Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3).
As most of you know, a little over three months ago, I injured my shoulder in a swimming accident. It was in late afternoon when I picked a boogie board at Anamambo, and then met a large wave that dislocated, and fractured my shoulder, plus wrecked most of the nerves in my right arm.
In those early days of the accident, when people were still coming to the hospital, or stopping by the house to pray for me, we were still hoping for an immediate supernatural healing, but as the weeks wore on, and the pain increased, it was clear that wasn’t happening. I flew to South Africa for a second, well actually third opinion, and there learned that the good doctors at 37 Military Hospital had missed something, and so in South Africa (with their high powered CAT Scanner, and digital X-Ray machines) they operated and put my shoulder back together.
In December I came home from South Africa after a month. The shoulder was healing fine but I was in a lot of pain. Somewhere around Christmas, the pain became manageable, and today, 3 months and two weeks and a few days since the accident, I’ve been let me out of the sling, and I have maybe 10% use of my arm. It will be another 13 months before I will know how much of my arm and hand use I will get back.
I tell you all this because this accident and its pain has given me a new perspective on what poor in Spirit means. If there is one thing constant intense pain can teach you is about being poor in spirit. And so in that sense I have come to realize my life was blessed, but its not the kind of blessing I would wish on anyone.
In the hospital in South Africa, I became fast friends with a guy in the bed next to mine. We were in the rugby ward, 10 beds filled with guys with shoulder problems, all due to rugby except me, and the next to me. His was golf. When I was back there last week for a check-up, and learned the news was very good. It is healing well, but is still a very long journey, but they said results look promising that my shoulder will recover 100%. Anyway, while I was back in South Africa, and went out my friend from the hospital, we sat in his car, waiting for his wife and I asked him what he had learned from all this.
A little background. He has three sons, one just graduated from University, the second just left for University, and their lastborn will be leaving in 2 years, for University. In other words, soon they will be empty nesters. They have been married 31 years, 10 more than Suzanne and I.
He said before the operation he spent the week-ends playing golf, and after hanging out at the club, or with his buddies. But since the operation, he and his wife have been seeing each other, eating at fine restaurants, going out to movies, and talking, and he has discovered this love for his wife that they had lost for each other, and how interesting, he shared with me, that this happened before they became empty nesters. “I don’t know what we would have done then,” he shared. He said he felt blessed, because now they had time to get things right before the house became empty.
I’ve thought a lot about what I’ve learned these past three months, what I can learn about myself in this situation, and what God wants me to teach me.
I must say I’m not all that comfortable writing about this aspect of my faith, and what I’ve learned about it. As a pastor I’ve been with people in the worst situations, I’ve seen faith strengthened, I’ve seen it falter, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn what I was going to learn about myself, and what I believed.
I’ve been humbled by the sheer number of people, and churches, and organizations worldwide that have prayed for me, and for a quick recovery. Though it doesn’t look like those prayers are going to be answered, part of also me wonders what it would have been like without all those prayers. If you were one of those who prayed for me, let me say thanks.
I also know how tired I am of talking about this injury, answering questions, and telling an account of how it happened. It is almost like this accident is defining me, and I do not want it to become all I am. True it happened to me, but it is not who I am, and I certainly don’t want to be the guy who used to be something before the…oh you know, that accident.
I guess what I’ve learned is what I’ve seen others who have lost a loved one, or everything in a house fire; who have lost a business, or something they thought they could never live without. What I saw in those people in that situation learn, and what I maybe have learned myself, is that indeed life does go on. Whatever that thing is, or was, when it gets stripped away, the membrane between heaven and earth becomes especially thin.
I used to say that events like this can either draw you closer to God, or make you run screaming from God, and I never could predict which direction a person was going to go. I watched in myself with a sort of disinterested fascination as the days, weeks, and months went by, when I was in so much pain, and how unrelated the fact that that healing that wasn’t coming, was to what I knew I believed about God.
That if God chose to heal me, great, and if God didn’t, I’d get by, I’d still believe, and need to worship Him. So to me, the blessing was not in what God did, or didn’t do, but in all the stuff that got stripped away, that at the end of the day, all I wanted was to believe in God, and know that we are not alone, that God is with us.
And as I went back and looked at the parables that Jesus used to try to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven was like—and there were many–it seemed to me that maybe that was the point he was trying to get across, is that we are not alone, that God is with us, and that we’ve made our relationship with God a whole lot more complicated than God wants it to be, even now.
When Jesus says, Blessed Be the Poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven, he is saying that even when you think you have lost everything, you have just lost the things of this world, but never God. Being poor in spirit means there is just less to separate you from the love of God.
The Apostle Paul makes that point in his letter to the Romans, saying: For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sections of this post were taken form last Sunday’s sermon as I preached on the first of the beatitudes, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3).