My oldest daughter, Ava, turned 16 years old this past April. For her big birthday, she asked for a trip to Disney World. Just the 2 of us. And we finally made it happen this past week. Ava and I just returned home from 4 magical days in Florida. We hopped from park to park, taking in the classic beauty Cinderella’s Castle, feeling the rush of Space Mountain, letting the Force be with us at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios, and eating our way around the World Showcase at Epcot. The weather was perfect. The setting was perfect. The company was perfect. Everything was perfect.
Except for my feet.
My feet had never been in more pain in my entire life.
I packed my most comfortable shoes. Soft, cushiony shoes with firm soles and sensible arch support. Shoes that were built to go the distance. But it didn’t matter. Everyday around 4pm, without fail, my feet would cramp, my toes would curl, my shins would splint, and blisters would pop up in the most inopportune places. Cinderella’s Castle loses a little of its luster when you have open flesh wounds on your hooves.
And before you feel the need to respond to this blog and come at me with your tips and tricks and shoe recommendations, please remember that I know how to handle walking long distances. I lived in New York City for 4 years. My closet was full of more orthopedic shoes than your grandmother could fathom. I walked everywhere. All day. Every day. (The best weight-loss plan of my life. But that’s not the point of this blog.)
For 4 days, I was in the happiest place on earth without a care in the world. Ava and I had been counting down the days leading up to this trip. We had been looking forward to it, planning for it, and dreaming about it. And when it finally arrived, we had nothing to do but enjoy every minute. And while we had the most incredible time, there was also an underlying pain. A nuisance in the form of sore feet that prevented us from experiencing our enchanted vacation to its fullest.
My aching feet required me to slow down. They forced me to find shade and sit for a while. They made me take a break from the break-neck speed at which we were cruising the parks. They caused me to stop and breathe.
And so it goes on this rollercoaster ride called the Christian Life.
Is it just me, or have you noticed it too? It seems as if, just when things start to go right in life – you land your dream job, you fall head-over-heels in love, your ministry takes off, you get accepted into that elite school, your kids are thriving – a tiny inconvenience or nuisance pops up to remind you that life has never been, nor will it ever be, perfect. Maybe there’s a coworker at your new job whose annoying voice makes you want to stick a dull butter knife through your eye balls. Maybe the man of your dreams farts in his sleep and doesn’t know how to close the toilet lid even though you’ve demonstrated how to do this 213 times. Maybe the ministry God has entrusted to you comes with unsolicited criticism and slander from the very people you’re trying to reach. Maybe your acceptance to that impossible-to-get-into school is accompanied by loneliness and isolation due to your politically incorrect Biblical worldview. Maybe your kids are thriving but your marriage is on the rocks. There always seems to be something…a pebble in your shoe, a prickle to your pear, a blister on your foot.
Don’t be surprised when a season of overarching favor or prosperity in your life is also marked by an inconvenient thorn in your flesh. Because God is good. He loves us too much to allow us to flourish and prosper apart from total dependence on him. He has a way of bringing us back to our knees and back to his presence.
Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, and do not loathe his discipline; for the Lord disciplines the one he loves, just as a father disciplines the child in whom he delights.” So often as Christians, we equate “discipline” with “punishment.” But this isn’t the case. God’s discipline is a course-correction. He allows us to experience pain in order to draw us near and keep us on our knees before him. He will sanction a time of suffering in order to slow us down and re-set our priorities. Not because we’ve been bad. But because God is good. David understood this. He describes a time of the Lord’s discipline in Psalm 30:6-7. “When I was secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken.’ Lord, when you showed your favor, you made me stand like a strong mountain; when you hid your face, I was terrified.” The pride David felt during a time of prosperity was quickly removed. God, in His favor, chose to hide His face from David, which then caused him to cry out to the Lord and plead for mercy. Because God is good. He restored David to the joy of His presence. And David was able to say, “You turned my lament into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” (Psalm 30:11) Paul understood this. No man or woman in history has had a ministry that rivals what Paul accomplished. If anybody had cause for pride, it would have been the apostle Paul. He tells us in 2 Corinthians that a thorn was given to him to keep him from becoming conceited. It kept him on his knees before the Lord. It kept him humble. Paul’s thorn removed the threat of arrogance. Because God is good. He won’t compete with our egos. He will receive all of the glory, or none at all. You want a sure-fire way to guarantee the exit of the Holy Spirit in any situation? Exalt yourself. Glorify yourself. Be impressed with yourself. The Holy Spirit will quickly get out of the way. Because he’s not here to honor me or you. He’s here to magnify the name of Jesus and Jesus alone. He will not contend for the glory of anyone else. Be thankful for your thorn. Be thankful for your sore feet. Be thankful for the inconvenience that causes you to slow down and take a breath. Be thankful for the affliction that takes your eyes off of yourself and fixes them on Jesus. Be thankful for the pain that causes you to crucify your flesh. Be thankful for the thing that keeps driving you back to total dependency upon the Lord. Let our prayer echo Paul’s: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)