“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
I’ll never ever forget February 2011. That was the month I moved into the second apartment I lived in while in Chicago. My first apartment was a dream: excellent rent, modern, well taken care of and a block from the church, where I go six days a week. It was the envy of many of my single friends. But after eight years of living there my landlord cut a deal with a third party that required me to give up my apartment. To save money I took a very cheap, decrepit second floor space a few blocks away. It was a big adjustment in many ways. It was much smaller, had no shower and was three times as far from the church.
Then, the day after I moved, a blizzard hit. And O how I hate snow. At the time it was the worst snowstorm I’d experienced in Chicago: Nearly two feet covered my neighborhood. So as I was recovering from moving in, I had to go help dig the church out of the mountain of snow and ride along with my pastor (who has a truck with a plow) to try to help people out. Snow in that amount makes just about everything ten times harder in the city. And with the freezing temperatures that accompany it, it sticks around for a while.
Then, a few days later I got sick–really sick–for the first time in 25 years. I took a bad combination of medicines before bed one night and in the middle of the night I got up to use the bathroom. When I came back I collapsed on my kitchen floor. When I came to, my left pinky was purple and I felt sicker than ever.
My fellow associate pastor, Tommy Lewis, took me to the hospital that morning so I could get some medicine and have my finger X-rayed. Broken. And that really messed my life up for over two months. Between the new apartment I hated, the terrible weather and now this broken pinky, I was very, very discouraged. Yet God used that annoying broken pinky to teach me several things over the next few weeks. Here are a few I was able to apply to my Christianity.
1. The finger closest to it made the ultimate sacrifice.
In order for the pinky to heal, the ring finger was taped to it for the entire six week healing process. Its only job was to stay with the pinky and make sure it was supported since it could not heal as effectively if it were alone. The ring finger actually suffered from atrophy as a result. They called this “buddy taping” but I would think that “spousal taping” would have been a better term. Because this past year, my first year being marriage, has taught me that there are times where I have to stay right beside my wife to help her through times when she is struggling. She needs me to set aside my freedom to help her deal with brokenness. And vice-versa.
2. My body adapted to protect the finger and let it heal.
My body and mind made several conscious and subconscious adjustments to protect the pinky. The pinky would often position itself on my chest without me commanding it to, as if in a position of refuge. The finger nearly never got hit or harmed because every time it was close to being harmed, something in my body screamed to draw attention to what was about to happen to allow me to prevent it. And my right hand learned quickly to do things alone, like dressing myself and typing on a keyboard. Similarly, my church body did numerous things to help and protect me, like assisting me with my laundry and setting up my ESL class every week. Pride causes us to not want to serve, but Peter in John 13 proves that pride also keeps up from wanting to be served. Brokenness forces us to receive help. There were things I absolutely could not do without help. The church body protected me and was my refuge. And at times it still does even when my physical body is whole.
3. It required rest and therapy.
My pinky was broken for six weeks and needed four weeks of therapy. I wasn’t able to be very physically productive during this time. Similarly, I have been through experiences that spiritually, emotionally and mentally destroyed me. As a result, there have been periods of time where I didn’t preach at my church or do my regular ministry duties. I was too messed up, too broken to serve. I have been to several professional counselors in my adult Christian life, even in the last few years, to help me work through the darkness and fog of pain and brokenness. I’ve even needed medication to help get past some suffering. Not that I am proud of that, but I am not ashamed of it either.
4. It has never been the same, but it still does its job.
The cliche is that bones heal even stronger than before. I am not sure if that happened with me, but I am sure that my left pinky has not been 100% since I broke it. I can touch the bottom of my right palm with my right pinky with ease. But with left, I cannot. The joint below my left pinky always feels slightly off. There is pain if I try to carry something with the left pinky by itself, while there isn’t any with the right. And on and on. But what is interesting is that this hasn’t affected my life in any meaningful way. The left pinky often does what it needs to do with support of the whole left hand. It can still type. I can carry anything in my hands as I did before. In the same way, I have learned that sometimes in life when things–like trust–are broken, things can be healed, but sometimes they are never the same.
If I’d had my way, I never would have left my first apartment or gotten sick. But God uses pain and brokenness to teach. They are his loudest and clearest teachers, according to C.S. Lewis. So the least I can do is learn from what happened and use it to teach others. I hope these biblical reminders have been encouraging to you today.