New Life While Vulnerable
As a 59-year-old white male, I haven’t known weakness and vulnerability since I was a kid. I have always been proudly independent and self-sufficient. I have always known the importance of interdependence, but have striven to be independent. I have long realized that being vulnerable does not come naturally, but that there is much spiritual depth in vulnerability, weakness and dependence.
My world was rocked recently when I decided to have knee replacement surgery. I purposefully did not go online to find out stories of success, for fear that I could be traumatized by stories and pictures of surgery gone wrong. As a pastor, I have had many members have knees, shoulders, and hips replaced and remember how often people would lament, “I wish I had done it sooner”. It was encouraging to hear many success stories which made my decision much easier.
What I failed to realize is that it take time, weeks, possibly months until someone can say, “I wish I had had my replacement sooner.” I guarantee that was not said in the first 2-3 weeks after surgery. It was a life changing experience for me as I went deeper into the pleasures of life that I have enjoyed that suddenly were taken from me. Pain free nights were gone, the ability to serve myself and help myself, when I wanted, vanished. Needing help getting into bed and out of bed, and constant exhaustion. I wasn’t used to any of these experiences. I told many people I don’t know how a single person could manage this surgery. Its not a surgery you can do alone. Lenore was a constant companion and aide that anticipated much of what I would need and relentlessly served. We joked that some day I might have to repay the favor and the jury is out if I would do as wonderful a job….I hope she never has to find out!
In the midst of pain and despair, my heart changed. In talking to people who had knee replacement surgery I realized a huge variety of experiences, many not like mine. Humans are unique and all the medical personnel I talked with said the same thing, “Everyone is different”.
I continued to reflect on adage about walking in someone else’s shoes. Have I been understanding and sympathetic to another people’s plights, or had I simply interpreted their experience through my own lens of life. My surgery has opened my eyes to empathy and compassion in new and wonderful ways. Allowing individuals to be unique creatures and not needing to lump them all into one or two categories, has helped grow my heart and compassion. It takes work to listen and empathize.
A strong Easter theme is that new life only comes from dead ends. Something must die in order for new life to emerge within. I take seriously Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor, Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are persecuted….the spiritual reality is that those who are broken, suffering, hurting, or poor are dependent people. Dependent people need others. In my clouded independence, it can appear that I can make it on my own, I can’t. I don’t want to. I believe this teaching of Jesus gets at the spiritual truth of being blessed by human nature, being blessed by other human beings when we are weak and suffering. We don’t like being vulnerable, but when we are, we get to see the best of humanity, people who want to help, serve, and care. Independent, self-sufficient people never get to see that side of humanity. Its not fun being in need, but it is another new life experience that opened my heart and love for our God created human spirit. It’s a beautiful thing, but you have to be in need to perceive it.
Try being vulnerable. New life is right around that corner.