Our tragedies are transformational; we are changed completely in crisis and our hearts touched by the sadness of suffering. Tragedy can open unto us a new hope – one acutely aware of the realities of our broken world.
In beginning to follow Jesus as a teenager, I remember the odd seminar or mention of suffering at youth weekends and festivals. However, the triumphant tone and recurring theme was of Jesus having great plans for our lives; my teenage heart perhaps heard this as more sweeping than it was intended.
I believed that life was going to be overwhelmingly adventurous and exciting. Hardship would be a small blip here and there, but it would serve only to keep our feet attached to the planet earth in our superhuman, Christian condition. “In, but not of the world” or its suffering, apparently.
I remember being given the outstanding advice from Erwin McManus’ book, The Barbarian Way:
“When you understand what Jesus means when He says that you must follow Him, you finally realize that this is not a cattle call. He is not calling you to the same life that everyone else will live. He’s not even calling you to the same path that every follower of Christ will walk. Your life is unique before God, and your path is yours and yours alone.”
I got the “unique” part, but if I’m honest, subconsciously I had bought into the notion that Jesus made Christians slightly more immune to the rubbish stuff. I left loads of room in my future for degrees, travel and a career but not so much for a debilitating spinal cord tumour. Yet this has been my path.
Upon diagnosis, I spent a month in hospital, in the heat of the summer, on a ward that was the stuff of nightmares. Signing forms accepting the risk of paralysis, ten hours of surgery, the horror of waking into pain that felt unnatural, unable to feel one of my legs. This all happened to me. A normal day consisting of being turned on my bed using a sliding sheet and at the age of 23, being washed in bed by nurses.
Even still, I kept hope that God would heal me in time to go do the PGCE I had been accepted to do at Durham. This was my refusal to allow Satan to take more from my life, a step I thought would make God proud of me and able to use my story. I pushed through the at-times torturous physio sessions, finding a determination I didn’t know I was capable of. However, the course’s start date came and went and I still wasn’t there.
My progress in learning to walk again has been slower than I would like. A remnant of the tumour remains and the journey ahead is uncertain. But in the midst, I have known God to be closer than ever before, only because my broken heart made me more aware of my desperate need for Him.
Not surprisingly, I have been really touched by the beautiful little story of Mephibosheth and King David in 2 Samuel 9. As the grandson and only remaining member of Saul’s family, he is sought out by David to bestow kindness upon.
In the story we are told about his disability before we are even told his name. The modern mind can barely imagine how much shame would have been stamped upon Mephibosheth’s identity. The meaning of his name is “from the mouth of shame” or “he who scatters shame”.
He is not only from a displaced royal family but a man crippled in childhood. His view of himself is at rock bottom. Forgetting his lineage entirely, he sees himself as nothing more than “a dead dog” (verse 8). What a picture. This crippled man being sought out by the king, an honour to which he feels entirely unworthy.
I like to imagine Mephibosheth making his way to the king’s table – with all the difficulty and perhaps embarrassment that crippled feet bring – with a big smile on his face. In the midst of his suffering he has been brought to a place of honour, not because of his own success or achievements but because of the kindness of the king.
Like Mephibosheth, the King of all Kings extends His loving kindness towards us. He calls us to come to His table to feast with Him, in the midst of our suffering – even as we make our way, with crutches and spinal tumours and all.
Some limp in agonising physical, mental or emotional pain and for others it is more metaphoric, in recognition of weakness. For it is in the waste-free story of God that pain can become a spiritual vantage point, and the longing for the kingdom of perfection is built – a hope for the place where there is no more suffering but endless feasting at the table with the King.
Thanks to Jesus it is here we claim our inheritance and recover our inherent worth. We are changed forever when we see him – no circumstance can stop us knowing his freedom – no tumour, situation or heartache is crippling enough to prevent us from carrying the cross.
We bring the atmosphere of his table with us and fellow broken and hurting people are encouraged to come and feast.