I have tennis elbow. If you’ve never had it, this means I have pain radiating out of my elbow into my forearm. It limits my ability to use my right arm, for tennis obviously, but also everyday activities like lifting coffee mugs, using a computer mouse and turning doorknobs. The weakness is a definite liability.
But I’m committed to getting better. Tennis is on hold. Rest, ice and ibuprofen are my new best friends. I even called in a professional. My friend highly recommended a doctor that had helped her and several of our other friends’ cases of tennis elbow. So, yesterday I paid him a visit.Immediately I felt I was in good hands. After we discussed my condition I waited for him to work his magic and make me better. He probed the tendons and muscles of my forearm to identify the injured areas. Once located, he said he’d work on these “speed bumps” to “flatten” them and I’d be on the road to recovery. Sounds easy enough, right?
Well, magic I did not experience. Pain I did. While he jammed his thumb into the anatomy of my forearm “flattening” these “speed bumps,” I wondered what I’d done to make my friend so angry she’d recommend this agony. “I’m helping you,” the doctor assured. “Really? It doesn’t feel like it,” I grimaced.
After fifteen minutes of sheer torture, I inexplicably made an appointment for more of the same next week, paid him for privilege and dragged my aching arm home. “Don’t forget to ice it,” he called out. “No kidding!” I retorted.
Today my arm feels like it was on the losing end of a schoolyard brawl. It’s even a little swollen. But, surprisingly the pain in my elbow seems lessened. And I have more strength in my grip. Is it possible all of that painful kneading is starting to work?
Life can leave us with hurts far more acute than tennis elbow. We struggle and suffer. Pain radiates, leaving us weakened:
“The test results are in…”
“Sorry, we’re reorganizing and your job has been eliminated.”
“There’s been an accident…”
“I think you have a drinking problem.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“Mom, I hate you!”
“You really disappointed me.”
“I don’t love you anymore.”
Yet, God assures us in Jeremiah, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (29:11)
How can this be true when we experience such pain?
Earlier in Jeremiah we get an insight. At a potter’s house, the prophet observed, “… the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (18:4). And Isaiah says:
We’re under construction. Like lumps of clay we’re useless until formed by the hands of the Master Potter. God uses every experience to make us. Every disappointment to shape us. And every hurt to mold us. Although it seems counter-intuitive and maybe even unfair, our greatest refinements often come from the most painful kneading.
It’s up to us to choose how we experience this process. We can run away clinging to our desire to control and demanding to understand why these things happen. Or we can remain pliable and submit to His loving hands.
God created us. He has plans for us. And He shapes us as He chooses.
Do we trust Him to craft us into His perfect plans…even when our clay is aching?
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Roman 5:3-5)