Recently, I celebrated the five year anniversary of a surgery that would change my life forever. Though it was meant to repair and restore my knee, this procedure ended up damaging my leg irreversibly, and was the beginning (barring a miracle) of a lifetime of pain, limited mobility, and lifestyle restrictions.
You may have noticed that I said “celebrated” the anniversary, so maybe you’re wondering what there is to celebrate. So did I, at first. In fact, in those early days, I was completely devastated by the result. I grieved my loss, felt sorry for myself, and complained to anyone who would listen. I was angry, disappointed, and depressed. Each time these anniversaries rolled around, I would dwell on the pain, the changes in my life, and the losses I’d experienced. Not only current losses though—I would grieve the loss of things that weren’t even real yet—playing with my grandchildren (I don’t have any); retirement travel (we’ve never been big travelers); and my independence (I would surely end up in a wheelchair). None of these things were true or even likely, yet I grieved and lamented them.
But, by the grace of God, something changed. Not the condition of my leg, not my mobility, and not really even my pain. What has changed is my perspective. I am no longer looking at this from my point of view, but each day, every time it comes to my mind, I am striving to see it from God’s point of view. He has used it to change my heart, and I am so grateful. Though it has been a painful process, I believe that it has brought about the changes in me that were necessary to make me useful to Him.
From Self-focused to God-focused
The first thing that He showed me, as I examined my troubled heart, was Himself. As I prayed and searched the Scriptures, He taught me who He is. I had developed a mindset that made God’s attributes and character subject to my circumstances: If my leg got better, then God was loving and kind. If it didn’t, then He wasn’t. A little book called The Attributes of God, by A.W. Pink, revealed to me the error in my thinking. God is loving, merciful, kind, good, and—the attribute that sank deepest into my heart—sovereign over my life. As I understood and believed these truths about God, they caused me to re-examine my circumstances.
The more I held up my pain and problems in the light of God’s truth, the more I saw that I had been thinking more about myself than anything else, including God. As I meditated on the attributes of God, my temporal problems began to fall into their rightful place in my mind. My prayer changed from, “Lord, heal my leg” to “Lord, redeem this pain! Show me what You are going to accomplish through this pain I’m experiencing. Be glorified in it!”
From Proudly Entitled to Humbly Grateful
The root of the problem I was having with my circumstance was a belief that I was entitled to be pain-free. I had just assumed that, once this surgery was done, I wouldn’t have to put up with pain or restrictions, and I had pursued medical intervention for that reason. Instead, that intervention multiplied my pain and brought me, even more, limitations than before. My entitled heart did not have a category for this unexpected result. I became angry with God, and hopelessly despairing because I had set my expectation in line with my entitlement.
Meanwhile, my wonderful husband was serving me in ways he never had before. My friends lovingly stood by me in prayer, and the Lord provided abundantly all that I needed when it came to pain management. There was nothing that I needed that the Lord did not provide, yet my heart would not come out of the darkness that had become so comfortable.
I knew that I must repent and change, but I didn’t know how, so I began to write. I started a blog, and if I’m honest, I did it mostly for myself. I needed to process all that had happened, both in my life and in my heart, and I was really tired of just talking about it. I thought that if I wrote about how to think biblically about pain and physical impairment, it might help me to change my own thinking. I was right. As I published article after article, I began to hear from individuals who were suffering, most of them far worse than I. Some had suffered their whole lives. Many had much more severe and constant pain than I, and some were more restricted.
As I read their stories, I began to feel grateful. Not just grateful that my pain was not as bad as it could be, but grateful that He had used it to allow me to reach out to these strangers. They expressed that what I’d written was helpful to them, and I saw a glimmer of redemption: Perhaps God really could make something good come from this. He could use it to encourage others, and He could use it to change me.
From Fearful to Confident
One of the most consistent emotions I’ve experienced throughout this ordeal is fear. Fear of the pain: That it will get worse; that I won’t be able to manage it; that there will have to be another procedure. I’ve also been fearful about the future: What if my mobility becomes more limited? What if I can’t drive? All of these what-ifs added up to a significant hindrance to my spiritual walk, as I focused on the fear instead of on God and His ability to sustain me through whatever may come.
Again, shifting my focus from self to God was the answer to this part of my problem. The sovereignty of God is the lens through which I learned I must look at my fears. What if the pain gets worse? God will be beside me every minute of it, comforting and guiding me through it. What if there has to be another procedure, and something goes wrong with that one? Same answer—God will be there, and in His sovereignty and goodness, He will determine the outcome. If something goes wrong, he can be glorified in that too, especially as I respond biblically instead of selfishly. All things truly do work together for good, and as I made that truth my focus, fears began to fade and my assurance of God’s goodness and His love for me grew.
My confidence is not in pain relief, full mobility, or my plans for the future in this life. My confidence is in Christ alone. While I do not experience this confidence every moment of every day, I definitely see a pattern of change toward more and more of it, and that brings me joy.
So, today I am celebrating this anniversary instead of grieving. I am celebrating the goodness of God in my life, and the beauty of heart change for life change. But most of all, I am celebrating the many ways that God has used a botched surgery to make me more like His precious Son. Only the God of the universe could take something that the world sees as a mistake, and turn it into a glorious tool to transform a heart. Hallelujah! What a transformation! What a Savior!