Tuesday, November 16, 2010

By his stripes ...

I have a bum hip. Not all the time, but now and then it hurts and I hobble just a little bit. Over the last couple years it's gotten a little worse. Early this summer it was enough to make me crabby. I felt old and decrepit. I spent more time in my recliner and coddled my bum hip whenever I absolutely had to move. My wife gently comforted me: "It's probably just arthritis." Great. I worried that our ten-day family trip to the Boundary Waters would consist of everyone else carrying packs and canoes over portages, followed by me with a cane, hobbling along the portages while everyone else built a fire and cooked s'mores at the far end while they waited. (At least that was my mental picture.)

A surprising thing happened. After about three days in the Boundary Waters, my hip didn't hurt at all. I carried packs and canoes (sometimes both at the same time), climbed rock faces and trees, paddled on calm water and in some gorgeous windstorm conditions which resulted in my daughter, my dog, and me swamping and swimming the canoe back into shore. It was a joyous trip.

When we got home, I made a mental note that if the opportunity presented itself, exercise might be good for my hip. But I didn't do much about it, and after a couple weeks of little activity my hip was back to its old unpleasant self. I hobbled along until early September when I went bear hunting. Carrying heavy loads through brush and over logs to get to our baits, walking miles upon miles -- would I be able to handle it? After a couple days, my hip quit being an issue and I promptly forgot about it. But when I got home, exercise went out the window again. I started easing up and avoiding physical activities that might hurt.

Lately I realized that if I don't get some regular exercise, old age will win sooner rather than later. I have too many more canoe trips and hunting trips I want to take to give in just yet. So I started running at the YMCA. First day was tough, but it's getting easier. And I'm able to do physical activities that would have had me wincing in pain a short time ago.

My point is not to give you a run down on my physical ailments. I've made enough hospital visits to understand how uncomfortable that is on the receiving end! But I think there's a spiritual parallel here. How often do we avoid topics and activities that are painful for us on an emotional level? Our emotions are closely related, though not identical to, our spiritual lives. When we shy away from emotional pain, we most often atrophy spiritually. When we dig into the painful areas, we grow stronger by leaps and bounds.

The corollary to this truth is that it is most often the places of emotional pain that become the biggest road blocks to our spiritual growth.

So ask yourself -- what hurts? What are the places of emotional or relational pain for you? Difficult memories? Areas of insecurity? Places of fear and anxiety? What relationships, what beliefs, are at the root of those painful things? Then take those to Jesus in prayer -- lay them out before him (he already knows them better than you do, but this is important for you to do.) Ask him to help you see, to help you understand, to help you heal. Keep going back to these areas until you can begin to talk to another trusted Jesus-follower about them. Then do that. You will soon find that the things that have held you captive are not nearly so strong as they once were. But if you shy away from these areas, they will remain painful and debilitating.

Truth is, this is why so many people shy away from Jesus -- he doesn't let us off the hook of our wounds. Rather, it is through our wounds that he wants to bring healing to the world. Why should this surprise us? Doesn't the Bible say, "By his stripes we are healed?"

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