Yesterday at the physical therapist's office, I stared a medieval-turned-21st-century torture device squarely in the face. Or the rack, perhaps. I've been seeing a PT on a regular basis lately because the vertebrae in my neck are compressed to the point of needing surgery and I'd like to put that off for the foreseeable future--or forever!!!, if possible! I love my PT, who is a specialist in neck problems. She has compassion in her eyes and a gentle touch. She's been more informative about the problems in my spine than all the doctors I've seen in the last decade plus. And that's saying a whole lot. A whole, whole lot. So last week when she suggested that we try a little traction stretching on my neck, I was game. Even if it did sound like something out of the middle ages.
And when she pulled the device out of the bag, it wasn't too different from what I'd imagined, though it is cushioned and electronically operated, and intended to help, not torture me. As I laid my head down on the head rest and allowed her to begin stretching my spine, I thought about the whole idea of stretching. At least for the few moments I could think. This is going to be a long process, not necessarily an easy one, so it wasn't simple for me to get outside myself to think about anything but the weight. The machine is measured by how much weight is pulled against one's spine. At 12 lbs, my PT said most people find it pleasant. "I wouldn't quite call this pleasant," I said. "More like pain." She adjusted it to 9 lbs. "Your spine really is sensitive to being stretched. We'll have to go more slowly." Finally it began to feel okay, and just as I started to tell her, I said, "But are there supposed to be sharp pains going down my left arm?" She stopped immediately.
So I can imagine how people must have felt to be strung out on those racks, unable to move or be released, unable to do anything about the increasing pain. Just hanging there. Being stretched beyond their powers of endurance because those who were stretching them were bent on torture not on healing, on destroying not on strengthening them.
One of the things people answer in response to the questions, "How are you doing?" or "What is God teaching you?" is "I'm being stretched." This answer covers so many things. When a person faces difficulties like the loss of a job, trouble with co-workers or bosses (ask Beve about this last year--boy, does he have a story to tell you!). It can apply to periods of grieving parents or pets. Children grow up and stretch us as they leave one phase of life for the next. At least this has been the case in my life.
The stretching that was done to me yesterday was the best picture I've ever had of what God is really up to when He puts us in situations beyond what we think we can handle. We wouldn't choose the difficulties for ourselves but what comes from them--even if the momentary affliction is painful--is meant for our good. He only stretches to strengthen what is weak in us. He stretches us to make us grow up where we would/could not naturally grow up on our own.
I think of my brother who now works in Hydrobad, India. He just finished a job in Bratsk, Russia. That's Siberia, folks. From the frozen tundra to the teeming heat of India in a couple of months. Talk about being stretched. And this is a man who likes his creature comforts. In fact, if you'd asked just five years ago to name ten people in my own family who would live in either of these places, he wouldn't have made the list. But God has stretched him. Keeps on stretching him. And he's obedient to go. And I believe that such stretching--if he allows it to do its work--will make him someone he can't even imagine right now. Someone only God can imagine. Called and indwelt and used by God, because He's the one holding the rack, doing the stretching.
He stretches us.
And sometimes it hurts.
But He's always a compassionate God who has our best in mind,
and He NEVER stretches us beyond our power of endurance.