I got a notice in the mail this week that it’s time to renew my disabled parking permit. Even just typing that sentence brings up emotions and feelings that I don’t want to be having. Now, I will say that I am not as disabled as some who have these permits and I might be one of those whom people would judge as they see me walking away from my handicapped spot. I look like I walk fairly normally, but I must limit the number of steps I take if I am to get through the whole day with a manageable amount of pain. I try very hard not to use the handicapped spots, but sometimes it is necessary, and during those times, I am very grateful to have it.
But that doesn’t eliminate the feelings about it. I have written now hundreds of blog posts about managing the emotions that come with chronic pain and mobility restriction, yet I still feel frustration and sadness when I see my neighbors out for a walk, and envy when my husband reports his Fitbit step score each evening. I always commit these feelings to the Lord, and lay them at His feet, but the sting remains, and it is a battle to calm it down.
As I was searching the DMV site for a way to get my new permit without actually entering their building, I kept having to type the word, renew, and of course I couldn’t help but think of the biblical meaning of that word, and the many Scriptures I have memorized about the renewal of the mind. So, I had to take a pause in my search to meditate on mind renewal as it relates to these emotions about the handicap placard.
The Lord and I have worked hard at renewing my mind about my “new normal,” and most of the time I do quite well with keeping my heart submitted to His will for me in this area. One of my favorite verses about mind renewal is Romans 12:1.
With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
I love this JB Phillips paraphrase, because it holds the exact encouragement that I need. Let’s go through this passage bit by bit, and just think it through together.
The first thing I am reminded about here is that God has shown me mercy in allowing my body to become something other than what I would like it to be. I need Him to open my eyes so that I can see clearly that this is sanctifying me in a way that no other trial could have done; and accomplishing God’s purpose to the degree that nothing else would have reached. To me, this first sentence says, “Open your eyes, and see God’s mercy in this situation. Give your body to Him, and trust Him to use it for His glory.” This is a much-needed reminder for me, practically every minute. As I’m thinking about this placard that I want—but don’t want—I must remember that getting and using it is an act of submission to God’s will for me.
Next, I read that I am to let God re-mold my mind from within. So, He has changed my body, and now He wants to change my mind. The two are intricately related! God knew that nothing would bring me to my knees (at least figuratively!) like a physical affliction. He knew that my strength, stamina, and fitness had become an idol, and He absolutely cannot tolerate any other God in my life. I’m not saying that my current condition is necessarily some kind of consequence or punishment for sin, but it certainly has accomplished the knocking down of that idol.
The Lord has done an amazing work in my heart, humbling me and drawing me near to Himself with every step I take. My relationship with Him is completely different from what it was before. I am dependent on Him now in ways I never was in my able body. While I am far from perfectly humble, He has shown me the distance that my pride and self-focus had brought between us. Even better, He has shown me the beauty and wonder of intimate fellowship with Him. I had never imagined the level of closeness with Jesus that I could have until He brought me this affliction.
This passage tells me that I am to use my new thinking to show myself and others that this plan of His was good! This is why I must stop and meditate on Him when I begin to feel sad or am tempted toward self-pity about my situation. You know, we are always talking to ourselves. Maybe not out loud (ok, out loud sometimes!), but whenever we are awake, we are thinking. Thinking is self-talk, so if we’re going to talk to ourselves, we might as well say something good! When we are telling ourselves true things about God and our circumstances, our countenance will tell others about our trust in Him.
Much of what we call mind renewal really boils down to telling ourselves something different from what we’ve been telling ourselves. So, in this case, if I want to prove to myself that God’s plan for me is good, I need to stop lamenting over my need for a handicap placard, and start being thankful that I have it! So I tell myself as I park in that space, “What a blessing to have this privilege of getting to park close to the store on those days when it's hard to walk. Thank you, Jesus, for providing this for me!” Gratitude is almost always a mind changer, and it is my go-to thing when I want to put off self-pity and put on joy.
Friends, as this passage wraps up, we see that the goal is maturity. How are you doing in this area? I have to admit, I think sometimes that I am stuck at the toddler stage, tempted to throw a tantrum because I didn’t get what I wanted. But then I remember that God calls us His children no matter what age we are. I believe this is because He knows that we will not reach full maturity in this life. “Let the little children come to me,” he says in Matthew 19:14-15. Sometimes, I am that little child. As I come to Him, He offers me comfort, reminds me of His Word, and my mind is renewed. Hallelujah! What a Father! What a Savior!