I was organizing a a large event as part of my job. I was down to the last few weeks where everything gets crazy and frantic, no matter how well you plan.
Then, out of nowhere, with no “injury” or strain or apparent reason, I was hit with a new, incredibly painful bout of my chronic back pain.
I had thoughts like, “Really, God? I’m trying to serve you and you let this happen?” “What could possibly be the good or the purpose of this pain, right now? This is the last thing I need.”
I’d had years of chronic pain and illness. I was tired of learning lessons. I was weary of character-building. Couldn’t God just relieve my suffering now?
After a couple trips to the chiropractor didn’t help, my doctor referred me to a physical therapist.
I liked him from the very beginning.
He was kind of a “tough guy”, but caring and funny — just the kind of “medicine” you need from a provider when you’re in pain.
He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was an author and also Women’s Director at my church. He seemed intrigued and began asking me some random questions about my church, my writing and my faith.
He explained that he was Jewish. He believed there was a God, but didn’t really go to church. And He had big problems with believing Jesus was the Messiah. We had some interesting dialogue about prophecy, Jesus’ life, his trial and crucifixion. He seemed interested in it all, but more as an intellectual exercise than anything else.
A few sessions went by without much discussion about the spiritual. But at my last therapy session, he was telling me some stories of his wild youth. Then, he said, “You probably wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with me. But I really was a nice Jewish boy.”
Without even thinking about it, I said, “Jesus was a nice Jewish boy, too.”
“Yes, He was.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Let’s talk about that.”
Somehow, he seemed interested in this topic in a different way. I sensed that the Holy Spirit was up to something.
He began asking deep, thoughtful questions. I was able to answer them in ways that I know that I don’t possess the ability to do on my own. Although my sessions were only 30 minutes long, his next patient “happened” to cancel (“Rarely happens,” he told me).
So for nearly an hour, we had this incredible exchange where He asked penetrating questions and I laid out the entire message of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Finally, he said, “I have a Christian friend who hits me over the head with this stuff. He gets so angry. But today, hearing it from you, you are so passionate and so sure, but you’re not angry. You just really believe.”
“Do they talk about stuff like this at your church?”
“Yep. They sure do. Do you want to come?”
“You know what? Yes. I’m coming to church. He went out to the other room and told all the other therapists, “I’m going back to church!”
As I left, he said, “I just wish I could be as sure as you are.”
I told him about the verse in Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
This “tough guy” — with tears in his eyes — gave me hug.
A few days later, I stopped by the office and left a note and a few apologetics books for him at the front desk.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve seen my friend at my church. I haven’t. Maybe he went to another church. I don’t know what happened in his heart that day. I do know that encounter was real, divinely appointed and significant. We both knew it.
I also know that if he continues to search, he will find Truth. In the meantime, God will continue to pursue him personally and passionately — just as He does each of us.
Sometimes our pain is not about us, friends. The trials that we go through are not just about lessons we need to learn.
Maybe sometimes it’s about a gentle “tough guy” that needs to hear about the love of Jesus.
In that case, thank God for my aching back.