The painful way God gets me to listen.

I am feeling all kinds of déjà vu right now. Two years ago, I ruptured the ACL in my left knee playing pickup basketball. It was the most devastating injury I’ve ever suffered. Surgery to repair the ligament took place shortly thereafter, and I was doggedly determined to not let this injury slow me down. I wasn’t going to retire from pickup ball that easily. I put my head down and pushed myself in rehabilitation. My top priority was to shirk any and all psychological impediments that might creep in and hinder me from playing again. (Which if you know anything about knee injuries, the mental hurdles in recovery are the hardest to overcome.)

Eighteen months after surgery, I was playing pretty regular ball again. My game certainly went through an adjustment period, but I was largely the same player I always was, relying on slashing and driving to score or create for the guys I was playing with. And that’s when I twisted my knee again. It twisted and popped again, and I feared I had ruptured my left ACL for a second time. I was crushed. How could I let this happen? I had pushed myself in rehabbing and strengthening routines. Was that not enough?

The frenzied schedule during that season of life prevented me from going through standard protocol for those types of injuries, though. No MRI or doctor’s evaluation for that second twist. There was just too much going on for my wife and I, what with my wife’s pregnancy, my responsibilities at two different jobs, trying to keep up with our 2-year-old daughter and seminary courses, all the while planning the logistics of moving our lives from Florida to Pennsylvania. Needless to say, my knee, let alone my pickup basketball career, wasn’t a priority.

And now I’ve gone and done it again. A few nights ago, I felt my knee twist awkwardly again, a feeling that was accompanied by that horrendous popping sound and loads of swelling. There is probably nothing more distressing for someone who loves playing pickup basketball than being sidelined by nagging injury. Now, even more frustrating, the pain is in my head. It’s there when I close my eyes. In a nanosecond, I’m transported back to that initial rupture over two years ago. That moment of excruciating pain and uncertainty. I don’t want to be morbid, but I can hear still it — the sound, the pop. It haunts me to this day. Makes me want to shelve the idea of ever playing again.

Through all of that, though, even more nagging than the twinging discomfort and constant frustration is the notion that God is somehow behind all this. I mean, I know that God is sovereign over everything. I will confess that and preach that until my voice is gone. But to an even greater, more personal degree, I know that God is intimately involved in this moment. Does he care about my pickup basketball career? Certainly not. But he does care about siphoning my life of things — regardless of how good — that distract from my true purpose and mission. That deafen my ears from hearing his voice.

God’s place is to speak, and ours is to listen.1

So wrote Horatius Bonar nearly 200 years ago. And it would appear that I’m still learning that lesson. That notwithstanding how ordered I feel my life is, if I’m holding it together in my ability, it can crumble faster than a house of cards. Nothing is more life-sucking than spending your life pretending you have everything put together. Such is what, I think, God would have me to hear: that his design, his plan for my life is way better than anything I could ever come up with — yes, including any “accomplishment” on a pickup basketball court. My worth isn’t determined by any physical, mental, or spiritual achievement or accrual, but is gifted to me by the bloody hands of my Savior. The more I listen and learn from the One who is Love, the more I’ll be used by him.

No, it shouldn’t take twisting my knee three times to learn that lesson, but if you haven’t already realized by now, I’m a pretty stubborn person. Odds are, so are you. Lucky for all of us, though, God’s grace is stubborn, too. And that’s a word he’s always eager for us to hear.

1

Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954), 394.