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Sunday, May 17, 2009

What My Right Knee Has Taught Me.

Recently, I have come to realize that an injury to a joint has lessons to teach about how trust is tied to strength whether we initially notice the relationship or not.

First, the back story: As many of you have been aware, I suffered a serious injury to my right knee. The injury required surgery and months of physical therapy. I continue with the PT.

Part of the therapeutic process for such a hobbling has been to strengthen the quadraceps muscle so it helps stabilize the knee and support the weight it should carry. With such strength and stability, I am able to walk normally and exert proper pressure when an activity requires pushing or climbing. At this point, I cannot really climb or descend stairs without a cane and holding onto a rail. Said quadraceps is not strong enough to stabilize the knee or support enough weight, so I don't trust it.

Remarkable to me has been the awareness that whereas before I never gave walking or climbing a second thought, I hesitated recently when therapy required I begin trying to step up onto a 4-inch box. I was even more uncertain when my Physical Therapist started me using my right leg to step onto and over a BOSU ball (a Pilates ball cut in half). It is unstable on purpose and I felt appropriately destabilized.

Obviously, I had become afraid of things I was not afraid of before such as climbing stairs or trying a physical task requiring balance and control. I was also surprised and did not like the fact that when I was on top of the BOSU ball my thigh wobbled uncontrollably because of its utter weakness. Then when I was able step over the ball, I could not get back without having to use my arms holding onto parallel bars to help lift me. My dogs weren't barking, but my hamstrings were sure letting out a yelp! It was not pretty and I felt sheepish.

Soon after the experience I got to thinking about the relationship between strength and trust. Prior to my injury, I used my right leg normally and thought nothing of it. It was strong and stable enough to to do what I needed from one day to the next. I trusted it implicitly. When my knee could not and did not do what I expected from it, I felt immediately disoriented. I expected what I was used to even though it was injured. My brain went there automatically.

Then later, my thoughts turned to what happens to trust when it is tried or injured? Such a thing happens to people when they experience something which profoundly flies in the face of their perception of God: his protection, provision or how he is supposed to help in times of trouble. Most people make assumptions about how God is supposed to be when we face one of life's upheavals or tragedies. When such assumptions are threatened, our faith becomes wounded and weakened because the unthinkable has happened and God seems nowhere to be found. What happened was just not supposed to, or for some, never seems more than a never-ending series of emergencies, setbacks or crushing disappointments. They don't ever get a break from trouble.

When we are faced with such disturbing difficulties most of us earnestly desire to trust again and to find evidence of his strength that will overturn chaos or help us get back on our feet. But I have found in order to do so, we must stretch our trust to include life's formidable struggles, even horrors if need be. We have to locate a more tenacious trust not determined by how well our life is going or how untouched we will be by the terrifying (whatever that might be to us). I know if we can open to the grace he offers to steele our trust (it can come in ways we do not immediately recognize), in trials and travails we will see trust grow stronger because it is determined not by the endless vacillation of our circumstances, but by the experienced integrity and strength of the LORD of the universe through all of them.

In sum, here is what my knee has taught me:

1. Trust must be exercised repeatedly to develop strength, otherwise it remains latent and flaccid.

2. Trust always flows from a remembered history of experienced strength on one's behalf.

3. Trust naturally believes, even assumes that strength can be counted on when needed.

4. Trust can be taken for granted until it is sorely tested.

5. Trust can be damaged when confronted with circumstances which seem to overwhelm strength or render it impotent.

6. Trust can be damaged when confronted by experience which seems to demonstrate such trust was misguided or in vain.

7. Trust can be gradually restored when what was weakened is healed through experiences which rebuild it.

8. Trust can gradually be deepened when it stretches to include the previously unforeseeable or unthinkable.

9. Faith is trust tested over time and found reliable.

10. Faith in Jesus is trust authenticated in relationship over a lifetime.
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