I sit in front of my computer to re-read this post I wrote in February 2013 when I injured myself training for a half-marathon my senior year of college. As I read, my chest tightens with frustration edging on cynicism. Because 21-year-old me wrote about healing. And 24-year-old me asks, “Healing? What healing? There has been no sign of it.”
It is now January 2016, almost three years later, and I am counting: six doctors, three x-rays, one MRI, two physical therapy attempts, countless Ibuprofen tablets, prayers, and restless nights. I would learn that I had something of a predisposition to this type of injury, which resulted in the diagnosis of “hip dysplasia and impingement with a labral cartilage tear.” It’s quite a mouthful and complicated enough that I’m still trying to understand it to this day.
Presently counting: seven days since I could walk without any discomfort. And there were only four days prior that were pain-free. On days like today, healing of any form seems laughable. But I am not laughing because yesterday, I hobbled into Walgreens to pick up my prescription for extra-strength Ibuprofen while the sun was shining beautifully and warmly in January and all I could think was, “I can’t even go on a walk today.”
I was not sad when one doctor told me I should never run again. The last two and a half years were spent coming to terms with that suggestion before it was even suggested. Luckily, there are many other ways to stay active. Not so luckily, there are days when I can do zero of those things. Those are the days when sadness looms. When cynicism lurks. When disappointment lingers.
I can’t do this.
Those words, in spite of what they mean in terms of incapability, are actually capable of many things. They can stop us in our tracks. They can keep us from gaining any momentum, and can cause any flicker of hope to go out. Those words can be heartbreaking and cause us to ask similar questions to those that Job asked:
“What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
What prospects, that I should be patient?
Do I have the strength of stone?
Is my flesh bronze?
Do I have any power to help myself,
now that success has been driven from me?”
We so badly want to prove to ourselves and to everyone else that we are capable of overcoming difficulty, and saying “I can’t do this” feels so, so weak.
Because to be capable is to be strong and empowered. A sparrow spends her days soaring just below the clouds because that is what she is made for. Clip her wings and she is confined to the ground; half of her world is out of reach. We despise confinement. When we are confined, whether it be to a couch, a stereotype, a diet, medication – fill in the blank, we feel different and perhaps ashamed. “This is not how it’s supposed to be.”
But isn’t that just it? This body, this illness, this circumstance, this world – this is not how it is supposed to be. Not. Even. Close.
Someday it will all be redeemed, I am sure of that, and tomorrow may be that day – who knows but the One who ordained it to be so? But today, I am here. In this body that is far from perfect. With this heart that is even further.
There is a man in the Bible named Jacob, and he fascinates me. His story can be hard to swallow because unless we understand God’s grace and mercy, we can’t understand why he would place Jacob in the lineage of Jesus. Jacob does not lead a polished life. He is a liar and a manipulator, and he is selfish and impulsive. He is not a good son, nor a good brother, and yet despite Jacob’s tendency to fail, God pursues him, keeps His promises to him and blesses him.
The part of Jacob’s story that sticks out to me the most is in Genesis 32. The night before he is to face his brother, Esau, from whom Jacob stole his birthright, a man appears to him. This man wrestles with Jacob for hours into the morning, and to end the struggle, simply touches Jacob’s hip, plucking it from the socket. The injury causes him to limp, something I have come to know well.
This injury is a turning point in Jacob’s understanding of himself and of God. He somehow recognizes that he has been face-to-face with God. He has wrestled with Him, and has been wounded by Him, which forces Jacob to face himself. His limp is not just a result of this injury, but maybe something more symbolic. Mark Buchanan, in his book The Rest of God, explains it this way:
Maybe Jacob limped after his encounter with God, not only because God wounded him, but because God pulled from him his crutches, his props, all the external things with which he supported himself. (pg. 207-208)
Perhaps my health was my crutch, my prop, something on which I supported myself. Don’t understand this the wrong way: my desire to feel capable and whole is not lost on God. But He knows I will never feel those things without Him. He uses our pain to bring us back to Him, to remind us that our treasure is in heaven with Him. Nothing in this world will do – not a perfect body, not a perfect marriage, not a perfect brain.
Chronic pain has turned me in on myself and has split me in half. It has made me doubt everything, but it has also made me hope even more for the day when there is no more sorrow, no more pain. But until then, day by day, I am witnessing God’s work in me and my chronic need of Him.
To say, “I can’t do this,” is actually not a sign of weakness when we are surrendering ourselves to God. When we simply cannot do anything else but cry out for help, He meets us and changes us in astonishing ways.
God is slowly and patiently bringing us to the end of ourselves, so that he might fill us with the life of Christ. –Tim Lane
So, tomorrow, if the pain vanishes, may I be joyful for that gift instead of grudgingly waiting for the pain to return. And when it does return, may I not see my limitations as confinement, but rather look for what the Lord is freeing me from so I can love and live boldly.