Humbled in a Hospital Bed: What Back Surgery Taught Me about Covenant
On May 23rd, 2017, I woke up in a hospital recovery room with a fresh five-inch incision running down my lower back. A surgeon had spent nearly five hours fusing my L4 and L5 vertebrae together with rods and bone grafts from my iliac crest.
The surgery had been four years in the making. As a junior in high school, I experienced intense lower back pain and burning sensations in my feet during cross-country races and swim meets. Soon, the pain never left.
When I visited an orthopedic doctor on February 7th, 2014, I was diagnosed with a spinal condition called Spondylolisthesis. My L5 vertebrae had suffered an undetected fracture, which caused an instability and allowed it to slip forward, pinning nerves that ran to my legs and feet.
I spent three years scouring for medical treatments: physical therapy, pain-killing injections, chiropractics. None of it provided relief.
Last spring, I found myself, along with my parents, making the decision to go under the knife. As a twenty-year-old, I underwent major surgery. It wasn’t the desired plan, but like most other things in life, the plans and their accompanying destinations often shift.
Now, five months into the recovery—which will take nearly a year for the bone grafts to fully mature—I still feel some of the pain, but as the days go by, I can glimpse more of the promise, the approaching time of my life when I will be pain-free and active once more.
Lying in a hospital bed for four days, struggling to even sit up or walk normally, I relied on nurses, physical therapists, and after leaving the hospital, my parents to assist me during my recovery. From the surgery to recovery, I was in the care of someone else’s hands, from the surgeon and his medical team to the rotating staff of nurses to the rejuvenating care of my parents.
I encountered an earthly prototype of covenant, and experiencing it had me grasp more richly the covenant I have with Christ.
Like many others around the world, as a child, I put my life in the hands of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. And oh does he ever live up to the moniker.
Time after time, He has split open my depraved heart and through the proddings of the Holy Spirit, scraped and gutted out the stains of sin.
Surgery reminded me that recovery is an unfolding process, just like covenant. Each of us has a history with God, and it expands as we live out our redemption. God knows us, and the relationship deepens as we commune with Him.
God instituted covenant not because He required a grudging contract between Him and His creation but because He desired a mutual, adoring relationship.
Reflecting on my surgery and progressing recovery, I think the critical dimension of covenant that I bumped into was a sense of direction, a course correction. Covenant is ultimately about the destination, eternity with Christ.
You might be thinking, “Kevin, that’s a brutally simple fact about the Christian life. How you’d you lose your sight?”
My back problems began when I was a junior in high school. Today, as a junior in college, I realize I’ve spent much of the past four years desiring things to go back to the way they were before the stabbing pains in my back and searing sensations in my feet.
I got lost in my history—where I once was—and disregarded where God wanted me to be. In a sense, I was longing for my own Garden of Eden, the time before the tribulations. God was calling me to link arms with Him and continue making the long jaunt to the New Jerusalem.
Believers can’t live in reverse under covenant with God. He has made us new creations in Christ, and as a result, the object of covenant is not to reclaim the former days but to submit to His will, that our future actions might reflect the outcome of redemptive history.
I’ve found that the Christian life is about craftsmanship. The basics of the Christian life can trip us just as the mysteries do because familiarity and mastery are not one in the same.
When the believer enters into covenant, he must be continually sculpted and etched into the image of Christ. Too often, I’ve shucked off the blueprints and went looking for other plans, tuning out the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit.
Covenant is not a yellow brick road that escorts us away from any kind of agony. There will be wounds, and they will change you. Yet change doesn’t mean you’re worse off when God is working in you.
The narrow road covenant leads us along is full of brambles and thorns, scars and tears and self-inflicted iniquities. But Christ’s blood, more precious than gold, leads us through the thickets until we find ourselves at the gates of the New Jerusalem.
My eyes had glanced away from the Author and Perfector of my faith, and it took surgery to re-re-route me. These experiences, and others like them, illustrate that God works all things, even the anguish, and turmoil, for His glory so that we won’t lose sight of covenant’s end: the throne room of God.