I’ve had a piece of metal in my hand for 10 years. I don’t remember how it happened, but I was working with something made of sheet metal and cut my hand open. At the time, I didn’t know I’d caught a sliver, so I just disinfected and bandaged it. It healed nicely. Sometime after it healed, I noticed there was still a distinct pain whenever I brought the palm of my hand against something I was working with. I realized finally that the pain I felt was being caused by a sliver. That was ten years ago. Now, although I favor the hand, I normally experience that pain many times each day. The sliver is lodged perpendicular to the surface of the hand, so whenever I bump it against something, the sharp edge is driven into my flesh. This has happened thousands of times over the last 10 years.
I keep meaning to go to the doctor to have it cut out of me, but I always have other priorities. I’m always reluctant to spend the time and money. And I’m sure a small part of my hesitation is the knowledge that it will be a painful procedure. There won’t be any Dr. McCoy trick where he holds a humming gadget over the area, sending sonic waves into the hand, dissolving the sliver.
I’m not squeamish. I just don’t have any room in my schedule (or my wallet) for this kind of thing. Until now.
I hit the sliver again yesterday. This time, I was pulling the shrink wrap off a flat of sodas at work. I was in a hurry, so I was using all my strength. The wrap broke suddenly, and one soda hit the spot directly. It’s the only time I can remember feeling dizzy from pain. I’m normally stoic, but after it happened, I stood in one spot for 10-15 seconds and shook my hand repeatedly, as if that would ease the pain. I must have looked comical.
The strange thing is that I’ve known about the sliver for 10 years. I’ve been living with regular pain and reduced use of my dominant hand. By choice. To me, this is a perfect illustration that people are stubborn and addled by their fallen natures. Which brings me to the point of the article (no, I’m not writing this to encourage other people who have a piece of metal in their hands to go to the doctor): Apparently, I have to be in a great deal of pain in order to change. Don’t get me wrong: I make adjustments all the time, but I have areas in which I resist change until it becomes absolutely necessary. (I will hereafter refer to this principle as Rule 1.) I have no doubt that everyone has areas such as this. And in a more general way, people tend to settle into unhealthy patterns of living which they maintain at enormous cost to themselves and others. This is the insanity of self-will.
But knowing I have this crippling disease (wanting my own way all the time, regardless of the proven consequences) isn’t enough to help me make sweeping changes (see Rule 1). So I pray for the Refiner’s Fire.
I’m not kidding. I started doing this years ago when I noticed that I had a self-destructive need to have my own way, and that it wasn’t changing. I had often approached the thing with the notion that, being a rational creature (I thought), it just made sense to stop doing A, B & C. The only problem was, I didn’t stop. I kept on doing what served my comfortable habits. One evening, I stood alone in my trailer during a cold Anchorage winter, smarting from another round of Getting Bashed Around Because of My Own Stupidity. As I prayed, a new idea bubbled up inside me: I could pray for God to send suffering (fire) into my life to help me break out of my paralysis and actually change.
I knew something terribly important was on the line. I sensed that I was hearing from God. As much of a lunatic as I am, these aren’t the kinds of ideas I come up with. I hate pain. Fire is painful. Refinement is painful. I knew if I prayed this prayer, God would most certainly say “Yes!” and I would have to endure more pain than I had ever felt before, perhaps lots of it, for a long time, until I said “uncle” and started doing things God’s way.
It took me a minute or two to actually say the words, but I got them out, and God did indeed say “Yes.” Since I started doing this, I’ve gotten rid of quite a few slivers — without the benefit of anasthetic. I can say with confidence that my life belongs to Christ, even though I wrestle with God much more often than a marginally sane person would. And I still say variations of that prayer. I highly recommend it to everyone.