Last week, my wife and I, our oldest daughter and her two sons, ages 6 and 4 were sitting on a rock, taking a short break from our hike on a beautiful mountain trail. A female hiker, with a deformed arm, passed by as we rested. Our 4-year-old grandson, with no filter, blurted out, “What’s wrong with her arm?” My wife and daughter instantly shushed him. It was too late. The young woman turned around and spoke. What she said was profound and impacts us all. Please read more….
Instantly she said, “No, no, it’s okay. I am a middle school teacher, and I love to answer children’s questions about my arm.” Then she spoke directly to him. “I was born this way. This is the arm God gave me.” She showed her arm to the boys and said, “I have learned to live with the arms I have been given.” She continued, “We all have some disability or struggle, and this just happens to be mine.”
We thanked her for her graciousness and her understanding with our grandson’s curiosity, and for her courage to face her challenge head on. Her strong faith in God was on full display. With that said, she hiked on down the trail. I knew in an instant, that I had to share this story with you in a 4th Day Letter.
What can we all learn from this chance encounter?
Out of the mouth of babes, right? Our grandson essentially asked out loud the question that many people hold silently in their heart. Why does God allow people to be born with disabilities and illnesses? If God is truly a loving God, why does He allow us to have brokenness and pain?
Far greater minds than mine, have posited this questions throughout the ages, and most all of them have come up short in their answers. If I took a feeble attempt to answer this question, this is what I would say.
First, God created a perfect world, without pain and illness, but our ancestral parents rejected God’s plan in the Garden, and we have been forced to live with the consequence of their sin ever since. Personally, I find solace in knowing that God’s ways are above our ways (Isaiah 55:9), and that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
As Christians, we must face the reality that even though we do not all have physical disabilities, we are all fallen and broken people. We all live with some type of physical or spiritual disability. It has been said that Christianity is hard precisely because it reminds us of our imperfections.
Any type of physical or spiritual challenge calls us to adapt and change. Someone with a deformed arm and only one hand must learn to do things differently. Similarly, all of us spiritually speaking, must turn away from the easy path of following our sinful urges and instead live out our life according to God’s teachings, and that is often much harder.
Because we live in a broken world, we all face some type of problem. That problem might be a disease or disability for which we have no culpability, or it might be self-inflicted pain brought on by our own sinful nature. In either case we still have the opportunity to experience God’s grace through our trials. In fact, many people, whether they have a physical handicap or a spiritual flaw, readily attest that their difficulty is precisely what keeps them close to God.
Do you remember the story in John 9:1-3 when Jesus was asked if the man was born blind because of his parent’s sin? Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Are the works of God being made visible to others as a result of your physical and spiritual disabilities?
The world teaches us to face challenges by picking ourselves up by our bootstraps. Certainly, we should do what we can, but rather than picking ourselves up, maybe God simply wants us to turn to Him to find our strength.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul tells us that a “a thorn in the flesh” was given to him to keep him from being too elated. He goes on to point out that he was content with his weakness because, when he was weak and reliant on Christ, only then could he truly be strong. He was prepared to boast of his weakness so that through God’s grace, others could see the power of Christ.
This is exactly what that young hiker with the deformed arm did. She used her arm to bring God into a discussion on a remote mountain trail, and to leave a lasting influence on two young boys, their mother, and grandparents and all of you who are reading this. She used her arm to give glory to God.
What is your physical or spiritual disability? Does it draw you close to Christ? Are you willing to give testimony to “your thorn,” be it physical or spiritual, if doing so will bring glory to Christ?
Heavenly Father, my spiritual and physical shortcomings can seem daunting at times. I am faced with the choice to give into despair or to use these challenges to give glory to your Son. Help me always to rely on Him and to tell others that He is the source of my strength. Amen.
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