Misguided Effort

So I’ve had a cast now for two months since having reconstructive wrist surgery in early October. I’ve got a month left of immobility, which will be followed by three months of physical therapy with the hope that, if everything goes perfectly, I will end up with 75% mobility in my right, dominant hand… that’s the best-case scenario. It’s been two months of being restricted from moving my wrist up or down, left or right. Completely immobilized. Oh, and they also casted my right thumb, so I’ve had no ability to grasp or hold anything more than some small thing temporarily between my fingers.

Being incapacitated like this is like a cruel, ironic joke for someone like me, whose life has been dominated by an inexorable drive toward movement and effort and adventure. Skateboarding, rock climbing, biking, motocross, watersports, snowboarding, baseball, construction… name it, I’ve probably done it. In fact, seeking out extreme and excessive experiences is part of my core personality type; and it comes with a cost.

Spiritually, I’m learning a lot right now about the rhythms of patience and trust… and even more about what’s underneath them.  I would say that our spiritual lives exhibit parallels to our individual and social tendencies, wouldn’t you?  What I mean is that the impulsive and forceful attitudes of mine that have led to my wrist injuries also manifest themselves in challenges with my relationship with God and others. As I go through life right now with this constant, irritating, confining, limiting object-lesson of my physical excesses; the Father is chiseling-off some of the hard edges of my impatient and overzealous soul simultaneously. Often, our greatest strengths also hold seeds of sin that can be easily activated to work against Him. Some of His most powerful lessons arrive through the ordinary experiences we go through in our daily lives.  

How about you? How are some of your life challenges and liabilities linked to your spiritual journey of understanding and following your Heavenly Father?

I would say that for my entire adult life I have utilized all of the strength and stability my body could offer in order to keep up with the demands my imagination have required from it. I remember being 31-years-old and deciding I wanted to build a natural stone retaining wall in my front yard, including going to the quarry a few times to select and load all the stones by hand. I think I took a week off work to do the whole project; and ended up working 5-6 very long, consecutive days to get it done.  I had a desk job in those days, and had never done anything like this before, so my hands and forearms started throbbing and going numb after about three days… but I didn’t care because I was still invincible. I remember the friend who warned me that I was potentially damaging my hands and wrists, and that I should take a few days off and come back to it after resting. I also remember scoffing at him and thinking he was wimpy.  I was driven to keep going until the job was done.  

I was like a lot of us in my 20s and 30s, overextending myself regularly with no fear of repercussion. Being old enough to have my body start falling apart seemed so far away that I really couldn’t even imagine it; so I didn’t care.  I regularly ignored physical warning signs from my body, as well as the concerns of people around me. I just figured I was stronger than them.  Well, this cast is where that attitude got me… this super-expensive reminder that, apparently, I was not as invincible as I thought I was. Indeed, “pride comes before the fall.”

So, what am I learning spiritually?  I keep coming back to the concept of walking by the spirit, as opposed to trying to achieve my spiritual goals through human effort.  My lesson is that, just as I have become injured because I lacked the ability to live within my own physical limitations; my soul and my connection to God suffer harm when I become so married to my own ambitions that His role in my life becomes secondary to them.  

“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”  (Galatians 3)

I have had some stunning revelations while reading and praying through Galatians. There’s a part in chapter 6 where it encourages those who are spiritual to restore those who are caught in sin. The NIV uses the phrase “those who walk in the spirit”, as opposed to others who do not, yet are also in Christ. This distinction is incredibly important because it reveals that it’s possible to be a Christian, and be saved for eternity in heaven with him, but to walk through our days on earth as if we were untethered to Him… unenlightened, unconvinced, unempowered, unfulfilled.  

Many of us who have purposed to follow Him, myself included, tend to work too hard on our sides; rather than releasing control so He can draw us into the gravity of His side…. We want the free gift of salvation for when we die, but we are addicted to our own versions of maneuvering through this life on our own terms in the meantime.  I realize as I’m saying this how muddy and gray this distinction can be, and that using black-and-white language to differentiate our efforts and God’s efforts can be an oversimplification; however, I do recognize looking back at my life with Christ, how I often start with the Spirit and end up allowing my own efforts to take the reins.  

Can you relate? Perhaps not, there are many different types of personalities with their own Achilles’ heels… their own versions of pride and independence from God.  What is yours? How is God seeking you right now? What circumstances is He using to get your attention? How are you cooperating with Him, or resisting Him?

So I have a month left of immobility, and then I will start 3-months of physical therapy.  The process won’t be done until April or May.  But first I must heal, and then I will be shown how to break down every movement of my wrist and hand into its basic parts, learning to function again over time.  This is also how the Spirit works in us, in His endless pursuit of forming us into the image of Jesus. His compassion is endless, and His faithfulness is great, as He produces fruit in our lives.  Our job is to do whatever it takes to stay close to Him, trust whatever we believe He is telling us to do or not do, and leave the results up to Him.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15)

”So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law… the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”  (Galatians 5)

By catalystshawn

Shawn is the founding Minister/Executive Director of Catalyst NW, launched in 2007. Before starting Catalyst, Shawn was a full-time Youth Pastor and Church Planter in traditional churches for 13-years. Shawn and his wife Marina live in Tualatin, OR, and are actively involved with Grace Chapel in Wilsonville. They have 2 adult kids who are their pride & joy, one funny little dog, and a cuddly cat.