Avoiding Spiritual Big Baby Syndrome

By Tony Stith

What are you willing to give up for salvation?

Years ago, I underwent surgery to repair a tear to the rotator cuff in my shoulder. Eight weeks out of surgery, my left arm was pretty much useless. I’d been told to expect anywhere from six to twelve months of therapy to regain full mobility and strength in my shoulder. Little did I know just how excruciatingly painful and frustrating that process would be.

I’d like to think that I’m a pretty tough guy, but Dr. Karla, my incredibly demanding, yet amazingly patient physical therapist, would tell you when it comes to therapy on my arm, I might as well put on diapers, curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb. The excruciating physical and mental pain involved in getting this arm moving again has pretty much turned me into a cry baby.

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day after leaving one of these torture sessions. My determination and commitment going through this process? Enduring this agonizing pain is motivated by a desire to get back something I have lost. I’m sacrificing a lot to get it back: my time, my energy, and my comfort. An immense amount of my focus these last two months has been on doing whatever it takes to get this arm moving again. But the sacrifice is worth it for full use.

What if I had never known the full use of my arm? If I’d never known all the amazing potential this part of my body had? Would I be as focused, as willing to endure hardship so that someday I could use it to its full potential? We read, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. …These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:8-13)

“Assured” there’s powerful meaning wrapped up in that word. Why was Abraham willing to give up everything, leaving the comfort and safety of Haran to wander around in a hostile, foreign land? What possessed him? He was assured. The promises God had given him were so real to him, so vivid, it’s as if in his heart and his mind he had already experienced them. He was so completely assured of what lay ahead that there was no sacrifice or hardship great enough to keep him from moving toward that sure vision.

Paul writes of that vision, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. …we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:18–25)

How real is that future hope within us? How strong is our faith in that vision? Do we eagerly yearn and groan for it? Are we so assured in heart and mind of that vision the thought of giving up, being content with just this existence, apart from God, is unthinkable? Or, do we sometimes lose heart and feel like giving up and assuming the fetal position?

We read “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Big baby that I am when it comes to physical pain, I’m not about to stop going to my twice weekly torture sessions with Dr. Karla. Regaining the use of just one body part keeps me committed to the process, willing to do whatever it takes. One day we’ll exchange these frail, perishing physical bodies for perfect, immortal ones that will never grow weak, never fail or need repair. There will be some pain getting there and there will be some affliction to be endured. But be assured, these hardships we endure are working a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory in us. Let that vision give us power to persevere through the pain. Let it help us resist and keep us committed to the process, whatever it takes.




About Tony Stith

Tony, along with his wife, Elizabeth, and two adult children, Jordan and Courtney, attend the Twin Cities United Church of God congregation.
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