Saturday, October 22, 2011

Building Bone

I tensed up when I was falling asleep. Footsteps fell down the hall, coming toward my door. My bedtime, already late, was now interrupted by light coming in from the hall. Just a few moments, but enough to wake me up even more. With a sleeping disorder and chronic illness, I felt thwarted in my attempts to get rest.

Living with a grandma who has dementia causes a lot of interruptions and chaos, which (after times of resisting) I've had to just accept. Feeling out of control is not new. 

As I shielded my eyes from the light streaming through the open door, my mind wandered to a "what if" scenario. What if I had no distractions from healing?  What if I could lie down to sleep at night with no real worries about my family or my well-being?  "It would be bliss," I concluded. I could go to bed at the same time every night. I could organize and keep my room the way I wanted it. Nothing would stress me out beyond reason because life would be in order. "Normal," as I commonly fantasize.

But just after this ideal bedtime scenario washed over me - these thoughts of no one opening my door or disturbing me when I just want to be left alone - I suddenly thought of a lesson I learned in college about bones.  Bones?

You see, I was always under the impression that when a break occurred in a bone, the way for it to heal was for the bone to be rested undisturbed for a long time (i.e. a cast). Take the weak bone and give it a rest already!  It has enough problems just trying to bridge the traumatic gap.

But one day in biomaterials class, I learned that for proper healing, broken bones fixed into the right position require added stress. What?!  Why would you put stress on something that is already broken and damaged?  Because, to quote a scientific article, "Bone is formed where stresses require its presence and resorbed where stresses do not require it."  Basically, stress trains your body to form protective material where it's need most.

As most of my posts do, this association made me reflect on how the added stresses in my life have caused me to form spiritual bone in places that were weak before. Without the stress of waiting for problems to resolve, I would not have developed any patience. Without repeated losses, I would not have developed better priorities and a profound sense of thanksgiving. Without obstacles to my health and career, I would not have learned perseverance, to work at a slow and steady pace for a long time. And without my heart broken, I would not have received a deeper love for Jesus.

When I think about healing in that way, I realize my spirit is like a broken bone. Properly aligned in God's Word after the initial injuries, I need weighty exercises to heal, even though it hurts. And whether I like it or not, this added stress is slowly calcifying new and lasting hope in me where my old earthly dreams have shattered.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


God cares more about your character than your comfort.

I've been getting this message through almost every route imaginable lately. Through Bible study. Through sermons. Through prayer. Through books.  It's clear that God is working, but he's not working to make my life safe and manageable. He's working to transform me on the inside.

This leaves me out of control. Which is a problem. Because I like feeling "in control." In fact, I will sometimes try to organize just to achieve some semblance of order, as if it will calm the inner storm.

Lately I've rediscovered that I enjoy playing the Nintendo game Tetris. When I sit there with the (aptly named) controller in my hand, I feel a sense of well-being.  Since I have power over what happens on the screen, I can orient the blocks to make everything fit together and disappear.

As the levels increase, blocks fall faster. I have to adapt quickly so that the pieces don't hinder my progress. Ultimately, they fall so fast that I can't control them anymore. They pile up and the steel door comes down. Game over.

Like the early levels of Tetris, my difficulties in adolescence used to surface manageably, one at a time. Ultimately things would fall into place, and the problem would disappear.

However, in adulthood my challenges have fallen faster and stayed around longer. The rate of emerging difficulties has become greater than my ability to deal with them. Finally, the steel door comes down. My skills aren't sufficient anymore to play the game.

Paul talks about a similar experience in his own life in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death." 

When I read that, I find great comfort in Paul's direct admission that there are certain problems in life that are far beyond our ability to endure. God sometimes places us in levels of life-Tetris that we aren't prepared to handle. But why does he do it?  Why would God want us to experience such a sense of powerlessness?

The next verses explain exactly why:

"But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."

1)  He does it so we will rely not on ourselves but on God. And God has the power to handle these things, proven by his ability to raise Jesus from the dead. We have this power at work in us.

2)  Additionally, it is an opportunity for friends to pray for us and share our burdens, building a sense of love and community. It gives them the blessing of joining in God's work by helping us.

3)  Lastly, these overwhelming sufferings are a chance for the world to see God's glory. When we are ultimately granted God's favor of answered prayer, many will give thanks.

If you are suffering beyond what you can bear, don't feel that you have failed or that you need to somehow find a way to get back in control. Though it may feel terrifying, it is a blessing to be made aware of reality - that none of us is truly in control - God is. When we call upon him in our helplessness, he hears us, others pray for us, and the world will see God work. Our job is not to fix it but to wait on him in faith.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 
Lamentations 3:25