Tuesday, February 01, 2005

There was a crooked man. . .

I remember when it first happened. I was all of 14 and playing in a tennis tournament at an indoor club near Warsaw, Indiana. It was a double elimination tourney, as I recall. I had won one match and lost another. I was holding my own in this match. I was never very fast, but I could usually cover the court well enough to set up my forehand. This time my opponent hit a drop shot just over the net. I was standing near the baseline when I recognized that I was really going to work to get to this shot. So I started a quick sprint, reaching as far as my right arm go, even sliding the racket grip down to the end of my fingers just to have another inch of reach. Then I felt it. A sharp pain in my lower back. I let out a quick howl, but still lunged forward to return the shot. then I found that my back didn't really care to move for a few seconds -- long enough for me to lose the point. The injury bothered me enough that I didn't stand a chance to win the match. It hurt the rest of the day, but two days later everything was back to normal. I have had a few flare-ups of what I figure is this old injury every couple of years. It doesn't take a lunging reach at a drop shot anymore. It doesn't take much at all.

It happened again Saturday night. I had been scraping some snow off our porch. Nothing heavy at all. Then when I turned to walk back into the house, I felt it. My old buddy. Back after a two year absence. I tried to hide it from my wife, but she immediatly noticed that I was leaning to one side. And for some reason this injury does not trigger her sympathy reflex. She just tells me to stand up straight, like I enjoy being off-center. She claims I look like that nursery rhyme, "There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile." Somehow that doesn't make me feel any better.

When I woke up Sunday morning, my back wasn't any better. In fact it was very stiff. I began to wonder what the congregation would think if the pastor showed up for services barefoot. But after a long struggle my socks were on. Shoes would have to wait.

Any time I have felt badly on Sunday morning, I've always asked God for a "time out" during the service so that the people won't be distracted from the message. If I were sitting in the pew watching a man leaning to the right for 20 minutes, I doubt I'd be paying too much attention to what he was talking about. I'd probably be wondering how long it would be before he hit the floor. With that in mind, I've always asked God to get me through until about 11:30 so His message could get through clearly. He's always answered that prayer, and on Sunday he didn't disappoint. I even was able to kneel down for a kids' story without a blood curdling scream! By noon, I was back in pain again and spent the day taking it easy.

It's Tuesday now and the pain is much better. I'm still not ready to bench press the sofa, but I'm much closer to normal. I really can't complain. So many people put up with so much more than I have to handle. Not that my life has always been a dream, mind you. But I've known so many people who have seemingly endless physical problems. Some of those people aren't afraid to let people know how much pain they are enduring. Others take what is dealt and thank God for His mercy.

I can never read through any of Paul's letters without realizing how much pain he was in throughout his ministry. Some was the pain of physical punishment. Some was pain from some of Paul's other experiences. And there was the pain of Demas leaving Paul high and dry. And the pain from the Corinthian church who had such a hard time giving up the ways of the world. Yet no matter how many times Paul's life was threatened or how many lashes he was given or even how many people disappointed him, Paul would continue. And in fact he instructed us to "rejoice in our sufferings" which really makes him sound a little out to lunch. But Paul's point was pretty simple. We can rejoice in the suffering we do for Christ because it is a part of serving Him. But moreover, any suffering that we do shouldn't be unexpected. A force field doesn't pop up around us when we accept Christ. We all get sick. We have our hearts broken. We are punished unjustly. We hurt our backs. But the pain we experience on earth will not follow us into the hereafter. No sickness, no more tears; that's part of "later" but not "now". Until then, we ask for God's strength to get through, and we thank Him that this temporary pain is not something He is unfamiliar with. He knows our sufferings.

I'm walking a bit straighter today, but some people have conditions which only worsen day by day. Mercifully our Heavenly Father cares for those people and showers them with His love. My pity is for those who reject Him in the face of suffering instead of allowing Him to ease the pain.

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