Routine and Sacrifice
by Ben Swanson
I sprained my shoulder three weeks ago and have needed physical therapy in order to return to form. It hasn’t been fun, but it is good.
Enduring repetitive exercises and stretches builds up the tissues of my shoulder and trains it how to operate correctly. The repetitive movements also slowly heal the ligament.
After the boredom comes the pain— direct massage on the damaged ligament. Yesterday, my therapist dug her thumb into my shoulder and repeatedly ground it over the injury. The pain made me gasp, move away, and ask, “What are you doing?!”
“I need to massage out the ligament to avoid the buildup of scar tissue. If I don’t do this, your shoulder will hurt for the rest of your life.” She continued, “Don’t worry, this will hurt less after a couple of minutes.”
“A couple of minutes! How long are you going to hurt me?!”
“Six or seven minutes is all.”
It did get better as the minutes passed and when she was finally done she started rubbing my shoulder a bit … you know, kindly! I said, “Thank you, I was hoping for some palliative care.”
She said, “Ben, you’re not dying.”
She’s right. I’m not. And she wasn’t trying to make me feel better either. It turns out she was looking around my shoulder for areas of tightness to grind her thumbs into. She found MANY.
I bore myself with shoulder exercises and stretches every day. In seven days I will return for the pain. I want to be healthy and whole again.
A healthy church is a community engaged in something like physical therapy. It is not palliative care.
Much of our life together is relatively uneventful. We gather weekly for worship, weekly for Life Groups, and monthly for a variety of outreach opportunities. It can be routine and even boring. However these patterns build up our spiritual muscles and enable us to move in this world in healthy and lifegiving ways. Good spiritual habits can even heal our wounds.
Then, sometimes, we need to do hard and even painful things. Sacrificing time and money hurts. Lifestyle changes aren’t fun or easy. Breaking habits is difficult. However, the pain only lasts for a season, and it results in bursts of healing and growth. It also prevents us from scarring over and hurting all the time.
Our church is not a place for palliative care. Both routine and sacrifice build us up.