But I felt a bit sad as well, as I recalled some of the goals that I had had to leave behind because of illness.
- I had always wanted to run a marathon.
- I love singing opera; I had wanted to improve my singing.
- I had wanted to write a best-selling book.
- I had wanted to learn to make michelin-star quality desserts (okay – that’s a total lie; I’ve got no motivation or aptitude to cook and making desserts would be way down the list, somewhere after an MA in New Testament Greek, learning to barre chords properly on the guitar and not just play G, D and E minor, star in a local production of Les Miserables as Fantine, learn about art history, get a diploma in counselling).
I can’t do these things, and it is unlikely I will ever be able to do these. My M.E. (sometimes known under the umbrella term of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) has deteriorated to the extent that I am housebound, mainly bedbound, and I need help to look after my toddler. I have to limit my social activity and my brain activity.
Somehow the Paralympics can be even more depressing from this point of view. They’re disabled too – but they’re achieving amazing things! Me? I achieved getting dressed today – and it took me hours to even recover from that. Is there anyone who gives Olympic medals for taking a shower?
This morning I felt so acutely my weaknesses and limitations.
“…I am in chains…” (Phil 1:13)
And then a light clicked on for me. I thought of the chains of my disability. I thought of Paul, imprisoned in his house, unable to preach the gospel openly. I thought of his goal to go to the far nations, to preach where the gospel had not gone before. I thought of his love of debate and dialogue, and being able to persuade people.
I paused reading. And suddenly I was Paul, stuck under house-arrest, seeing all of his hopes and desires for ministry wither away, his substantial gifts atrophying as he spent the hours in chains, counting the hours as they passed. I was Paul, thinking, ‘Has God rejected me? Did I get it wrong? Were the other apostles chosen rather than me? Was I being punished in some way?’
And then I was Paul, feeling that it was God who was at fault, God who had failed. Surely there was much more valuable work for him to be doing. If I were Paul, this is how I would have felt: God had got it wrong.
But God hadn’t got it wrong.
Paul being in prison meant that he couldn’t do as much preaching and travelling. The only way he could keep in touch with the churches to encourage them and continue in mission was to write. So he wrote – and as a result we have most of the New Testament today.
Out of a place of weakness, limitation, the world of small things, he left a legacy for thousands of generations.
Paul wasn’t to know this. Although he was probably aware that his words were scripture (2 Pet 3:16), he wasn’t to know how many thousands of people, how many languages his words would be translated into.
His writing, his second-choice mission activity was God’s way of enabling the scriptures to be written. His weakness was a means of God’s grace. His Plan B was God’s Plan A.
What we think of as our greatest achievements, may, in the light of eternity, be nothing.
What we think of as our weakness may, in the light of eternity, be our greatest achievement.
I go back to reading the passage and drink in Paul’s words:
“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Phil 1:21
And actually, in the end, it’s not about the achievements, whatever they end up being. Our life is in His hands, and whatever else we do we need to adore.
It’s not about thinking of the medals we’ve gained or lost but it’s about Jesus: the saviour who lost so we might receive and gave that we might gain.
Over to you:
- What goals have you had to surrender because of illness or life circumstances?
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