by Tim Palmquist
April 7, 2023
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8a)
Do we seek to draw near to Him in His suffering as in His resurrection?
A surprise to us all
The Suffering Power of Distant Devotion
We desire to remain close to our loved ones in the midst of their most difficult struggles. But sometimes we need to realize that God may be gracing us with distance to be a blessing.
My wife Terri has been experiencing weeks of hospitalization, which began in February and have continued into April. In her physical therapy sessions, each step has been a painful struggle. Even though a professional physical therapist has typically been there to help her, I have wanted to be close to her to provide emotional support (thinking that I might even need to help catch her if she falls).
But since she entered a rehabilitation hospital last week, the physical therapist here tells me to sit in a chair while he or she helps Terri, so I can’t be next to her as she tries to walk. In her first physical therapy session here, Terri walked 52 feet. That was by far her best walk in many weeks.
The next day, Terri struggled to get close to that same goal, but the therapist was happy when she made it to about 50 feet. An assistant walked behind her with a wheelchair, so that she could safely sit down whenever she felt she couldn’t take another step.
At her next session, the therapist told Terri that he wanted her to go just a little further. Sitting in my chair, watching from behind, I was glad to see her keep walking past her original goal, until she had gone about 60 feet.
Then she did something that surprised us all. Just when we expected her to sit down, she turned around — and took another step. And another.
Her steps were labored, but relentless. She didn’t stop until she was face to face with me. She had more than doubled her previous record, walking about 120 feet.
Finally sitting down by me, she exhaled in exhaustion with a terse explanation for her surprising actions: “you were my goal“!
(We have treasured memories of difficult walks, such as when I wanted to take her to Yosemite to see Vernal Fall. Once she could see it from below, she wanted to stop, but I kept telling her “it will be worth it at the top.” Above the waterfall, beside Emerald Pool, I asked her to marry me.)
I had thought that the best way to help my wife was to be at her side as she struggled to regain her strength, but it seems that I helped much more by giving her a focal point for her return. Without that distance, she would have lacked the motivation to walk so far.
Jesus granted Peter the difficult goal of walking to meet Him on the water, and Peter stayed above the waves until he began to focus more on the storm.
Perhaps the renowned story of “footprints in the sand” leaves out one of the reasons that we might feel so alone in times of need — God can put us in such situations to strengthen our focus on Him. Yes, in a sense He carries us even when we seek Him, but as He ordains us to be “strong and courageous,” He needs to draw us in a way which requires us to exercise our own muscles.
When young David was all alone with the sheep, being attacked by lions and bears, he didn’t complain about being put in such stressful situations. Instead, he saw each crisis as an opportunity for God to train his hands for war. The defining victories of David’s life of strength and courage happened long before he faced Goliath.
However, David did feel alone, even abandoned by God at times. It was David who first penned the words “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” which Jesus quoted on the cross. But when David remembered how God formed him in his mother’s womb, this psalm which began with words of deepest despair was transformed into a powerful expression of God’s sovereignty and glory, ultimately providing an opportunity to proclaim God’s righteousness to a people who are yet unborn. (I wonder, as Jesus was on the cross, did He also share David’s thoughts of once being in Mary’s womb?)
The glorious celebration of Resurrection Sunday (“Easter”) shines most brightly in the context of the deep dark despair our Lord Himself expressed on Good Friday, and the victory implicit in the most desperate words He ever uttered. May we follow our Lord’s example of embracing those times of pain, struggle and even loneliness and despair, which force us to focus our eyes on Him and rely upon the strength He promises to provide in our times of greatest weakness.
The celebration of communion which unites us as Christians began at a moment when Jesus was preparing His disciples to be distant from Him, reminding them to continue to focus on Him even when He was no longer visibly present.
From the beginning of time, God created humans to walk with Him in the garden. (Do we feel far from Eden?) Jesus said when we abide in Him, He will abide with us. Ultimately our goal is to abide forever with Him in Heaven. (Do we feel far from Heaven?) But often in love He designs an unexpected distance for our own good, just as His distance from Lazarus and his sisters was an act of love even when they felt they needed Him near. But that distance was necessary for the glorious act of love He had planned for us.
For those who have not heard of Terri’s hospitalization, she experienced a colon blockage which was caused by scar tissue which had become like a spider web entangling her colon. While the surgeon had originally said that he would need to remove part of her colon, requiring a colostomy bag and another future surgery, the discovery of the scar tissue (from her gallbladder surgery 40 years ago) in his exploratory surgery was an answer to prayer, as we had prayed that God will reveal something to him which would make the colostomy unnecessary. However, after weeks of not being able to eat and having TPN artificial nutrition, Terri had a severe imbalance in her electrolytes which was difficult for the doctors to overcome. Then her weeks of hospitalization made it necessary for her to learn to walk again.
For further insights on how Christ’s crucifixion relates to the sanctity of life in the womb, see the video of our song “Broken for Me,” which uses gory, graphic imagery of abortion and The Passion of the Christ. https://youtu.be/eLY9gGIpJRA
Read more about the poem Footprints in the Sand.
Scriptures for further study:
Matthew 14:25-31 (Jesus and Peter walking on the water)
1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath, and lions and bears)
John 11 (Jesus and Lazarus)
For more details on Terri’s hospitalization, search for “@lifesaver” on Facebook.
(This article may be re-edited before it is in its final form here.)