If you’ve read through the backlog of blog posts or know me personally, you know that I’ve struggled with lower back problems since December 2011. I’ve been incapacitated from a herniated disc between my L4 and L5 vertebrae to the point that I missed 4-5 weeks of work on two separate occasions, 3-4 consecutive days a couple of other times, and have dealt with chronic pain for at least a couple of years. I’d seen some marked improvement this summer, but am now about 5 weeks into a period of mild-to-moderate inconvenience where I’ve managed to get through an entire shift at work and then been more or less physically worthless the rest of the evening. It’s frustrating, to say the least.
Lately I’ve been reading about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I read Robert Wolgemuth’s Like The Shepherd, which calls husbands to shepherd their wives. It was solid enough, though in an effort to reach as many men as possible it was not quite as deep as I might have preferred. That, combined with Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 and preparing to preach on John 10:11-16, has provided a greater appreciation for what the Lord may be doing in my life. To the issue of pain specifically, the following passage from Keller was encouraging.
He may well impose on us some sort of “diet” or “discipline” which we may find a bit rough and unpalatable at first. But again we need to reassure ourselves that it is for our own good, because He is fond of us, and for His own reputation as the Good Shepherd. … We may rest assured that He will never expect us or ask us to face more than we can stand (1 Corinthians 10:13). But what He does expose us to will strengthen and fortify our faith and confidence in His control. If He is the Good Shepherd we can rest assured that He knows what He is doing. This in and of itself should be sufficient to continually refresh and restore my soul. I know of nothing which so quiets and enlivens my own spiritual life as the knowledge that – “God knows what He is doing with me!”
I’ve been learning patience through this ordeal, that’s for sure. I haven’t learned/implemented it fully, but interacting with my family and my coworkers has taken on new dimensions. Little by little, it is getting easier to not snap at people, even though that is my natural inclination when dealing with my physical discomfort.
I’ve also had to reexamine both my limitations and the need to accomplish certain tasks. Last weekend I finally got around to cutting up a limb that had fallen out of one of our trees and mostly cleaning up the trimmings so I could mow most of the yard. The yard needed it badly, and waiting any longer was going to make the task even less desirable. Unfortunately, one of my kids had turned the key on the riding mower and the battery was drained, so I was left with using the push mower. We live on about 0.4 acres, and by the end of the afternoon I was pretty well spent. It would have been easy to quit, but I decided I needed to do the work, not just because it needed doing but because I physically needed to move despite the pain.
And I, at least, am coming to grips with the idea of perhaps never being fully over this. Not in a defeatist, pessimistic view, but with the understanding that God can use me and has no less love for me should He choose to prolong this indefinitely. This doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t take steps to correct the problem such as exercising, stretching, and seeing my chiropractor. And even though God can certainly heal me completely and permanently if He so chooses, healing may come through perseverance on my part.
The takeaway I want to give you is that just because you are healthy and wealthy does not mean God has necessarily bestowed extra blessing on your life, nor does your situation being one of struggle or privation mean He has forsaken you or ceased to love. It is my hope that we can all say with the Apostle Paul, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:11-13)
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