How often does God allow something negative or painful in our lives so that we begin something new—a new habit that is for our own good?
Last spring, I developed shoulder bursitis, a painful condition that required months of time-consuming physical therapy. After my insurance quit paying for the therapy, my doctor and therapist both recommended that I continue going to the training facility on my own, in order to keep my shoulder from getting worse. By this time I had frozen shoulder (less pain, but limited mobility). So for nearly a year now, I’ve been going to the gym two or three times a week.
“Going to the gym two or three times a week.” For some of you, that phrase would roll naturally off your tongue. This was not the case with me. I’ve never been the kind of person who would make a habit of going to a gym, or even try it once, for that matter.
The fact that I am now a person who “goes to the gym” still astounds me. I feel like an imposter every time I say it. But it has, in fact, become a habit. It’s true that I often wake up not wanting to go (I may never get over that), but the minute I arrive, I’m glad to be there. If I have to skip a visit, my body feels it and I look forward to the time I can go back and feel good again.
Against all odds, and much to my amazement, going to the gym has become a habit for me.
Because I’m a Christian, I can’t help but wonder … did God allow that shoulder pain in my life so that I would form a good habit because of it? Without it, I’d never in a million years have gone to a gym—I was too busy, too self-conscious, and too broke. But now that I’m going, I’m pretty convinced that it’s making me stronger, healthier, and likelier to spend more years on this earth with the people I love.
Once I started thinking about my pain leading to a positive habit, I began to wonder how many times God works in this way. How often does he allow something negative or painful in our lives so that we begin something new—a new habit that is for our own good?
This train of thought took me back to January 1997, when my beloved grandfather, whom I called Pappy, had a stroke while alone in his apartment. (There’s an interesting story behind this involving a snowstorm and mistaken identity, but that’s for another day.) That stroke stole much of Pappy’s independence, and after 16 months it also took his life. But the after-effects ended up changing the lives of every person in our family in important and eternal ways. God used it to begin new habits for my husband Rick and me, which we lived out in front of and with our children, changing the trajectory of our family story.
Immediately after the stroke, I became Pappy’s primary caregiver, and as all caregivers know, this meant countless hours of following up on his care with healthcare providers of all kinds, by phone and in person. Weeks later, he was somewhat mobile and mentally alert, and we had found a reputable nursing home nearby. After Pappy was settled in his new home, Rick and I thought it would be good to take him to his church each week. Several years before, he had started going to church with a dear friend who didn’t drive. They both missed going, so we often ended up taking both of them, all five of us packed into a Honda Civic—Rick and me, Pappy and his friend, and our one-year-old son. For more than a year, we took them to church nearly every Sunday and attended the service with them, even though we felt more than a little out of place in a house of worship.
Rick and I hadn’t been churchgoers at that point, but in the year leading up to Pappy’s stroke, we had become more and more drawn to the Christian faith. God had recently set several things into motion in my life that had convinced me of the truth of Christianity, and my husband had also begun reading and learning about it.
During these visits to Pappy’s church, Rick and I took turns taking our toddler down to the unused, 1960’s-era nursery (the small congregation was mostly elderly and our toddler was a major distraction in the service). Once when it was my husband’s turn, he discovered a dusty Bible on one of the shelves, and, being a reader by nature, he began reading it while our son played. He started with 1 Thessalonians because it was short. And this “chance” discovery began a Bible-reading habit that has continued nearly every day of his life, from that day to this.
As for me, I developed the habit of simply … going to church. This was an utterly foreign concept to me. Yes, I felt like an imposter. Yes, it was hard getting everyone out of the door on Sunday mornings, picking up two elderly people from two different locations, and spending time with strangers who mistakenly assumed we knew what church was all about. But I got into the habit of hearing the Word preached every week, of singing unfamiliar hymns, of beginning to understand the importance not of only Christmas and Easter but also Good Friday, Pentecost, and Advent.
By the time Pappy passed away in May 1998, going to church had, for Rick and me, become a habit. Like my “going to the gym” habit, it’s sometimes difficult to get to church, but the minute I arrive, I’m so glad to be there. If I have to miss, my soul feels it and looks forward to the time I can go back and be with my brothers and sisters in Christ again, sing the songs, speak the liturgy, pray, take communion, and receive the benediction.
Even more importantly, our four children, now mostly adults, have never known a time when our family didn’t have the regular habits of going to church, talking about Jesus and knowing God, or reading the Bible. Over the years, these things have become much more than mere habits—they’ve become a way of life. They’re our family’s rock-solid foundation which began in a sad and sudden manner, with my grandfather’s life-changing stroke and inability to drive himself to church.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” — Isaiah 43:19a