For a long time now, a 53-year old rugby injury has been reminding me, at regular intervals, that there’s something wrong with my left knee. Eventually it got to the point last year that I took it to the Doctor, who ordered an x-ray. When he got the results he expressed surprise at how I was managing to get around OK with so much deterioration of the joint.
Next he recommended a visit to the orthopaedic consultant who, in delightfully non-medical terminology, simply said, “Your knee’s knackered” and strongly recommended knee replacement surgery – a hugely successful and normally very routine operation in this day and age. So, I signed myself up for the procedure, but had to wait a while until the after-effects of the virus, that knocked me out last year, were fully resolved.
So, on the 14th May I was ready and presented myself to the hospital. I can’t say I was looking forward to the operation, but I had read everything I could in advance and was as ready as I could be for putting my body into the control of someone else. I could relax in the knowledge that the surgeon knew what he was doing, and I knew exactly what he was going to do and there would be no surprises.
Initially, everything went according to plan and a few hours later I was in a recovery ward, coming round from the anaesthetic and reacquainting myself with my body. A mass of bandages encased the knee joint. The pain-killers were doing their job and I was as much at peace as it’s possible to be in the circumstances. I’d prepared myself in advance for the next stage and was looking forward to the restoration process and getting back to normal.
But, I was soon to discover that things were not going to be as straightforward as I had expected. A rash of various secondary symptoms and unexpected issues had to be faced and suddenly all that I had prepared for in advance was like a pile of teaching notes being blown about in the wind, without any hope of ever getting them back together!
The world that I thought I had under my control was fast disintegrating in front of me and I was sailing uncharted waters without any indication of whether or not my vessel would ever again reach safe harbour – at least, that’s how it felt! All the peace of answered prayer for the operation was replaced by the confusion of uncertainty. In some ways I don’t like admitting to the reality of what I went through for the next seven days – the medical details of what was happening are irrelevant, but it would be unreal not to be scrupulously honest about my feelings. For what’s the point of a testimony that does not admit to the rough seas, just for the sake of keeping up appearances?
It was wonderful to have my wife Fiona with me at visiting times, and to know that there were many other people praying for me, but as I lay in that hospital bed for those seven days I have to confess there were times of extreme spiritual loneliness. Not because I was being ignored or that everyone wasn’t doing everything they could for me, but because I no longer had any capacity to control my circumstances. The original operation was ‘my choice’ – it was in my control. But now things were different, there was nothing I could do.
Various images floated across my mind until I realised I had been staring for quite some time at one of the most well-known of modern Christian pictures. Who hasn’t seen the image of Footprints in the Sand, in which two sets of footprints are replaced by a single line of prints? The life message which this graphic image first paints is of the Lord walking alongside us. But then the question arises, “Why was there only one set of prints at this stage of my life? Why, Lord, did you leave me so alone?” And the answer comes back, “I never left you, that was when I was carrying you!”
I stared at the image in my mind and felt both the pain of thinking that the one set of prints on the sand of my life represented the utter loneliness of my situation and, at the same time, the deep inner peace of knowing, and truly understanding the meaning of this graphic image! A second operation had not been on my agenda. I was out of control in a way that I had never experienced before, and it was in that situation that I chose to put my trust afresh in the Man of Galilee and allow him to carry me into the unknown.
I picked up my Daily Light, a beautiful leather bound edition given to me by my Mum and Dad. I read again their loving inscription on the inside front cover and turned to the evening reading for 20th May. God spoke directly into my spirit with the words, “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine . . . behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands, thy walls are continually before me . . . the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his.” (Isaiah 43:1, 49:16 and 2 Tim.2:19)
Suddenly, I knew that even though I was completely out of any capacity to control my own circumstances, all those circumstances were within Him and the unknown with Him was more secure than anything I could control. I was drifting in and out of sleep, but somehow or other, deep down in the core of my being, I knew that I was safe. I was out of control in a way I had never experienced before – but no longer afraid.
Very early the next morning, however, my Daily Light reading presented me with a new challenge as I read Paul’s extraordinary statement of faith when he said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in my infirmities . . . . “ (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Right then, I confess, this felt like a bridge too far! But as I lay on the bed waiting for the imminent second operation, I found myself trying to understand what Paul might have meant by glorying in his infirmities and what that might mean for me at this particular moment of my life.
When you no longer have any capacity to fix things yourself, all you can do is trust the God of all circumstances to fix what He wants to fix and give you the grace for everything else! My planned hospital visit for a known operation had become a challenging spiritual journey – a very important episode along the road of life.
Those of us who teach and preach are used to picking up the Scriptures and teaching the principles of life from the Word of God. But sometimes the Lord has to allow circumstances in our lives to test the reality of what we teach and preach! Are they just words or are they words that have been proven on the anvil of experience? I was about to be back in the operating theatre, this time for something that I hadn’t been able to plan and control. I sank into a deep sleep as I realised at a deeper level than I had ever known before, that I was at peace, knowing that He was carrying me across this particular stretch of sand.
A few hours later, everything was successfully over. The unknown was now the known and life could begin again. I went into the hospital knowing that I could teach people from God’s Word that He could be trusted whatever the circumstances. But I came out of hospital, having had my faith in the trustworthiness of God put to the test. I discovered afresh the reality of His extraordinary presence and that trust in Him is only really Trust when there is nothing whatsoever that you can do to fix or change things!