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Of ibuprofen and ice packs

I write this with my legs stretched out in front of me, computer in my lap, and a cold pack on my knee, having just popped some ibuprofen. A week and a half ago, I was on my bike, my primary way of getting around campus (well…until a week and a half ago.) I was riding on the sidewalk, and getting ready to merge onto the road. A pickup was coming towards me, but still a little ways off. I was trying to decide whether to pull out into the road ahead of him, or let him pass first. Next thing I knew my front wheel went off the curb, my bike went over, and its weight combined with mine came down on my knee, which landed squarely on the curb. It was a minor scrape, through my jeans, nothing that would take too long to heal.

It wasn’t until the next day that I started to notice that my knee felt kind of stiff, and somewhat weak and unstable when climbing stairs. That night I noticed it was pretty swollen—not at the bottom of the knee where the impact was, but at the top of the kneecap. The next day I decided it would probably be a good idea to get it checked out. At best, I would be told that it was nothing serious, and what to do to speed its recovery. At worst, I was afraid that the ligament was damaged—or worse—and if so, it definitely needed immediate attention. I set up an appointment for that afternoon at the health center on campus, a “free” service that’s paid for by our bill each semester. The doctor pushed and pulled my knee in different directions, and came to the conclusion that my ligaments were fine. He said it was just the impact of my kneecap on my femur—but this could take several weeks to heal. In the meantime, I just needed to avoid bending it as much as possible. Honestly my fears (about a torn ligament) weren’t completely put to rest. Part of me wasn’t convinced without seeing an MRI. But I decided to just go with it for now, and see how things felt in a few weeks.

So I’ve been doing a lot of limping around campus in the past week and a half, taking a lot longer to get to my classes than even walking under normal circumstances, let along biking. And I’ve been coming to really appreciate the taken-for-granted ability to bend both knees, the hard way—by not having it.

As if to rub in this lack of ability, I got a package last week. It was the new armband I had ordered before my accident, for my new phone. Consistently running is a habit I’ve been trying to revive since leaving high school. Being on the track team, having a big event that I wanted to do well in (yes, our track season consisted of weeks upon weeks of training leading up to a single track meet) was the motivation I needed to get up in the mornings when everyone else was still in bed, and go for a run. Well, everyone except a friend of mine, who was more obsessed (and disciplined) with running than I was. I loved track and field, and obviously wanted to do well in it. And I didn’t always enjoy those morning runs, but I had that motivation to keep at them. But since I’ve been at college, I’ve made multiple attempts to get the habit going again, but before long, it would just get crowded out by everything else I’m juggling. And here I had just started getting back into it again, and it felt great. I even found a couple good times to do it each week, so it looked like this routine might even be sustainable for the foreseeable future. But I didn’t foresee that split-second moment that landed me here, taking ibuprofen and keeping ice packs on my knee, while that armband sits on my desk and collects dust, waiting for whenever my knee decides to feel up to the task of trying to run on it again. From what the doctor said, running is the very thing that puts the most stress on the injured part of my knee, so even when it’s otherwise healed, it might be longer yet before it’s strong enough to start running again.

I’ve written a lot already, and so far, it probably just looks like I’m venting, complaining, or looking for pity. Or all three. But believe me when I say that is not my intent at all. Because hopefully, if you read this blog much, you’ve figured out that when I start typing up something new to put up here for the world to see, it’s because something has got me thinking. And this time, this scenario has brought me face to face with my brokenness and inability. By which I mean both the literal damage to my knee and the resulting difficulty or flat-out inability to do the simplest of things, and my depravity and inability to make anything of my life on my own. That second half might sound a little extreme in response to a knee injury. Allow me to explain.

Like I said, being in a (just forming) habit of running again felt great. I always feel good about myself when I’m running regularly. And to a degree, that’s legitimate and good. A friend of mine started eating better and exercising at the beginning of the summer, and has lost a lot of weight already. And that’s awesome. His other friends and I rejoice with him in that, and it’s definitely something to feel good about. And in my case too, exercising is worthwhile, and something to feel good about. But like everything else, it’s about moderation. The problem is when it starts going to my head, and when my identity gets too wrapped up in it. I’ve realized that one of the things that I defined myself by in high school was running. I was one of the few who went above and beyond the team training, and invested a significant portion of my own time running. I was one of the fewer yet who was running throughout the year, and not just during the weeks leading up to the meet. While there was definitely a lot of good motivation behind that, there was also pride.

And then, when I came here, and failed to maintain that habit, that part of my identity suffered. It became something that I felt the need to do, to feed that defining part of me. And because most of the time I couldn’t keep up the habit, I felt bad about myself for it. And then, several weeks ago, I started running again. And I felt great about myself again. And then, just like that, I can’t. Of course, all the everyday things that I have to do while keeping that leg straight add to my frustration and feelings of inability, but the running is the cherry on top.

As he often does, God used this to start bringing all kinds of stuff to the surface. The other major area where I have been feeling frustrated and unable to perform is in my discipline in spending time in Scripture and in prayer. I wrote about my struggle with this last semester. In that post, I outlined a system I had developed to keep me on top of it. And for the most part, it worked. Until the crunch at the end of the year, when I started to let it slide, and then when summer hit and I let it go almost completely. And this semester I have yet to get back on top of it. But do you see the language here? Perform. Discipline. On top of it. Let it slide. It’s all very performance-based. Like running. This too, while I know part of me realizes my legitimate need for this, for God, and seeks him out because of that need, another part of me treats it the way that part of me treats running—something to measure myself up against. Something to make myself feel good when I’m on top of it, and that I feel bad about when I’m not. The post I wrote right before that one discussed that legitimate need. I talked about how we can’t do life on our own. We need to stay connected to Jesus. I referenced John 15, and pointed out the trap we often fall into of thinking that once we’re saved by grace, we need to start living up to God’s standard on our own power, and how Jesus specifically told us that that is hopeless. We can only produce fruit when we’re attached to the vine, abiding in Christ.

In a very ironic twist, I’ve realized that abiding has become that thing that I’m trying to pull off on my own.

So now I have this dilemma. On the one hand, I cannot bear fruit or get anywhere meaningful in life without being connected to the vine. On the other hand, the very act of staying connected to the vine is just as impossible on my own strength. So I’m stuck.

Or not.

A wise man once said, “When our depravity meets his divinity, it is a beautiful collision.”

(For those of you who are wondering, that man is none other than David Crowder.)

As it turns out, I’m exactly where I need to be. In a place of brokenness—and fully aware of it. To get back on track, I first need to throw my hands in the air, and say that I can’t get anywhere without Christ. I can’t even seek Christ out without Christ. I am totally, utterly, helpless. Just like my knee. And when I realize that—when I really, truly, come to grips with that—it means that the amount of time I spend with him is no longer a measuring stick. It can no longer feed my ego. Just like when I realize that he has given me the ability, desire, and will to run, and that can no longer feed my ego either.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I should just expect God to magically open up large chunks of my schedule and make time spent with him seem infinitely more appealing than every other alternative. Just like it doesn’t mean I expect him to magically open up even more time in my schedule and make running seem like the next best way to spend that time. My part is to trust him to help me manage my time, to help me as I make time for both of these, and to trust him for the will to choose them—first time with him, and then running—over everything else vying for my time and attention. To recognize that every time I crack open my Bible (by which I really mean tap an icon on a screen) or bow my head in prayer, every time I change into my running gear (once my knee heals, that is,) strap on my phone with that yet-to-be-used armband, hit the play button, and go, I remember that it’s only by his strength that I’m doing this. That without him, I’m doomed before I even begin.

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (NLT)

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