Why does it have to hurt?

A friend of mine begins physical therapy today. I wince when I think about it, because I know this will hurt. Ironically, she knows her therapist as a personal friend. That friendship will not spare her any pain though. Her friend will make her hurt because she loves my friend.

A physical therapist must daily push her patient beyond what her patient believes she can do. The patient’s body will lie. It will say, "This is as far as I can bend!" or "This is as much weight as I can bear!" But the therapist knows better. She knows how far the patient's body can go, and will gently push her until she gets there.

The body can go a little further each day and the therapist will not stop pushing until the patient can do everything a healthy person can do. If the patient focuses on the pain or the therapy, she will get depressed. Instead she must focus on the end in sight and she must trust the therapist.

Why have I spent the last three paragraphs giving you my understanding of physical therapy? Because it bears a striking similarity to the process Christians call sanctification: that work of God's Spirit where he renews the whole person after the image of Christ. Sanctification must touch every part of us—body, mind, spirit, conscience and the will because sin has corrupted every part of us. And usually it hurts.

It hurts because God causes us to confront our shortcomings. We must see how we fail to love sacrificially, think selflessly and act graciously. We must see how self-absorbed we are, how impatient, judgmental and flawed. We must see that we truly hurt people who matter to us.

In that pain, we call out to God. We confess our sin. We repent and ask for the grace to be better next time. We trust him to bless our loved ones, despite the trouble and pain we cause.

At those moments, Satan tempts us to despair. We believe we will never get better. We believe that we can't be Christians or we wouldn't act this way. We believe a Christian could never feel the way we do today.

At those times we must trust our therapist. He pushes us into discomfort because he loves us and he has big plans for us. He will not stop until he has made us healthy, gracious, beautiful and wonderful. Sanctification feels like falling down and being forgiven a lot.

Remind yourself of how far you have come. You were dead in sin. You were blinded to all your faults and thought everyone else was beneath you. You were oblivious to the pain you caused. You are much better now than you were then.

Remind yourself of how wonderful your destination will be. You will be able to do things you can only imagine today. You will know love beyond measure and be big enough to receive it and to give it back. You will know joy unspeakable filled with glory.

Remind yourself of how gracious your therapist is. God delights in you. He is so pleased you have returned to him. He wants you all to himself. He is only transforming you to make you strong enough to bear his embrace. He is not disappointed with your folly. He only wants you to see it so you will turn it over to him, and allow him to heal you. Take comfort from the fact that you want to be better and trust Jesus to make you better.

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