The Limp

April 25, 2014

I walk with a slight limp. Last year I snapped a major tendon in my calf, which then led to a second injury- this time to my knee- which will one day give me an ultimatum: “It’s surgery or walking- pick one!” Because of these injuries, I move with a slight limp. It’s not noticeable to everyone and some days it is worse than others. In fact, I can sometimes even disguise my limp for a period of time, working hard to not show a gait that is somewhat off. But eventually it shows, especially going up and down the stairs. Compensation only takes you so far. So I walk with a slight limp.

Recently I led a group discussion on the life of Jacob from the Scripture. This sneaky, stealing, deceiving person who before he was born held the blessing of God. Clearly God’s blessing is not attached to our behavior or Jacob would have been lost not so long after he was born. The word the group I was leading came up with was, “swarmy.” Jacob was swarmy. And he was. Kinda a class A jerk. It is ironic that for years this swarminess goes on, even as Jacob’s life is punctuated by God’s clear favor and blessing despite it all. Then near the end of his saga in Genesis, we find him at the river’s edge, alone, at night. He was preparing to meet his brother- one of the people he had cheated. One of the folks who wanted Jacob dead. It has been over 20 years since he had last seen his brother and the Scripture makes clear that Jacob’s a little nervous about the whole encounter.

No one really knows all the details of what happens in the story, but at some point in the night, Jacob encounters a man. Some people have said this is his brother Esau come to fight him. Some have said it was all a psychological encounter with himself. Others have said this man was an angel from heaven, still others say it’s Jesus himself in the pre-Incarnate form.

I personally lean toward the God or angel viewpoint. Just because of how the story plays out. Anyway, Jacob finds himself in a wrestling match with this man and they reach a draw in the fight. By that time, Jacob is just hanging on with all his got, not letting go until he receives a blessing, which is kind of funny that he’s pleading for a blessing when 20 something years earlier he stole his brother’s blessing and left his brother pleading for their father’s blessing… which was gone with Jacob. The wrestling man does bless Jacob.

But Jacob doesn’t walk away unscathed. The Bible says that he was hit in the thigh and this caused him to walk with a limp. So when Jacob encountered his brother the next day and through the rest of his life, he limped. He had this visible mark of having encountered God and come to grips- at least in part- with who he was and who was to be.

He walked with a limp.

Today I attended a gathering of pastors, my immediate colleagues in the Covenant who are currently residing in the same region called a conference. Today was our pastors meeting- the one held yearly where we do things like approving budgets and receiving reports and voting on officers. All the things no one thinks about when they sign up to be a pastor.

As I sat in the assembly, I began to think about some things. One thing that I happened upon in my mind this morning was the two results that pain and hardship can cause in us. Pain can either expand us or shrivel us. It can either stretch us in growth or cause us to shrink down in bitterness. Sometimes both happen to us and in us. Sometimes we choose to stay shrunken down. But when we are expanded, it becomes possible for God to share some things with us that perhaps we had not seen before. Or perhaps we had not been ready to see before.

One of those possibilities is noticing in the limps around us. The way in which others walk with a limp from their costly encounters with God, or with ministry, or with life. Today I noticed limps. Not physical limps, but the limps that come from the soul, from wrestling with God and loss and doubt and fear. I noticed that some of us in the assembly limped openly and honestly… sharing about our time in the dark deathly valley. I noticed others who were too young to limp just yet, and still others who have been frantically reluctant at engaging God in such a close encounter… yet. And I even noticed those of us who limp but hide it- like the woman I knew years ago who was sitting nearby hiding her limp behind flashy smiles and a tendency toward assumption, or the man who hides his limp because to notice it would be to notice other painful events he is responsible for.

Not all of us limp, not all of us limp openly, but many of have these limps, these wounds and bumps and scars that we rub when it gets cold outside. They cause us to remember. We remember the nights in the sweat of our Savior’s arms, wrestling and pinning and wide-eyed terror at what we were encountering while also somehow knowing (or learning to know), like Jacob, that there was goodness in this. A blessing.

I had to leave the gathering in the afternoon as I had things to do, but before I left, I glimpsed the covered elements of a Eucharist meal set out for the night’s worship. As I drove away, I thought about that communion encounter. I thought about the many people who would come to sing and pray and listen and then gather up their bodies and souls- the pieces and wounds and prayers and fears of their lives- and find their way to the cup and the plate, to the bread and the wine, to the things that remind us of the grace that encounters us in the dark by the rivers and that covers us even as we drag our wounds behind us. I thought of how many people would limp to the front, whether others could see it or not, and would rip a piece of the body of Jesus, taste his mercy on their tongue and find him there, honoring and loving the limp in us.

There are moments, I hate my limp- the physical one. My right leg is weaker now. I will probably never get my sprinting or jumping back. Sometimes my knee hurts just to roll over in bed. So sometimes I hate my limp. But I have learned to not hate my spiritual limp. The one that happened in leadership. The one that came from significant struggle where God was making something new, where God was drawing from me the things I didn’t want to give up so easily. That limp may have come from the dark and deathly valley, but that limp is my sign of redemption. That limp has become the marker to remind me that at one time- and many times since- I was held tightly in the arms of a wrestling God who loved me enough to come that close and breathe down my neck as he gripped me long enough to have me plead for his blessing.

And so it made sense, those few weeks ago, when we ended our group discussion about the swarmy redeemed Jacob, we used these words: “Honor the limp. In you and in others. It is sign that God has been near. It is a sign that God has made something, or someone, new.”

***

Dan Allender’s book Leading with a Limp is an excruciatingly honest look at leadership that causes limping, at the way in which painful experiences can make us until people who lead well- humbly and reluctantly. I fully recommend this book for anyone who is walking with a limp… whether you are a pastor or not. Go read it.

2 Responses to “The Limp”

  1. Reid Olson said

    Thank you for not hiding your limp. It looks good on you. 🙂

  2. wrenlk said

    Thanks for reading, Reid!

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