October 13, 2019 was the beginning of my lesson in heeling (don’t lose your mind here; there’s method to my perceived malapropism). The day before while hiking at Tallulah Falls Gorge here in Georgia with my wife and a friend, I thought I had food poisoning from a less-than-tasty breakfast sandwich purchased that morning. Because of this, I cut my trek short, told the girls to finish the trail and I hiked back the two-and-a-half miles to the car.
I’ve had food poisoning many times in my life and it has never been enjoyable. I had no idea that a part of my body which I had invested fifty-eight-and-a-half years building a relationship with was at that moment strapping on a proverbial bomb vest and by the next afternoon was going to blow itself up and take me with it!
I have never hurt so badly in all my life! I spent the next five-and-a-half days in the hospital recovering from a “perforated appendix with peritonitis.” It’s been over five weeks since my surgery and I’m still not back to where I was before. Yet here is what I have learned from this particular incident.
There are no accidents or coincidences in God’s kingdom. Those who belong to God, who have a relationship with Him and are being obedient to Him to the best of their ability, will never be a victim. The two basic rules I teach are these: Rule #1: God is Sovereign; Rule #2: Never forget Rule #1!
This does not mean that during the depths of discomfort I did not question God as to “Why?” I had to go through this! I hated every single second of this experience. I cried—and I’m not exaggerating here—I literally cried because of the pain of this. I begged the Lord to just give me a few minutes of relief from the cramping, the pain and the nausea. When I could think more clearly sometime later on the Monday after the surgery, the thought crossed my mind, “Does this have any comparison at all to the sufferings of my Lord?”
I still hurt. I still was in incredible distress, yet there was a silence within my soul that demanded I listen. Did I hear a voice? Nope. Just silence and the words I have studied and taught so many times came back to me, “My grace is sufficient; My strength is made complete in weakness.”
Since those who are justified by God through election and salvation, “Must live by faith,” the closest equivalent to our faith is the air we breathe. We get nutrition through our study and submission to God’s Word. We strengthen our relationship with the Lord through prayer. Yet (and sticking to these metaphors) how do we “touch” the Lord? We touch the Lord through our interaction, fellowship and ministry with other believers; those who possess the Holy Spirit of God.
How often have we heard someone say, “The pain was so intense it dropped me to my knees?” If I had not been lying in a bed for five days, I would have easily expressed the same thing. God in His wisdom, however, allowed me to experience a “perforated appendix with peritonitis” to bring me closer to Him—and it began “on my knees.”
When my wife and I used to have dogs, one of the first “lessons” in training a dog is teaching it “to heel.” When walking a dog—especially if you’re a Type A personality with an elevated level of desire to control—you do not want the dog to run ahead of you (dragging you behind them) or to trail behind you where you feel you must drag the dog after you. You want the dog “to heel.” To walk beside you, to stop when you stop and walk when you walk but doing so alongside you and willingly.
Being on this side of the pain, I can now see some of the reasons God allowed my body to attack itself. It wasn’t because He looked at the “books” and saw I hadn’t experienced pain in a long while (this was my first surgery and first hospital stay as an adult). I believe with all of who I am by God’s grace, that God desired me to learn “heeling” and “to heel” to Him through the process of my healing.
I’m still not at the “100%” I desire to be physically. It’s frustrating when I realize the strength and endurance I have lost—yet I am able to build it all back. The process of healing has very few shortcuts. The Lord reacquainted me with the true nature of prayer; not getting what I want, but through trusting Him (through the use of the faith He has given to me) I have found I want what He wants more than I want what I want.
In this there is great benefit and healing while learning to heel.