I had surgery on my right shoulder two weeks ago. My shoulder has bothered me for years, the result of a lifetime of playing baseball and softball. But over the past six months, it got to the point where I was having trouble sleeping, could barely put on my shirt, and could not throw a pencil, let alone a ball. It was so bad that one morning I almost passed out defending my wife. I swatted a large spider that was causing her distress in the kitchen. It wasn't exactly as big as the one that chased down Frodo on Mount Doom, but it was big enough to require extreme measures. My sudden act of violence brought a quick end to the spider, but caused me such pain that I wished for his fate for myself.
So after trying physical therapy, cortisone, and home therapy--all to no avail--I finally had arthroscopic surgery on my shoulder. By surgical standards, it was a fairly simple procedure. They cleaned out some minor, unimportant, inflamed flesh. I only had two small holes and two stitches. I was moving it by the next day, and just this morning had my second post-op physical therapy.
So now comes the hard part. Pushing past the pain to get my shoulder back to good health.
The physical therapist is both kind and evil. Her kindness and desire for my healing is masked by her insistence that I stretch my shoulder into positions of discomfort. Positions of pain. Agony even. Above my head. Behind my back. The hitchhiker motion. They all feel like torture. I went through this with my other shoulder years ago, and there were times I wanted to put the therapist in one of those Jack Bauer face-up-against-wall-with-arms-twisted-behind-the-back positions and yell, "How's that feel? Huh? You like that?" But my therapist has had the same surgery. She knows that if I don't stretch, my shoulder will freeze up and I will be unable to use it fully. So the kind and evil therapist is doing me a favor. Stretching will help my shoulder grow new tissue that is more flexible and elastic. In time, the pain will subside and my shoulder will regain its full range of motion and feel as good as new. I will be able to kill all the spiders I want without hurting myself. Yes, I will be able to do great things.
Stretching hurts, but it's the only way to heal. It's a classic case of "no pain, no gain."
Sounds like a good spiritual lesson, doesn't it? Just as stretching causes pain which is followed by healing and growth, so being a disciple of Jesus requires stretching which causes pain which is followed by healing and growth.
Following Jesus hurts in a thousand ways. Saying we're sorry. Reaching out to the awkward. Sacrificing our money or our time. Putting our heart out there for others when we might get nothing in return. Being ridiculed. Yes, these things hurt. Sometimes they hurt so bad we want to throw God up against the wall and say, "How's that feel? Huh? You like that?"
And Jesus, knowing full well how it feels, takes our arms, stretches them out, and says, "This is for your own good. Take up your cross and follow me."
No pain, no gain. Whether our therapy is physical or spiritual, the pain we experience while being stretched will make us healthier, more flexible, and capable of even greater feats of strength and faithfulness. It's going to hurt, but it will be worth it.