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Body Image (3): Greatest Body, Wounded Parts

All believers…are one body…closely connected together in Christ, and consequently ought to be helpful to each other. 

John Wesley
“Helper” carries my crutches for me and needs a rest.

This is the third and final installment of the Body Image series.  I write this for the wounded who find it difficult to push forward.  Not just for them, but for those who know someone who is wounded and finding it difficult to move forward.  We can feel so compelled to serve Christ, which we should, but sometimes limitations fall on us and that becomes a troublesome thing.   

Let’s look at this in relation to the Body, the Body of Christ, the Church.  I will try to keep things simple by getting to a main point made by 18th century theologian and revivalist John Wesley: “we are closely connected together in Christ and consequently ought to be helpful to each other.”  That was his comment on Romans 12:5.   

Paul writes a similar message to the Corinthians and says to each person that their “unique manifestation of the Spirit” is given for the common good.  (1 Corinthians 12:7).  He describes different ways people are gifted and then likens them to body parts in order to diffuse strife that has built up from jealousy over gifts.  Paul makes it clear that each one receives different gifts, each for a particular, unique and important purpose.  For the sake of unity, he writes, “…so that there should be no division among the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”  He goes on to say that if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.   

I remember standing on my legs and trying to walk 2 meters between parallel bars while trying to recover from my motorcycle accident.  My right leg, though broken much more badly than my left, was stronger because it had a “Taylor Spatial Frame” on it.  It held my leg together like a strong exoskeleton.  It was the leg that made full weight-bearing possible and allowed me to stand.  It took up weight for my left leg, which had no intact ligaments to speak of and a dislocated knee cap.  I look around the church and see people who, despite having issues of their own, prop up those who are even weaker.  God, bless those people.   

I have video footage of my first steps.  My arms were recruited to pull the rest of the body into a standing position.  They had to work very hard to do so.  Then, to walk those mere two meters, my arms carried virtually all of my weight, as my legs were wasted away.  Arms are not made for walking.  Their muscle mass is much smaller than the legs’ and designed to do other things.  After a few labored steps, all of my energy was drained and I trembled under the strain.  I look around the church and I see people who have to do work designed for someone else because that someone else is unable to.  God bless those people.   

Over the last two years of using a wheelchair and crutches to propel my body, my shoulder has become weary from overuse.  I try to strengthen my upper back muscles, which helps, but make no mistake: it’s life span will suffer.  The shoulder, the hero, has been sacrificing itself for a lengthy period of time for the benefit of the rest of the body.  How else could the rest of the body be as useful if it could not get around?  I look around the church and see people bearing one another’s burdens at cost to themselves.  God bless those people. 

My legs serve to illustrate what has happened to me in the church.  Because of the injuries to them, the acquired disability, the resulting mental health struggles and other complicated knock-on effects, I feel I have been taken out of commission.  For years I served in the armed forces, supervising as many as 63 people.  The most rewarding aspect of my role was the pastoral care involved.  The second most rewarding role I found myself in was teaching.  After retirement, I eventually found my way to education in a pastoral care role.  But since the accident, I have not successfully returned to work for a substantial period of time so now there seems to be a great void from not exercising the gifts I feel I have.   

To make this more of a concern, I have recently stepped down from a leadership role in a fledgling ministry because further life-changing operations await.  Staying in the role would have caused the mission to suffer because it won’t get my undivided attention or full strength.  I am broken-hearted over this.  The feeling of uselessness and failure comes in waves, even though I know these feelings are not legitimate.  

So what do we make of these seasons when our wounds (be they, physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual) take us out of action?  Any suggestions or principles I propose here can feel like hard-to-swallow medicine.  Here’s what I’m thinking.  I hope they are helpful to you: 

  1. God is sovereign.  He doesn’t need our service.  That sounds harsh, but it’s true.  He has everything he needs to live happily forever.  He desires our hearts.  David says something like that in Psalm 51:16-17.  See, our gifts and services (done in joy, by the way) are for the greater good of the church and the church is to glorify God through the Great Commission.  If something that is beyond our control inhibits us, having an understanding of this principle can take the pressure off! 
  1. God is sovereign.  He does everything for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).  That includes anything that’s going on and whatever our wounds are.  Just remember too, that, according to the next verse, the aim is to be conformed to the image of his Son.  That’s a glorious thing.  Incidentally, that will include having a body, mind and soul that doesn’t get wounded at all!   
  1. God is sovereign.  (Have I said that yet)?  He is very economical and orchestrates many things together for the good of many people at the same time.  That includes those who get to support you and do the work you would have done under different circumstances.  Though it may be extra challenging for them, they will also grow and become more conformed to the image of Christ.   

So take heart my friends, my brothers, my sisters.  Do what you can and don’t give up.  Pray.  The rest of the body needs it.   

