Jerry Bridges saved the fun chapter for the end.
Tim Challies over at Informing the Reforming has been leading a discussion of Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace, and we’ve reached the last chapter. The fun chapter. The one about adversity. And where it comes from. And what it means. And how we’re supposed to respond to it.
It would be much easier if the instructions said, “Just gripe, complain, moan and groan about it.”
But that’s not what the instructions say.
Late September was the low point. I was supposed to be going to The High Calling writers retreat at Laity Lodge, and I had to cancel out. I couldn’t even imagine having to sit on an airplane for any length of time.
I finally said enough. I changed therapists and took control of my recovery. If someone suggested doing something else, I barked.
By November, I knew the therapy was helping. Especially traction (twice a week). But I was also learning things.
Like why handicapped parking spaces are important to people with disabilities.
How to manage a briefcase, a cane and an umbrella in a pouring rain (you accept getting wet).
What it meant to depend upon others for routine stuff.
How to keep from screaming when a specialist sticks a shot of cortisone into your spine. I learned that one twice. “This may be a little uncomfortable” and suddenly it feels like a knife is digging in your back.
And then came the big one. The one that I believe this whole adventure was all about.
Our minister preached a sermon about the elders and healing and anointing. My wife gave me one of her looks. “Maybe you should consider it,” she said.
My first reaction: “Right. We know what the problem is. It’s physical. Getting oil on my head and a prayer isn’t going to heal that.”
I was partially right. The problem was physical, but it was also – something else. I studied the Bible passage, and what stood out was that there was no promise of healing. None. Zero.
All it says is that you’re supposed to do it. Submit to it. Submit to the authority of the elders. Submit to God’s authority.
So I did.
I didn’t expect a miracle healing. And there wasn’t any. I didn’t stand up from the chair afterward and throw the cane away, shouting “Hallelujah.”
But I did stand up strangely moved. I felt I had been gentled.
My back still hurt. But three weeks later, the surgeon we consulted looked at the x-rays and said the disk was healing on its own, even if I couldn’t feel it yet. A month later, the cane was put away. For good. A few weeks after that, I rode my bike for the first time in nine months. Two weeks after that, I graduated from physical therapy.
My adversity taught me submission. I don’t think I could have learned it any other way.
“Adversity is not a discipline we undertake by ourselves,” Bridges says, “but is imposed on us by God as a means of spiritual growth.”
That’s hard to hear. And harder to accept and learn. And just because someone is suffering adversity doesn’t mean there’s some great sin in his life. Consider the idea that he may be suffering adversity to help you in your spiritual growth.
But my ruptured disk, and all the pain and upset that went with it, turned out to be a gift.