, share Christ, administer compassion, go the extra mile, write a blog, etc.

And then, much like my dialysis machine, we repeat the process. The big difference is that, while my dialysis machine can only “maintain” my body, the Holy Spirit moves us forward with each fill, dwell and drain. Each cycle leads us to greater transformation and becoming more like Jesus. Each cycle brings a greater depth of life, freedom, joy, hope and faith. Each cycle brings a greater awareness of God’s amazing love and draws us unto closer union with Him.

One last thing: this metaphor is simply that: a metaphor. There is so much to the dynamic of the filling, indwelling and outpouring of the Holy Spirit than the work of holiness and transformation (things like deep experiences, signs and wonders, hearing the voice of Jesus to name a few) and the dialysis machine metaphor simply falls short.

But this metaphor helped me understand a deeper context of the Spirit’s work that often does not get discussed in the church because we don’t like to talk about the hard side of the faith (as well, we hardly hear about the theology of the Cross or God’s good work through suffering and trials). We want transformation to be all about “pleasant, self-improvement” when it is pretty much about putting our false self to death under the Divine direction and grace of God. So I hope this opens the discussion some.

Some of you are going through hard times, sufferings or trials. And the enemy wants you to believe that God has abandoned you and that there is no hope. But the truth is that the Spirit is at work in you. He is close to you. His loving, powerful presence is right there. He’s doing a hard work, but it’s a good work. Turn your heart and mind to face Him as He works to take the toxins of sin and death out of you in order to give you real life.

3 thoughts on “Lessons from Dialysis: Fill, Dwell, Drain … repeat

  1. This is meaty stuff. Oh how I wish you and Bill could talk about your personal sufferings and glorify the Lord in your understanding. It is an honor to be able to read of your journey and revelations. Suffering doesn’t has to be viewed as all bad. It produces character, perseverance, and endurance. I look forward to reading more. I’m new to your blogs. Keep writing brother. Maybe I can see you and Letty after so many years…

    • Hi Lynne!

      Wow! It’s been such a long time. Letty and I would love to reconnect with you. Right now, I’m confined to staying at home for a month (to protect my kidney from infections). But if you’d like to come over here, that would be great. Or we can until after July 18. Let me know. Contact me at my email: wholelifeworship@gmail.com. Thanks!

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