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Body Image (2): A Perfect Future

And doesn’t it make sense, then, that even now we should start getting ready for that great time by using our bodies as living sacrifices of worship and instruments of righteousness for the glory of God?

John Piper

This is the second of three in a series I’ve called “Body Image.”  It should be the third, but this issue has become so pressing to me that it had to be next.  You see, it’s about the future’s body image.  This image is a very literal image, and one that you’ll be most pleased with.  So will I.  The image I have in mind is what is sometimes known as a redeemed body, or a glorified body.   

Please allow me to groan outwardly for a few minutes before we climb back up to the peak of joyfulness about the truth of our situation. You see, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23). Oh, I certainly am groaning, along with all creation, to be liberated from the bondage of decay.

You may have read that my decay has been a bit hastened by a motorcycle accident.  Here’s something I posted in social media about my plight some time ago.  Having another look at it as helped me see things in a new light. 

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is that I now see heaven as my home and my preferred place of dwelling.  This is new.  Since July 2017 I have learned to rejoice, yes, and Praise God.  The weariness and drudgery of recovery has taught me to lean forward.   

The body I took pride in keeping strong is broken.  My best knee barely bends and the other is fused.  As I learn to walk again, recovering balance and muscle mass, I drag around about twenty pounds of metal that is fastened to my leg with posts, screws and wire.  I am never comfortable.  Ever.  Many times each day that discomfort crosses over into pain, especially at night when my better leg feels as if it’s being ripped again. 

My chest and arms ache with fatigue from bearing some of the weight my legs once bore.  All the time.  My ankles hurt so much when I first stand in the morning I’d much rather stay in bed.  Wires pull on my thigh continually and sometimes they feel like they will tear through.  My hands hurt from the crutches and carpal tunnel has developed, weakening my right hand’s fingers so that cutting my nails is nearly impossible.   

My left elbow has developed bursitis causing an unsightly knob of fluid to grow and leaves me aching there.  Sitting in my wheelchair too long makes my right foot black from lack of circulation.   

My stomach has been brutalised by repeated courses of antibiotics forcing me to deal with urgent issues that are hard to deal with because clothing is hard to get past my frame. 

Meanwhile previous issues still plague me.  My tinnitus still rings its chorus of dissonance of three or four tones of ringing and crickets-chirping.  Blepharitis dries my eyes out to the point of pain and at night I can hardly open my eyes.   

But all this is so temporary.  This body will not be my home forever.  For the first time I believe (and not just say I believe) that I will be fitted with a resurrected body. 

… but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies 

Perhaps there will be scars, like the scars of Jesus who went before us.  They may be a reminder of what has taken place on Earth to prepare me for the kingdom, conforming me to his image (Romans 8:29).” 

Much of what I said over a year ago is still true.  That painful metal frame is gone, along with the bursitis, but there are new problems due to my leg not healing properly during the reconstruction.  I still use crutches and my levels of bodily fatigue are as high as ever.  This was exacerbated by trying to go back to work full time.  During this time, the simple act of filling out a very thorough questionnaire for an orthopaedic consultant has triggered a psychological downer for me.  This has brought me to a new dilemma.   

I’ve experienced a new level of mourning for my limbs.  Mourning for my walking.  Mourning for the odd miscellaneous tasks that I either can’t do or can’t do with ease.  So now as I struggle with doing life, I ask myself, how can I glorify God if I’m getting depressed?  How can I “do all things for the Glory of God” if everything I do is not its best because I just don’t have the mental or physical resources to perform?  How can I love others as I’m supposed to, especially since my job really can’t be done well without doing just that?  Everything I do seems to be filtered by the limitations of this broken body and its exhausted brain. 

As I have pondered these questions, I only came up with one answer, and that came from what God has shown me before; I have to trust that God will be glorified somehow by my surrendering these very questions to him.  That’s still a work in progress.  However, I learned something more important, and I suspect that has something to do with these struggles.   

You see, a year ago, I longed to move onto my new Home and looked forward to that glorified body.  No more pain! What a deal!  Only since then I have come to realize that there lies a misguided motivation.  Don’t get me wrong – of course we long for relief.  That’s only natural.  But how much more do I now want this new body so that I can glorify God!  That’s the key – such a marvelous revelation!  I should hope for the glorified body, not to end pain and deficiencies, but so that I can be equipped to worship and glorify a God who will be seen for the first time with the eyes of a body that can survive the presence of His radiance.  My new person will delight, unhindered for the first time, in the God who is my joy. 

Some people don’t have physical challenges as bad as mine.  Some people have much worse.  But some day there will be great equality with great bodies that will do just what they have been meant to do all along – that is glorify God in a most fulfilling way.   

Jesus, see that mountain over there?  

Yes Russ.  

Remember my days in the mountains?  

Yes Russ.  

I want to worship you up there. Can you be there when I get there?  

I certainly will. I would be delighted. Come, let’s walk together.