A Punching Bag’s Last Request

Written and rewritten after each wave of conviction. This is not the original draft.

Anyone who followed my writing for the past two years would understand my camaraderie with a reliable, worn out punching bag.

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Our marriage, our emotions, our spiritual walks took hit after hit after hit. And, like most good Christians, we put our heads down and held our ground for each volley, hiding (sometimes) trustingly behind our shields of faith. Because that’s what Christians do. They endure. They stand firm. They keep taking hits.

And that’s halfway true.

I have allowed myself to survive in that half-truth ever since we set foot outside of my comfort zone, my hometown, safe and reliable Pittsburgh. My fingers were pried off of so much I held dear… and isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Survive this life until we’re whisked away to heaven?

Partially. Lately, the Spirit has been convicting me of the other half of Christian suffering: perseverance. I can almost hear Him, rumbling and stern on my soul… Enough.

I’ve been stuck as my own punching bag, bracing myself for every punch God sends my way. Youngstown? Punch. No biological kids? Punch. No church plant? Punch. No church family? Punch.

And I just kept bouncing back, expecting the next hit and never really moving forward. I wallowed, almost relished, in the seemingly constant beatings. Suffering became an idol to me. Did it make me feel more spiritual? More mature in my walk? Less naive?

Christians are to expect suffering, for sure, but we’re not simply called for spiritual beatings. We’re supposed to defend ourselves with our shield of faith, then plunge forward, girded with truth and wielding our sword of the Spirit, confident in our breastplate of righteousness and running ever onward in our shoes that bring the gospel of peace.

I’ve been a mediocre Christian. I’ve cowered behind my shield for two years, living as the barely believing punching bag. And I gave room in my soul for the devil to reap doubt of God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s faithfulness. Why else could the past two years have happened? Why else would God ruin Christian fellowship for me forever? Why else would I still sting a little while joyously congratulating pregnant friends? God can’t be good. God can’t be gracious. God can’t be faithful. Look how He hurt me. Look how He persecutes me. Me. Me. Me.

Enough, says the Spirit.

So here is my request.

Close that chapter for me, Lord. Never let it leak into my joy in You. Thank you for my permanent reminders of your presence with me during that time, but don’t let them rekindle doubt. Remind me of how You’ve changed me. Use my scars for your glory. Put my hell to good use. Give me strength and courage to keep running. Make me give you credit for that strength and courage. Don’t let me stand still.

The key issue is what goes before and after the ‘but’ in your life. You can say, for example, ‘I am a follower of Christ, but I cannot have children and so life will be dominated by disappointment’, or you can run it the other way around: ‘I cannot have children, but I am loved by God and there is joy in him’. The question is where the weight lies. Either way there is disappointment; but we can define our life by disappointment or we can define our life by Jesus. The first is an indication of idolatry; the second is a sign of real, hope-filled faith.

John Hindley

 

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