My son Joe broke his ankle last weekend. We were visiting friends from our former house church in Russell, and had planned a game of ball hockey on the outdoor court in our old neighbourhood. We had done this dozens of times before, with lots of spills, but never any injuries. But this time, Joe slipped on a patch of ice, his feet went out from under him, he landed heavily on his ankle and immediately screamed in pain. Joe doesn’t admit to pain easily so I knew something was wrong. The rest of the weekend was a blur, with much time spent in hospital waiting rooms. X Rays revealed that his ankle was broken in three places, and surgery was required. The good news is that the breaks were clean and because he is young and got looked after on time, there is an excellent chance of full recovery. The bad news is that he is suddenly disabled and can do very little for himself in the meantime. The new job that he was to begin later this week will have to wait; most of his activities and plans are on hold; and his finances are affected, because his income is interrupted while most of his expenses continue.
And Joe’s not the only one whose life has been affected by his accident! I had just begun 3 weeks off work when Joe had his accident. I had plans for my holiday time. And guess what? Most of those plans have also been on hold for the past five days. My wife Marion and I have been busy caring for Joe, readjusting our household to handle the needs of a convalescent, providing for unexpected expenses, and managing all kinds of details that he can’t manage for himself. Then there’s the OC Transpo bus strike – like many people, we are now driving our daughter to school, which takes several hours out of each day.
Not that I’m complaining – as I reflect on our situation I realize that we are blessed. All our needs are met. But our priorities have suddenly been adjusted for us, and we had no control over the process. All our plans were on hold for several days, until we got more of a handle on these unexpected new challenges; some of our longer-term plans have been delayed considerably; and all of Joe’s plans are on hold for several weeks.
So what do you do when God puts your life on hold?
When the Angel Gabriel came to visit Mary, the mother of Jesus, and announced to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, her life was put on hold in a big way. Nothing would ever be the same again. From this point onward, all of her plans would revolve around this new agenda that God had assigned to her. And God didn’t really give her a choice – He didn’t ask her opinion about this new arrangement.
If Mary had been like many of today’s Christians in the freedom-loving Western world, she probably would have complained. “A baby? I don’t want to have a baby yet. I’m not ready to settle down – I have plans”. We like to think that we should have a choice about everything. But Mary was wiser than we usually are. Woman of faith that she was, she recognized that she did have a choice. She had the choice to fight God or to surrender to His purposes. In a split-second she had made up her mind – she knew what to do.
Her response changed everything. Because she was willing, salvation became possible for us. Because she was willing, the Messiah could enter history and transform it from a story of despair to a story of hope for all who would put their trust in Him.
Joe knows that God has put him on hold for a reason. He’s been set aside for a season so that he can slow down and take stock of where he has been and where he is headed. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe God caused this accident. The Dark Lord, not God, is the author of mischief and confusion and all forms of wrong. And we don’t have to be afraid, because those who belong to God are under His protection. But sometimes, instead of totally preventing the Tempter from touching His people, God allows him limited access to our lives as a kind of test – a challenge, an opportunity for us to rise up and win a victory.
For Joe – and for Marion and me – this unexpected setback is proving to be a blessing, an opportunity to say “Yes” to God. Did I want this to happen? No, but in the midst of unexpected circumstances, I can truly say that I am blessed, and so thankful to belong to a God who has a greater purpose that He weaves in and through all events for those who trust Him.