At the risk of sounding a bit dramatic,
my life was forever altered on a Sunday afternoon in May of 2003. I was riding my customized Harley Davidson to a birthday party. It was the perfect day. I was excited about the party. Unexpectedly, a car pulled out in front of me. I couldn’t avoid it. Trying to get around the car, I skidded sideways. My leg got caught between the car and bike and it snapped in half as I went over the hood. I tumbled into the median in excruciating pain. The perpetrators ran off. It was a hit and run. I spent the next week in the hospital, the next four weeks in bed, and the following month in a wheelchair. I was on crutches for six months and went to PT twice/week for the next year. Now, almost 20 years later, I walk with a bit of a limp and have enough metal in my leg to set off the scanners at the airport.
When you go through something like this, that event can make you a bitter person or a better person. By God’s grace I believe I have been able to navigate a more positive path. Part of what helped me were the life lessons I learned through the recovery; lessons that continue to serve me well. Perhaps in sharing them they will be of help to you too. Because, the truth is, we will all have our own tragedies to process.
Lesson one: God is not the author of evil
Why do bad things happen to seemingly good people? That is not a question I can do justice to here, but I can say with some measure of confidence that God didn’t cause this to happen. Two young people weren’t paying attention to what they were doing. The police report surmised they were illegal aliens. They were scared and fled. That is something they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. I feel badly for them. I pray for them. Lord have mercy
However, for me, there was such grace extended in and through it all, that God’s provision is the most prominent part of the remembrance. God took what was meant for evil and showed himself faithful – from the serendipitous help that arrived on the scene, to the amazing care of the doctors, to the tireless support we received from friends and family and I know this might sound a bit cheesy, but there was also a persistent undercurrent of peace that I attribute solely to the Spirit of God – all was going to be OK – and it was!
Along the way, these two passages of scripture became very real to me:
Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way…The Message, James 1:14
God is not the author of evil. Period! However, he can work in the midst of evil to bring about good. In fact, that is his promise:
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them…Romans 8:28
There are times when verses from the Bible are nothing more than nice sayings we put on a wall. They sound religiously proper, but a bit detached from reality. But then, there are life experiences that bring those words to life. We gain a whole new appreciation of God’s truth. The words become a lifeline and a rock we can build our lives upon. That is what happened with these two verses.
The unexpected turns of life have a way of making all of us question God’s goodness or his purposes. I think most people expected that to happen to me – and there were probably times where it did. But that is not what I most remember from that whole ordeal. Instead, I have a profoundly personal memory where God took one of the worst accidents imaginable and worked something positive in it and through it for me – and those closest to me. I think that is always the case with any heartache or tragedy. It’s all redeemable! It isn’t always apparent and sometimes it takes a bit to feel it, but God is patient and will guide us to that place, if we don’t give in to the anger and bitterness.
Lesson two I am less important than I think
This is not a lame attempt on my part to try and sound humble. This is simply the truth. People who have experienced any measure of success can quickly believe that it is all about them. It’s about their gifts and their talents that allowed their organization to become fruitful. I believe pastors of larger churches may be especially vulnerable. Every week these pastors are standing on large platforms with lights shining upon them. Every weekend people are telling them that their messages have changed their lives. It’s a tremendous ego feed.
In 2003, I was the senior pastor of the largest church in our community. Thousands of people showed up at our services. We were building buildings, the newspapers were writing stories about us, and I was invited to serve on all the important boards in town. That stuff is toxic to the soul. A person can gain an over-inflated idea of their own importance – even subconsciously – and I did.
After the accident, I couldn’t do any of that anymore. I was sidelined. And guess what happened? Things went on without me. Other people stepped up and good things continued to happen. Attendance wasn’t adversely affected. The buildings we were building were finished on schedule. The church found a way to manage without me. It was a very tangible reminder that if something is genuinely good, its always bigger than any one person. I needed that reality check. It was exactly what my soul needed – and that season stands as a stark reminder (with every limp) that this world does not revolve around me, and that is a really important thing for me to remember.
Lesson Three I am more important than I think
I realize this is a direct contradiction to lesson two, but I believe this is one of those life paradoxes. People are not like parts of a car. They are not easily replaced. Everyone has a unique contribution to make. When one part is missing the whole body suffers. That is the imagery of the Bible.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffers with it, and if one part is honored all the parts are glad. Now, all of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a separate and necessary part of it.I Corinthians 12:26-27
When we realize that the world might go on ‘just fine’ without us, our temptation is to assume that we don’t matter. We are expendable. But that isn’t true either. We all matter way more than we think, which is why our commitment to our calling is so important. This is one of the great ironies of the Christian approach to self-image. It’s not about us and it’s all about us. We are but dust (Genesis 18:27) AND we are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). Some how we have to figure out how to hold both of those truths tightly together in order to find our way. And when we do, it produces the right balance of confidence that allows us to approach the servanthood of Jesus.
Really an amazing place to live, if you can get there – and stay there.
In short, I hope you will take two thoughts away from this short essay:
- Whatever tragedy or crisis has you stuck is also a seedbed for some of the greatest life treasures you’ll ever know, and they are worth mining for every nugget.
- Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the ways that God loves you through the heart aches of life is perhaps the strongest evidence of his existence. Give yourself permission to experience it. You won’t regret it!