My husband Aaron has had back trouble on and off for years. The pain is growing un-ignorable, the kind that begins to affect his daily life. He finally went to see a doctor and then a physical therapist a few weeks back.
The physical therapist pinpointed his problem exactly. She explained that it wasn’t the hurting muscles that were the problem. Instead, those aching muscles were working extra hard to cover for a different, smaller, weaker, undeveloped muscle. The pain came from the body adapting to the weak muscle’s inactivity. A pattern set in, and over the years, the other muscles are strained.
The cure isn’t to relax those overworked muscles. It’s to strengthen the weak muscle. As the weak muscle’s capacity grows, the other muscles will relax and the body will begin to work properly again.
I was thankful for Aaron’s sake that these exercises might reduce his pain, and as I began to consider the underlying problem, I began to see the relevance for my own life.
In so many areas, it’s the symptoms of brokenness and sin that capture my attention. The anxiety or fatigue, the surprising anger or fear that explode into daily interactions, upsetting me and those around me. I don’t like it. I want to fix it and root out the problem that’s causing such unpleasantness.
I try to manage my anxiety or rest more so I won’t be so fatigued. I work to rightly express my emotions or fill-in-the-blank with whatever behavior I’m trying to counteract. But Aaron’s physical therapy lesson brought new insight.
Ridding myself of the bad won’t necessarily strengthen the good.
Counteracting those negative emotional patterns may bring some short-term improvement, but it doesn’t get at the underlying problem. My emotional being won’t function properly until the weak underdeveloped muscles can be brought into wholeness.
What does it mean to strengthen the good? Scripture is full of this kind of theology. It’s not just the “putting off” of the old, but the “putting on”of the new. In fact the putting on of the new often forces out the old. Clothing myself with Christ strips off the old tattered rags while simultaneously giving me His life.
I think about this in my struggle with fear. If you’ve ever battled any sort of emotion, you know it’s not enough to tell yourself it isn’t rational or to try and not respond in that way anymore. I can’t make myself unafraid.
I’m already learning that the primary offensive strategy is to act out of truth rather than emotional response. To act according to what I know to be true without giving way to fear – to act in the face of it. But I think this physical therapy approach gives me another angle on it.
When I feed on the goodness of God, when I abide in the truth of his love, I am strengthening the muscle that enables me to trust him. As that muscle grows, it undoes the damage done by the cramping fearful self-preserving muscles.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Oh, Lord, may it be so.