The Guideposts senior editor reaches out for prayers on his running injury.
I can’t run and I’m not happy about it. A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my left tibia. Two fractures, actually. The cause was too much running. You really can have too much of a good thing. Now I have nothing. I’m forbidden from running for at least the next few months.
I’m unhappy and I’m making everyone around me unhappy. I complain constantly. I preoccupy myself with dire visions of never exercising again. More realistically I’m beginning to fear I won’t be healed by the time my wife Kate and I take a four-day backpacking trip we’d planned for August. A trip to the High Sierra, a place of profound spiritual refreshment for both of us. At the rate I’m going I can’t imagine myself pounding up the trail wearing a heavy pack. Just the possibility of losing that trip sends me spiraling into despair.
I need to stop thinking like this. Despair is a sin, and for good reason. Paul tells us—as in, that’s an order, not a suggestion—to live in hope and, back before this current bout with despair, I liked to think I was quite wise for saying that hope is a discipline. It is a discipline. As I’m finding out this very minute in my failure to practice it.
I suppose I’m despairing because exercise is more than just exercise for me. I’ve done it ever since a friend talked me into joining the rowing team in high school. I didn’t row in college (nowhere near good enough) but I did run, then I bicycled in the Berkeley hills and finally a friend introduced me to lap swimming.
Exercise, feeling strong, using my body as God intended, all of that’s been part of my identity for about as long as I can remember. Here in New York it’s a life-saving outlet. Working full time and raising two small kids in this jammed, perpetually noisy city, I have almost no time for solitude, for being outside in quiet, for the kind of deep, settled prayer I achieve running before sunrise in the park or swimming in the cool, clear water of a public pool.
As of now my doctor has forbidden all exercise. I’m not even supposed to walk much. I feel trapped. I feel like I’m not myself. You see what I mean about making everyone unhappy?
And yet I know I need to stop thinking this way. For one thing my problem only classifies as a problem from my privileged, middle-class American point of view. The moment I think about people truly in need—Haiti, homeless New Yorkers, Mumbai slum dwellers, the unemployed, grieving widows—I’m ashamed of my bad mood.
Paul also tells us (again, that’s an order) to be thankful for setbacks because they refine us, build true strength of faith. It’s easy to love God when God seems to be giving you what you want, or at least when God’s not obviously standing in your way. These days I find myself railing at God. Why would you take away this one thing I love? Why would you take away our August trip? We were going there to meet you! That’s perverse!
This is stupid logic. God did not cause me to get a stress fracture. I brought it on myself. And I think my very unattractive reaction to this whole situation offers a lesson for everyone. Faith, true faith as opposed to lip service when everything’s going your way anyway, means looking to God not for answers or rewards, but simply for God’s presence. God is at work in all things. The key is to avoid doing what I’m doing right now, which is putting my own conditions on what counts as God’s presence and God’s work.
I may have brought this stress fracture on myself, but I know—at least my head knows; right now my heart’s having a hard time acknowledging it—that God in his supreme efficiency is using this injury, indeed probably even using my inexcusable attitude toward it, to make something good and durable, something far more valuable than I could ever make or even imagine on my own.
I’ll only recognize that good and durable thing if I let myself see it. I’ll only receive the good and durable thing if I open my clenched fists to take hold of it. I’m not sure how to unclench right now. A ball of fear, regret, self-recrimination and sheer outrage at the unfairness of it all is lodged in my gut and for the moment I can’t seem to budge it.
But at least I know what I need to do. I’ll be praying about it. Perhaps you all can pray for me? Not just for physical healing. That’ll no doubt happen eventually. What I really need is spiritual healing. A removal of bitterness. Openness to grace. A heart able to embrace all the spiritual lessons I read and write about here at Guideposts every day. I need to live those lessons out. I could use your help. Thank you!