I was born without arms. Every day is filled with the physical and emotional challenge of accomplishing tasks with my feet. Trying to make my big toe stand in for a thumb is hard enough, but even harder is the heartache of being different. The daily stares and comments from strangers prick my heart with the lie that I just don’t measure up to the rest of the world.
Beyond getting along without arms, the last decade has been filled with seasons of fear and hurt. My father was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer and given only months to live. I’ve lost two jobs in the past seven years, one during the recession that led to a 14-month unemployment. My wife had high-risk surgeries to remove benign tumors during the pregnancies of both our children.
I wish I could say that in all of these seasons I was actively glorifying God with my life and lips. Sometimes, though, the hurt has won out. I’ve felt distant from God and, when it comes believing he truly loves me, I’ve heard the lie of the snake (“Did God really say?”). While the truth of God’s goodness always remains, my circumstances have often painted an unrealistic picture of who God is. But he has been patient with me.
Here are three lessons God has inscribed on my heart—lessons that help me praise him amid chronic pain.
1. Rehearse My Identity
For the better part of my life I’ve been known as the “armless guy.” I hated this identity for the first 15 years. Why were people judging me for something I couldn’t change? The last things I wanted others to notice were my differences.
But at the age of 15, God saved me and showed me my true identity. I’m not the sum of two empty sleeves; I’m a blood-bought son. I’m not a hopeless mistake; I’m a careful creation fashioned by the hands of a faithful Creator.
Nevertheless, I still face a daily war between believing that I’m a flawed accident or that Christ has created and redeemed me with purpose. Daily putting on Christ means that I have to preach the gospel to myself. He did make me. He did save me. He alone—not the world, not the Devil—gets to define me.
His works are wonderful and I will trust him, even if that means living with no arms.
2. See Evidences of Grace
I attract quite a bit of attention when I’m out in public. Whether it’s carrying a tall cold brew under my chin to my table at Starbucks, or grabbing a jar of ranch off the grocery store shelf with my right foot, people take notice when I do things differently. Almost daily a bystander will remark, “That’s amazing!”
“I’m thankful God gave me talented toes,” I typically respond.
It took me a while to get to that place in my faith, but I can’t think of a truer statement. The one thing I hated about myself I now see as a visible evidence of grace.
The Puritan Thomas Watson (1620–1686) observed that a mature Christian “spies mercy in every condition.” I want a heart like that. After all, it’s in my weakness and disability that God’s strength is on display. So I will gladly boast about my disability, not because I am such a great person, but because his grace is indeed sufficient (2 Cor. 12:7–10).
3. Cling to the Anchor
No matter the depth of my faith or how many times I boast in Christ, though, doubts and lies still slither in. There are plenty of times my life feels like a desperate mistake.
But there’s a clear distinction between what I feel about my life and what God says about my life. My feelings are pushed and pulled by my circumstances. It’s easy to “taste and see the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8) when the steps before me are clearly marked. It’s much more difficult when the clouds build, the storm rages, and all I feel is pain and isolation.
To navigate my fluctuating feelings, I must cling to the anchor of God’s revealed Word. It’s unchanging, even through the darkest nights of life. When I feel like a mistake, I remind myself I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). When I want to give up, I count my hardships as joy, knowing that this trial is sanctifying me (James 1:2–4). When I don’t feel the love of God, I remind myself I’m an adopted son who can cry out to my heavenly Father (Rom. 8:15–16).
He is still good, even when my life is not.
Check out Daniel Ritchie’s new book, My Affliction for His Glory: Living Out Your Identity in Christ (Kirkdale Press, 2018).