Mountain biking is our mental health break around here. There’s a group of four or five of us who get out two or three times a week, sometimes a quick loop around a favorite trail, sometimes a huge climb up the rift and back down to Lake Naivasha, sometimes an exploratory probe to find new trails. Our regular trails have names that reflect their personality: Lunatic Express, an insane twenty minute 2,000 foot adrenaline-charged descent; Wall of Pain, self explanatory; Red Eye, named after a guy who touched the wrong plant and went blind for a little while; Brick yard, after Dr. Brick who fell off it and broke some bones; Awesome Sauce, a swoopy gentle high speed descent below Kijabe; and finally, Grave Yard; don’t want to talk about that. I’m pleased to say I’ve never had a trail named after me, as it’s never a good thing.
Hard things are hard. There’s no way to get up Wall of Pain without suffering. There’s now way to get down Lunatic Express without a little fear creeping in around the edges of exhilaration.
When I was first in practice, I found certain cases really hard to do. I love hand surgery, have loved it since the first time I saw a slide projected of the internal anatomy of the hand. But there were a few hand cases I was concerned I wasn’t giving the patient the best possible care. So I went back to school, spending a year at the University of Utah, studying hand surgery. There, I got to work under the tutelage of four accomplished hand surgeons, Dr.s Hutchinson, Coleman, Rockwell, and Wang. These were highly trained university hand surgeons.
And I noticed something. Hard cases were hard for them, too. They had more skill, more knowledge, training, and confidence, but when they ran into a case that I thought was hard, they thought so too.
Like the Wall of Pain, there were some problems, some surgeries, which just couldn’t be faced without some suffering.
I’ve seen this again here at Kijabe. We struggle with orthopaedic problems that just aren’t in the books. We think, we read, we pray, and then we give it our best shot. These cases are hard, there’s no getting around it. They would be hard anywhere, with any doctor. This is reinforced when we have gifted academic surgeons come work with us and teach us: cases that we think are hard, they think are hard too. This is actually reassuring to us here, to see the masters struggle with the same cases we would struggle with!
Several time in my life, I’ve run into situations which were hard. Sudden and tragic death of someone I loved, lingering cancer deaths of my parents, betrayal of business partners…
These things are hard. There’s no way to get through them without suffering.
Too many people, books, and websites offer “solutions.” “Oh, you’re in the anger stage of grief, don’t worry, you’ll go through bargaining and depression, then you’ll learn to accept it.” Give me a stick…. There aren’t solutions to some problems, they’re just hard, and you suffer through them.
One thing that helps me believe in the Christian faith is that it doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. A faith born in the suffering of slaves, the God of Abraham hears the cries of the Israelites. After a period of exultant walking with the God who delivered them from the cruel slavery of the Pharaoh, the story of this downtrodden people continues with betrayal, and a return to enslavement by the Babylonians. Throughout this long history, the story is one of a suffering people and a loving God who relentlessly pursues, forgives, and redeems them.
This story is full of prophecies of a messiah, a Savior, who would once and for ever redeem this suffering people. When he finally arrived, few recognized him. When he claimed to be the prophesied redeemer of his people, the idea of a humble suffering servant was repulsive to the existing Institutional Church, and threatening to the Roman Empire. He had to be done away with, in the most cruel and humiliating manner available at the time.
I don’t believe in a God who is distant and ethereal, a disembodied deity floating around above it all. I believe in a God who was conceived in disgrace, swaddled in a cow’s stall, was forced to flee a genocidal massacre as a baby, and who’s career lasted all of three years before he was convicted of a capital offense. Dead at 31.
It’s comforting to know, when I think things are hard, that I can turn to a God who probably looks back on his short lifespan here on Earth as pretty hard also. Like a true friend during hard times, He can just be there, be with me, and not have to try and solve the problem.
The fact that my faith doesn’t depend on things going well, on things being easy, actually encourages me. When I look backwards over my life, I can appreciate that God has always been there, even when I didn’t recognize him or even believe in him. I don’t need to know what the future holds, because I know the same faithful God who endlessly stood by the feckless Israelites, and who sent his Son into this mess, has my future in his hands.