Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Discipline of Adversity

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.

I’ve told the story of my ruptured disk at least a few times. It started with a nice flash of blinding pain while I was in the garden – so sharp that I literally fell against the side of the garage and had to brace myself. At first, I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk. But I hobbled inside.

It improved for about three weeks, and then, in August, it was so bad that I had to take the maximum dose of pain meds – and the meds were one step below morphine. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t go to work. I slept flat on the floor a lot. One night my wife called my son over because it didn’t look like I was going to be able to get up off the floor. I was miserable to be around (translation: I bit heads off; I groped, complained, moaned and groaned). I was going to a physical therapist, and it wasn’t helping a bit (the therapist, actually, the therapists, kept changing everything around).

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.

Led by Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming, we’ve been reading The Discipline of Grace. To see what Tim and others have to say, please visit Tim’s site.


Bill (cycleguy) said...

A fantastic way to illustrate Jerry's chapter. I can honestly say that I never really looked at adversity and submission as being hand in hand. Thanks for the insight Glynn.

Louise Gallagher said...

I also think that we believe 'submission' is a form of vulnerability and vulnerability is 'weak'. when in actuality, it takes courage, strength, willingness and acceptance to be vulnerable and to submit.

Beautiful post Glynn.

Anonymous said...

This tells me that submission to God's authority is more than what i can understand. Though i have often thought of healing being done to our heart and soul, i never thought of our inner healing in terms of showing itself as submission and the anointing for healing. It seems a bit backwards, but, a lot about faith seems to be that way.

i'm glad that your minister preached a sermon about the elders and healing and anointing, and that Janet gave you one of her looks...

Ann Kroeker said...

Glynn, I was working on an article about preparing to face adversity while life is easy, and of course to learn that lesson, it's understandable that God would grant me a little that I could have personal knowledge. :)

Sure enough, during the time frame I was working on that article, two family members underwent surgery--one had some stressful complications; the other had an easy surgery but we're in the midst of a long recovery with hourly rehab activities and medication needs to manage. Also, I faced some lower back pain (nothing like yours, but enough to make certain activities difficult), and complications with my teaching work.

I am learning and growing in many ways as a result of all this.