Straighten up, and be healed
I’ve been landscaping around the house where I live. The weapons of my warfare in this case are indeed physical: steel rake, shovel, Johnson bar and wheelbarrow!
Most of the time the job has been ecstasy for me. There’s something about working the earth that is super gratifying. You can tune out the noise of the world, and with the accompaniment of the ancient rhythms that are so deeply a part of us, tune into the precious Holy Spirit. (The only exception to my reverie has been the darn mayflies that I’ve had to do battle with.)
But the other day I got to the part of the job where I had to repair a stone wall, and the stones that comprised the wall were BIG. I tried to use tools as much as possible, but there came the moment when the only way to shift a 200+ lb. rock into place was to bend over and pick it up by hand.
I was successful, but I did hurt my back. I’ve done a lot of physical work in my life, and consequently my lumbar region has a disk that’s worn out, with two vertebrae naturally fused. I’m careful about it, but I don’t let it stop me from doing what I have to.
And so I developed a significant backache from lifting the rock. By evening I had become bent over, and pain shot down my leg when I walked a certain way. Having gone through this before, I know the drill. The answer is not in the likes of heating pads, herbs or magnetic exotica. The answer is to gently but firmly work the back up straight again, despite the pain it brings.
That’s what I did in bed that night, and the next day I avoided heavy work and concentrated on straightening up as I walked around.
The following day – today – after working out the morning stiffness, 50% of the problem was gone. I was out there raking, shoveling, and wheelbarrowing soil and stones uphill, with little problem. Tomorrow, I expect the problem to be reduced another 50% from today’s level, then another 50% the following day, until the problem is off the radar screen altogether.
I was thinking about this as I was working today, and it struck me how precisely the Bible describes this healing dynamic:
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. -Heb 12:11-13
That about says it all. If we want to be healed, the answer doesn’t lie in passively coddling ourselves, it is found in confronting our problems and challenges square-on. If you’ve got a bent-over back, the remedy is to straighten it up. If you have weak knees, the answer is to exercise them (strong quadriceps hold the patella in correct position, alleviating much knee pain. I’ve had a lot of knee pain, and I’ve personally found this to be the case, to the point where my knees no longer bother me much).
Note that we are cautioned that this is not going to be a pleasant process, but rather, a painful one. It’s as if our healing is a castle surrounded by a mote of pain. But there’s a stronger warning in those verses yet. If we will not straighten ourselves up and confront our condition, we can expect what is lame to be “put out of joint”. Nothing ever stays the same for long. It’s either going to improve or it will get worse. Our lives are always in some kind of flux. Don’t be lulled by some sort of compromised status quo. The reality is that either we’re pressing in to higher ground, or we’re sliding backward.
But oh, the promise! If we will meet our challenges head-on, we not only can cope with them, we can be healed! The world doesn’t believe this is possible. Even in the physical realm, when knees or backs go bad, or metabolisms take a hit, the medical industry’s quick, formulaic (and lucrative) answer is usually surgery or maintenance drugs, and overwhelmingly, the patient is sent on a downhill course, worse than before they went to the doctor. (I’ve had metabolic problems as well, and by fighting back rather than becoming dependant on hormone therapy, I was able to completely overcome the problem. Yes, the Lord has healed me of much! –see Psalm 103.1-4)
Here, the physical is symbolic of the spiritual and soulical. When we have a problem, obstacle or hindrance in the spirit, the answer is not to coddle ourselves or adjust downward into permanent workaround mode. The answer is to face the problem square-on. Yes, it may be painful for a season. But that pales in comparison to the pain of a life lived at a subsistence level of accommodation and mediocrity. Jesus has given us all the authority we will ever need to overcome any problem that could ever confront us (see Matthew 16.19, 28.18-19). He offers us healing, but like the man in the synagogue with the withered hand, very often we must stretch out that part of us that needs the healing, in order for the virtue to flow in (Mt 12.13).
The choice is ours. Discomfort for a season, leading to victory, or dancing around our problems and living far below the level God lovingly intends for us. Cowards don’t enter in (Rev 21.8). Let’s resolve to face down our problems, knowing that any pain we incur doing so is a sign of soon-coming victory. The pain is temporary, the victory will be sweet, and it will be ours permanently. As Jesus repeatedly tells us in the Book of Revelation, blessed are they who overcome.