Have you ever had a back problem? I have had that unpleasant experience several times in my life. Most often for me it didn’t happen because I lifted some extra heavy piece of furniture or four bundles of shingles rather than three 😊 (I’m lucky if I can pick up one!) No, most often it happens as I bend over to pick up a piece of paper on the floor or carry out some other routine task I do several times a day. But this time I feel the crunch of muscles behaving badly and I know it’s time to start the heat and ice routine as the next several days are not going to be fun.
If you’ve had this “spine tingling” experience you know it’s awful. The thing about it that’s most distressing is that when the pain is at its most debilitating, there is no comfortable position. It seems that every way you shift your body a new shot of pain erupts. Everything within you tightens up to try to protect your back and that only makes it worse.
As I thought about this experience recently, it reminded me of the behavior I sometimes see in churches. Perhaps the congregation has been through a recent conflict. Perhaps they have tried something new that didn’t work out so well. Perhaps they’ve been dealing with the loss of significant givers either because folks have left or because they have died, and for the first time they are facing significant financial difficulties. Perhaps they are just watching their membership decrease year by year and are wondering what the future will hold.
In many of these scenarios the church begins to “seize up.” People become more and more fearful and try to hold on more and more tightly to what isn’t working, hoping it will somehow just get better. It feels like everywhere they turn there is pain. And it is literally paralyzing.
So as we find ourselves in a place like that, how can we − the “Body of Christ” − discover the path to moving more freely in the Spirit when we are “locked up” by fear, dysfunction, or a focus on pain? How can we move beyond ourselves when all we can think about is how much it hurts? So many churches I see are living in this situation.
What is the “ice and heat” that brings healing and hope for a future that is good and filled with promise? What is the treatment that brings curative wholeness? Well, I think it begins when a willingness to risk starts again, as a disposition to trust the Spirit one more time and seek to follow where God is leading begins to sprout. It begins as we choose forgiveness and let go of the stone against another that we’re holding in our hands. It begins as we seek and see a vision for health. For we must believe that we can get well. And we must be willing to do whatever it takes to move towards that place of well-being.
Sadly, sometimes folks see no other option but to lay on the couch languishing in the pain. They don’t dare move for fear the sharp stabbing pain will still be there. I get that. But if we are willing to treat the injury, as we take the steps towards healing, ultimately there comes a time when we need to get up and walk. We need to engage health, or health will forever elude us.
So, if any of this resonates with you in your setting, if with all you’ve tried you still find yourselves stuck on the couch, perhaps it’s time for you, for your church to as Jesus put it “take up your bed and walk.” Who knows what good things await you and your community if you do.