Tuesday, September 19, 2006

playing through the pain

My day of shivering against frigid winds on Pike’s Peak wasn’t planned as such (for full story, see previous post). We didn’t drive up there to get cold and windblown, and I didn’t start joyfully out on that trail through the trees already knowing about the miserable conditions that awaited us above timberline. It’s just what the day handed us, and we were far enough up when we encountered it that we didn’t want to turn back. So we pressed on, sure that the other end of the trail would bring relief and a ride back out. But none of that was to be found at the summit, only the sobering realization that we would have to go back out the same way that we came in.

Up there at the top, my face was wind-chapped, and I was cold and tired. But much to my already intense discouragement, the way down only brought new pain. Now, anyone knows that leg joints get a little weary on the way back down a mountain. But COLD leg joints get downright painful. Mine soon became so painful that I was stumbling and wincing with every step. So, needing to just focus my way through it, I hiked on ahead of the others, and I started repeating, over and over, something that I have heard from many a coach in my lifetime: “play through the pain”. I was saying it, singing it, whatever it took to keep me focused as I kept moving, aiming first for the shelter of timberline and then for the warmth of the car.

I was in the middle of my descent when I heard him say it, heard God say, so clearly, “Yes. Play through the pain.” It stopped me in my tracks for a moment. I was pretty sure he wasn’t just giving me a pep talk for my aching knees, and he wasn’t. He was offering me a clear picture where only confusion has reigned for the last few months.

Thing is, we were already in a pretty bad situation up there. And it irked me that, in order to get out of it all, I had to face even more pain, pain that wasn’t there until we started back down. “You could end at least some of this pain right now,” I heard him say. “You could just sit down and stop hiking. Your knees wouldn’t hurt anymore. Then again, you’d never get off this mountain, and there’s a decent chance that you’d freeze to death tonight. But if you press through it, if you play through the pain, I will get you down and back home. And even if it takes some time, your legs will heal and the pain will end.”

I knew right there that his point was this: nasty hike aren’t the only messes we find ourselves in. We may not even go into them knowingly, but we are deep enough in when the weather hits that we just keep going, even if others say it’s wise to turn back. We are convinced that there is relief and an easier way out at the other end. But most of the time there isn’t, and we are suddenly faced with the sobering realization that, in order to obey the God we love, the only way out is the hard way.

The worst part is that the journey out often adds pain, rather than easing it. The choice of obedience, of walking away from our messes, can hurt even more than just sitting there in the freezing wind. So we often decide we want to lessen the hurt, and we plop ourselves down and refuse to go the rest of the way out. Sometimes it does the trick for a while. But in the end, the choice to alleviate the pain of obedience is a choice to remain in a place of suffering and death. It’s choosing immediate and partial relief over real safety and full healing.

As I pick my way through the rocks and down the mountains in my life right now, trying to make my way out of the freezing wilderness I wandered into, I have that choice before me. The enemy wants me to plop down for that quick relief, because he knows what it will bring in time. But my loving Father, the ultimate coach, just asks me to play through the pain. He asks me to keep walking, trusting him to bring me out of harm’s way and back to a place where my legs can heal.

I’m so grateful for a God who is willing to speak to me in the pain of my physical journey. And I am grateful for a God who wants me to hear and believe that he loves me, and that he’ll hold me up as long as it takes if I’ll just let him lead me home.

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