For over eight years I have had strange aches and pains hinder my efforts to run regularly. Two years ago I almost gave up for good. But I came upon some improved understanding and renewed hope that I could restore ability to run and train again. I am pleased to say that about two months ago I think I solved the last piece of the puzzle and now I have been able to run injury free for these months with increasing strength. I am now doing more distance, stronger tempos, and even doing track practices with sprint intervals. Everything is holding up better than it has in ten years, though I still need to be careful. I am very happy.
A few months ago while I was still struggling to solve this last piece of the pain puzzle in my legs, I was running in a local park. Tendons in two regular spots flared up again in the middle of my run, and I knew from experience that I would not push past those warning signals. So I moved to a long, straight paved stretch and started doing some drills to move my body in different, but complementary ways in order to get some value out of my remaining practice time. As I was doing these strange drills (‘strange’ to those uninitiated in track and cross-country running) I passed a middle-aged woman walking the same route. She looked at me inquisitively and then asked what these were about and if it would be a good idea if she tried the same drills. I kept moving while I tried to briefly explain the drills and why I was doing them (to rehab my injuries). She attempted to follow along with me for part of the way and then stopped – suddenly she asked if she could pray for me right there that Jesus would heal my legs.
Now, Oregon is not a very ‘religious’ part of the country, and I don’t think this happens in public so often here. But I did spend a good portion of my formative years in a religious group where this is exactly what we were trained to do in public – ask people if they would like prayer for God to perform a miracle. It was not strange to hear this, but I was a bit surprised to become the target of the offer in public by a stranger.
All skepticism and awkwardness aside, I immediately stepped into the culture and context of her offer to consider it seriously.
If you believe a miracle is available to you, why not take it?
Then I realized I had an interesting dilemma on my hands – if I believed that I could ask and my leg pain would be instantly removed, I wouldn’t need to continue with this problem-solving rehab effort.
However, I was going through all this work for a greater reason. I wanted to find out what was causing these problems so that I could prevent them. And I wanted to map out the process I followed so that I could use it to help others. I was seeking new skills, not pain relief. If my pain and underlying problem were suddenly removed, I would lose the feedback I needed to know I was headed in the right direction.
Something caused this problem and if the problem was suddenly removed I wouldn’t learn from it. My injury was a context for learning, for building new skill, not for pity.
Many years ago in university years my dear friend was addicted to recreational drugs and wound up almost killing himself in a car one night. He somehow survived the crash, wandered down the city street and stumbled into a rather energetic church service. Something happened among those people and he was (by his own testimony) healed instantly of his drug addiction that evening. That changed the course of his life, thankfully. But that miraculous intervention did not instantly fill him with skills for better living, it did not instantly protect him from making more of a mess. Those difficult lessons had to occur over the months and years that followed.
There is a time when a dramatic miracle is needed to stop the destruction, when learning something new is definitely not the priority of the moment – like saving a life that is threatened. I’ve prayed like the best and still lost a loved one to death. And I’ve prayed and have seen things turn around for another.
This woman that wanted to pray for me in the park made a comment that suggested she was currently a patient at the Mayo Clinic (a famous cancer treatment center in the USA). It then made more sense why she would be eager to pray for others so boldly – another principle I learned in that religious community is that when you are in need, realize that others are too. If you can, give to others what you need yourself. Be generous with compassion. She needed a miracle, so it was appropriate for her to pray for another to get one.
When I politely declined her offer then explained that I was a coach, and that I had a particular training objective, she didn’t skip a beat. She then asked to pray for the prosperity of my rehab effort and my coaching work, which I did accept.
Perhaps the insight and final solution for my legs that came to me in the following weeks was influenced by her prayer. Who knows? If it was a miracle then it delivered what I was seeking – I received understanding to improve my position on the healing path, and I learned what I needed to do to prevent this injury again. These are skills that I can use over and over, skills that I can pass along to others.
There is this word in religious circles called “grace” often used in a phase like “it was by the grace of God that this thing happened to me.” There are many definitions of that word floating around, and to me most seem too abstract and too lofty to be of much practical use. I prefer this definition – ‘grace’ is God (or someone) giving me another chance to get up and get back in the lesson and learn what I need to learn – to develop the better understanding and new skills. It’s a lot like what parents do for the baby that is learning to walk – they don’t remove the child from the learning path, but pick her up and put her back in position to try again. Grace is a second (and third, and fourth, etc) chance after failure to stay in learning mode. I don’t think that God is focused on bailing me out of my problems – He is trying to grow me up so that I can deal with problems more skillfully and then help others too.
I think we do need miracles in this life. But there are many kinds we might ask for – a miraculous change in my external conditions would be convenient, but after the event, I would be just as dependent on someone’s intervention in my circumstances the next time this problem appeared. What I see God more willing to deliver is a miraculous change in my perception of the external conditions so that I start to navigate through the problem better, or avoid it altogether. It’s interesting how a change in my perception will change the way I interact with my circumstances, which often eventually alters those circumstances in such a way that things start to move in a more favorable direction.
So, when I am inclined to pray for a miracle these days I am more likely to ask for what I am more likely to receive – divine intervention that improves my perception, my insight, my attitude so that I can learn, so that I don’t have to be bailed out like this again. Instead, I can move on to more complex, more challenging problems and go through the learning process – with God’s guidance and occasional intervention – again.
I don’t want to plucked out of my problems, I want to grow up.
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