Limping Away*

Like the Biblical Jacob, I limped toward my future. Unlike Jacob, RICE helped me take more steps into my future without limping.

My last Sunday as a full-time pastor ended on the first Sunday of June, 2007*. After nearly nine years, it seemed the right time for a new direction. However, not all on my last day went as planned.

The 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 31, 2011

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Genesis 32:24)

But the planned events were grand: Communion was celebrated, newborn twins were blessed with gentle words, some of my favorite hymns were sung and a few surprises for me were tossed into the worship mix. What a wonderful day!

And I was also injured.

Near the beginning of the second worship service, I tore or bruised a muscle in my left leg. Yikes! Just after the greeting time–when church members exchange hugs, handshakes and a hearty, “May the peace of God be with you”—I retreated to my seat near the pulpit. On my return, I did a little hop-skip step. What a happy fellow!

With one step, life felt good.

With the next step, it seemed like a BB gun pellet smacked the side of my left calf. In the proverbial split-second, a burning sensation spread across the entire calf. Suddenly, I could barely walk.

Physically, the remainder of the day was miserable. I preached with pain rippling up-and-down my left side. At the afternoon farewell festivities, an outdoor picnic, I leaned all my weight on the right leg. Instead of wandering about a lovely tree-shaded patio to share with folks, I claimed the nearest chair. Grrrr.

Jacob, in Genesis 32, wrestled with a man “until daybreak” on the night before he would cross the River Jabbock for a reunion with his brother Esau. Genesis, with its terse, dramatic language, suggests Jacob was in a holy tussle with God. As one of the Bible’s great liars and cheats—and also an unabashed lover of his Lord—Jacob is soon to risk his future. Tomorrow he will wade across the Jabbock and seek his brother’s forgiveness.

Jacob longs for a new future. But first God wrestles with him. When I read Genesis, I don’t see God “testing” Jacob. I don’t believe God tests us. But the scene boldly reveals the Holy’s desire to remind Jacob, the scoundrel, that faith prevails. Risking forgiveness rather than harboring old wounds is the best preparation for a new way of life.

And yet the nocturnal struggle costs Jacob. According to Genesis, his hip was “put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” At dawn, he would limp toward Esau, and his future.

What caused my injury? I have no idea. One step: Good. Next step: Bad. At home, I Googled “muscle” and “tear” and “bruise” and found descriptions matching my pain. The moment I read about the “BB gun pellet” feeling, I knew what I had to do for my damaged muscle: RICE.

RICE—which Jacob probably didn’t do—helps heal bruises. “R” for rest. “I” for ice. “C” for compression. And “E” for elevation. It’s the standard, effective medical advice for all saints and scoundrels with soft tissue injuries. If only Jacob had known, eh?

What a way to end a ministry. Though I would have preferred a stride rather than a stagger on my last walk from church, my limp helped me remember that RICE works for more than one sore muscle.

All of us need “R.” Why do we wait until injury or exhaustion to rest?

All of us need “I.” Cool down, baby! We live in a hot world. Raising children, paying the bills, surrounded by politicians using fear to claim our votes, gas prices soaring. Like over-used pistons, we heat up. We burn up with too much on our to-do list. What helps ice you down? Cool down? Get refreshed?

All of us need “C.” Compression. Frankly I’m taking some time off to hug my wife a little more, and to let my dog wrap herself around my feet. I need that kind of compression. One of the gifts I got at my farewell party was a T-shirt reading: “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.” Yeah!

All of us need “E” time. Elevate. Medically speaking, it’s important to keep the injury above the level of the heart. But personally speaking, in this sabbatical year, I desire to elevate my way of looking at the world. What, because of busy-ness or useless worry, do I miss? What haven’t I taken the time to experience?

A week after limping away from church, I was nearly healed. RICE works. But I hope I remember, in the days to come, that RICE works for more than just the temporary healing.


(*After again reading the story of Jacob’s struggle in Genesis 32, I decided to re-post this June 2007 reflection. I left the church I then served for a sabbatical, with establishing a web page as one of the year’s goals. This was one of the earliest essays placed on the site, probably then only read by family members and a couple of folks who took the wrong turn on the Internet and ended up at Jacob’s wrestling match with God, and his limp toward the future, inspires me. Humbles me. Four years later, I’m still limping forward…)

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