Thursday, July 30, 2015

The End of the Rope

The open heart shall be filled.*

I discovered something recently... physical pain is much more immediately debilitating than emotional turmoil, at least for me.  Neither one, mind you, is fun.  Emotional crises have brought me to the end of my rope more than once.  But physical pain takes over your body and mind simultaneously, and can truly make you wonder if somebody has it in for you, even if it's only your own body that does.

You see, I recently cracked my foot walking down a short flight of stairs:  my left ankle went sideways and I actually heard the bone crackle as I went down.  A few weeks later, my left foot secure and healing in a big black boot, I twisted my other ankle while just walking straight forward, from one Las Vegas airport gate to another, and fell again, banging up my left elbow and knee rather painfully in the process.  I was traveling to a national Lutheran youth gathering in Detroit with a large group of youth and adults from my church.  We were going to be doing a lot of walking for the next five days.  Dear Lord, I thought, I can't hurt my other foot.  I need to be able to walk.

Unfortunately, I couldn't walk, at least not immediately.  My companions helped me up, and an airport attendant ran for a wheelchair, and I had to just let people help me.  Don't get me wrong.  I was grateful for all the help I could get.  It's just that I really didn't want to need that help. I wanted to be more self-sufficient.

The next day, on a field trip to the Henry Ford Museum, when my usual feminine products proved extremely inadequate for a peri-menopausal menstrual misfortune (to put it mildly), I finally reached the end of my limit of self-sufficiency.  O, Dear Lord!  Help!  And help arrived immediately in the form of one of the women in our group who could drive me back to our hotel.  She told me something similar had happened to her not so long ago, easing my mortification, and she immediately made arrangements with the rest of our group to go on, while she helped me.  Thank God. 

I discovered -- or re-discovered, more like -- something else recently... it's the times when we are at the end of our rope, whether the result of great emotional or physical crisis, or both, such that causes us to seek God's help, that the greatest relief comes.  If we are still at a point where we think we can manage on our own, no matter how desperate our situation, we won't receive the help we so desperately need. 

Coincidentally, in the Crossroads Bible Study, we are reading Job.  In case you don't know Job, it's a story about extreme loss and pain, and God.  Job is a rich and faithful man, who, in the space of a day, loses everything that belongs to him, and all that he loves:  his children, his animals, and all his property.  Can you imagine the emotional pain that would result from such devastation?

But Job merely "tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped.  He said [rather philosophically, I think], 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."  Job's emotional turmoil, although enough to make him fall on his knees in anguish, wasn't enough to cause him to seek help from anyone at all.

In the space of another day, however, Job's body is completely devastated, covered in "loathsome sores" from head to toe.  Like me, it's the physical pain that weighs most heavily on Job.  He is alive, but he would certainly rather be dead.  Finally, he asks, "Why was I even born?"  He asks, "Why am I still living?"  Job is truly miserable, but not enough to turn directly to God.  Personally, I think Job believes God is too far away to care.

Fortunately, Job has friends who come to be with him during this time of trial, who disabuse him of this notion.  Unfortunately, they tell Job that God is punishing him for his sins.  Still, it is this notion of an intervening God (albeit, a vengeful one) that pushes Job over the edge and finally causes him to take his pleas directly to God:  If God is the kind of god who watches his every move, who requires punishment for sin, then why doesn't God just kill him and be done with it?

Thankfully, Job's life is transformed in the end.  But more importantly Job's understanding of God is transformed.  In the end, Job not only knows that God sees what is going on in his life, but is present to relieve his troubles and bless him, if he would only ask.

As Jesus said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you.... Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead?  Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? ... how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  But first, you have to ask.

So, actually, the sooner you reach the end of your rope, the better.  Thankfully, I reached the end of my rope, emotionally, if not physically, a long time ago.  I know the power of asking God for whatever it is you truly need.  And I know that God will provide you with much more than you could ever expect to receive.

May the Peace
which passes understanding
be with you


* from "Come Away My Beloved," by Frances J. Roberts, pg 53

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