I was excited by the opportunity, but a little nervous. Our ministry had planned a “fun week” and the last event was ultimate frisbee. I hadn’t played in a long time, but I have always enjoyed it when it wasn’t too competitive. Back when I first came to Appalachian State, we had so many ultra-competitive students that usually after any competition, whether frisbee, basketball, or other sport, someone came away injured, if only slightly. And a couple of times, less mature students would almost come to blows over their style of play.
But this is not our group currently. They like to have fun, but are not too competitive. So I felt relatively safe playing with them as one 40 years their senior. Everything went well for a while. I made some decent throws and decent catches, and played fairly good defense. Then I began to notice that while running, my right knee was a little sore. After some more running, it was sorer. Having had my left knee replaced after decades of knee problems, I knew enough to get off the field, not wanting to risk further damage. By that evening, I could barely bend the knee. It wasn’t swollen, but it hurt. I had to take one step at a time up and down our stairs. Talk about feeling like an old man! Having run around on a tennis court, hiked a hundred or more miles in the past year, going 40 minutes three times a week on an elliptical machine, the last thing I expected was to suddenly have my knee not functioning right in the middle of doing a similar activity.
Life is fragile, even when we are convinced, at least for the moment, like so many of the young people with whom I work, that we are invincible. I remember several years ago feeling a pain in my side. Within a couple of hours, it was becoming unbearable. I had my wife drive me to the ER. I literally paced the waiting room, praying to the Lord to take away the pain. Twelve hours earlier, I felt great; now all I could do was pace and pray because of the pain. I was diagnosed with a kidney stone, given a shot, and sent home.
A year ago, a former student of mine, married, with a child, and a job she loved, was not feeling well and over a couple of days kept feeling worse. Her husband took her to the ER where she was admitted. A few days later, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Life up to that point was going well and she had been feeling good. Then it all changed and she has been in a year-long battle for her life.
It is easy to get comfortable with our present circumstances and to assume, especially if they are good, that they will continue for a long time. Many assumed that prior to March 2020, but within days, life changed dramatically. I have another former student whose dad contracted COVID and died a few weeks later. He told me that his dad’s death seems so unreal.
We all know we will die. We all recognize we might get injured. We all acknowledge that having the people we love close around us is not guaranteed. But we find it hard to imagine these realities happening and so are shocked when they do. The fragility of life seems something distant to us until it stands looking us in the eye.
I have to admit I struggle with this. I know I’m fragile. I know my body is not getting better, but older. Yet, I don’t necessarily feel fragile most of the time. I am pleased that I can be as active as I am, can work out, play tennis, hike, and even get out and play ultimate frisbee with students. And it is easy for me to take that for granted, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I may, most of the time, defy my age, but I can’t defy the reality that my body is fragile and can fail me any moment. So, it is wise not to make my health or my circumstances the hope and foundation of my life. Both will change, and likely for the worse the older I become. Rather, as the Hebrew writer commands,
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1b-3)
That is the key, isn’t it, to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever?” (Hebrews 13:8) Over time and years, we change—our physical state and our circumstances—he never does. When one is caught in a fast-flowing current, he looks for something which to cling. When one is under the threat by an approaching tornado, she looks for safe shelter. Human fragility in those moments requires finding something stronger, more solid than we are. This is why there are so many biblical references to God being our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, our shield our refuge, and our strength.
Often, we only recognize God as such when we realize our own fragility in some way, as was the case for the writers of Psalms. That is perhaps the gift of fragility—to recognize our deep need for the Lord.
My knee is improving and I hope I can return to my normal activity soon (perhaps excluding ultimate frisbee!), but this experience has once again been a reminder of my fragility and how utterly dependent I need to be on the Lord. Thanks, God, for the gift!
© Jim Musser 2021