Involuntary Sacrifices

I’ve finally figured out something to give up for Lent — the use of my right wrist… and the right to complain about it.

Last week I went to my doctor for a few nagging ailments, including a thumb which still was experiencing pain three weeks after falling off a paddleboard into 18 inches of water on a rocky coastline one Saturday afternoon. As I fell backwards, I twisted around and used my right arm to catch myself, possibly preventing serious injury but also jamming my wrist and hand pretty hard. I bought a drugstore brace and quickly put it on, then went to urgent care the next day to get x-rays. When those came back negative I became more lax about the brace, and I gradually felt the wrist was healing. But I wasn’t sure about my thumb.

My doctor agreed and sent me for more x-rays, and then his office called saying there was in fact a fracture and I needed a cast! I dutifully, if grudgingly, went back in yesterday and made peace with the idea of a cast on my thumb. My doctor came in, and to my great surprise, began to wrap my palm, skip my thumb altogether and go all the way up my forearm with a stiff fiberglass cast! When I expressed shock, he told me that the thumb was fine but that I’d broken my wrist after all. Oh joy. Now I know what a “distal radius” is, though.

The next morning I was still discovering new frustrations in trying to go about my normal routine with this unhuman prosthetic device from which my captive fingers protrude. It was a struggle to not be frustrated. It was even more a struggle to concentrate on my Lenten devotion time, and when I finished I melodramatically thought of the tragic passage from Jeremiah, “The summer is ended, the harvest is past, and we are not saved.” My quiet time was over, it was time to get ready for work, and nothing had altered my faltered state.

That’s when the revelation hit me: this minor (and temporary) infirmity could be embraced, not fought, and with Lent upon us, this handicap might be a form of sacrifice, albeit involuntary. Though I’d been struck by how very many references there were in last Sunday’s liturgy and Lenten hymns about fasting and sacrifice being the normal Christian response during this season—like it used to be for me—I hadn’t yet had the bandwidth to voluntarily sacrifice something this Lenten season. I’d felt convicted on Sunday, both by my own fading commitment, and in realizing how little fasting and sacrifice are talked about, much less practiced, in “modern” Christendom.

The least I can do—and I do admit it’s the least—is to not chafe under the bridle when an involuntary “fast” is visited upon me. Keeping my eyes open to seeing these hindrances and obstacles as my “appointed” sacrifices, and responding appropriately, is a spiritual discipline I should probably learn, too. Peacefully enduring these “light and momentary troubles” will no doubt take energy and discipline, and require me to bring not only my body but also my mind and spirit under submission to the Holy Spirit.

The payoff could be exactly what I’ve craved this morning and throughout this Lenten season: not only remembering in some intellectual or theoretical way, but also experientially participating in the sufferings of Christ in some small measure. Isn’t the purpose of Lent to find meaningful vehicles for contemplating Christ’s sacrifice and suffering for us? I could do better at proactively choosing the tools I employ for this, but sometimes God puts a tool right in my palm—if I’m willing to grasp it.

March 2011
Postscript: In the week since I first wrote this, I’ve had a transformed attitude and at times almost joy (almost) about my formerly unwelcome appendage.

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