A few years ago I crushed my thumb with a hammer as I was trying to build three “Easy to Assemble” bookshelves from the department store.
I couldn’t get the shelves to wedge together, so I leaned the boards against each other and gave them a little tap.
Nothing. Didn’t budge.
Then I gave them a second tap. Didn’t move again.
Finally I got angry, stood up, wedged the boards between my legs and swung the hammer with everything I had, brilliantly forgetting to move my hand in the process. The head of the hammer smashed my thumbnail so hard it instantly turned it black and red. I screamed. I danced. I yelled. My eyes watered. I kicked things over. My whole hand went numb. I had never experienced so much pain in my entire life. I could literally feel my heartbeat pulsating in the tip of my thumb, “Bump bump. Bump bump. Bump bump.”
That night I couldn’t sleep. The next morning it hurt so bad I couldn’t eat. I skipped work. Everything in my life was put on hold. Finally I went to the doctor and he sadistically helped alleviate the pain. I’m not going to describe what he did, but it involved a match and a needle. I’ll leave it at that.
When we get discouraged and go through difficult times, our natural human response is to focus all of our attention on our pain, much like it is a swollen thumb. We hurt, so we assume that the logical thing to do is to gather whatever resources we can to alleviate the pain we’re feeling. What we have to remember is that sometimes our instinctive responses, if they are overdone, are the wrong responses.
Why? The more we focus on ourselves when we get hurt, the more miserable we become. It’s a vicious self-perpetuating cycle.
We get hurt, so we focus all our energy on getting better. Our recovery is all we end up thinking about. We talk about it, pray about it, read about it, and because all of these actions have one thing in common, me, they end up making me more miserable. Why?
Jesus said in Matthew 16:25, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
The word translated “life” is the Greek word “psyche,” from which we get our word psychology, and which simply meant “soul.” You can just as accurately translate this verse, “Whoever loses their soul for me will find it.” Jesus says the way to find life again, not just physical life, but life emanating from the spirit, is only rediscovered as one gives their life away in service of others.
You might say “What? I’m too sick to lose my life.” Do it anyway. Find a way. You might wonder, “How can I point people to God when I’m questioning myself?” Forge ahead. Find the answers you’re looking for in the faces of the people Jesus has called you to serve.
After a lifetime of beatings, persecution, and mistreatment for his faith, famed author John Bunyan, wrote a little book he called “Advice to Sufferers.” I stumbled upon it two years ago while walking the basement hallways of a musty old library. When I picked up the book my eyes landed upon the following words,
“I have often thought that the best Christians are found in the worst times.”
I’m slowly beginning to agree with him, bruised knuckles and all.
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