One of the results of having feet as painfully afflicted as my own is the way that one notices the troubled feet of others as well. Over the last few days I was at our church’s regional camp for preteens where I served in a variety of positions, including assistant registrar–checking people in and out of the camp, campfire director and emcee of the awards presentation, responsible for introducing people and keeping things running on schedule while skits and songs are performed and necessary announcements are read, as well as conducting three sessions worth of Christian living for the three oldest boy and girl dorms and assisting with the challenger low ropes course and dance class for the older students. Admittedly, I was walking a great deal from place to place and on my feet a fair amount and it was visibly painful to others. But in the course of all of that hobbling and gimping around, I noticed that quite a few other people who were serving were falling apart as well.
This observation was highly interesting to me. To be sure, there were a lot of people there whose mobility was highly limited. One of the teen assistants I know from a neighboring congregation sprained his ankle in the challenger course and was out of commission, needing to be driven by his mother (who was a counselor of one of the girl dorms) because he had such trouble walking. One of the lead staff for the challenger course was hobbling about with foot problems, and one of the staff in charge of the swimming pool was hobbling about on the first day because he had blisters on his feet from some hiking he and his family had recently done. And those were just the new issues I became familiar with, as one young lady from my own local congregation found herself frequently at the nurse’s station for her own longstanding knee issues. And this does not exhaust the matter, as a young man who moved from Portland to Central Oregon and was an assistant counselor for one of the boy’s dorms was having his back adjusted at the nurse’s station at the same time as one of the other nurses there was working on my left foot and giving me some exercises I can do to strengthen the falling arches in my feet that are just one of the several foot issues that I have to struggle with on a regular basis. By having to spend a fair amount of time keeping off of my feet in a (somewhat vain) attempt to keep my feet from being in agonizing pain the rest of the time, I was able to notice that quite a few of the staff was struggling with a great deal of pain and physical weakness, and I was deeply inclined to be empathetic given my own suffering.
All of this suggested some sort of deeper insight to be pondered over. After all, those of us who were there at the camp were there to serve and teach and encourage young people. Many of the people happen to serve in a great many ways in the congregations they attend, and can be said to have a heart of service as a whole, at least to the extent that I am aware of their actions. And yet these people find that their service is also frequently combined with some sort of physical weakness. It is difficult to know exactly from where this sense of weakness comes. One of the young ladies from my own congregation has occasional debilitating pain in her intestines and has gone to the ER several times without success in understanding what is wrong. And on and on it goes. Where the spirit is willing, the flesh is often weak. It is unclear what leads to this weakness–many of us come from lives full of difficulty but also a great deal of success in handling that difficulty. There are frequently various sensitivities–whether one looks at diet or susceptibility to injury–and it would appear as if many of us have a great deal of difficulty given the repercussions of living in a fallen world. And yet combined with that struggle against weakness and suffering there is also a devotion to help and serve others that is shared by people who could easily justify letting others pick up the slack.
But how many people would pick up the slack? This is the question that drives many who might live longer or in less pain if they did not serve so conspicuously to continue to serve even when they themselves have rather obvious physical limitations in what they can do and how they feel when they are doing it. There is a joy that comes from service, but at the same time it is important that we recognize our fairly obvious limitations as well. Some of us simply do not move very quickly sometimes, and with a great deal of pain. Some of us have various ailments whose origins are obscure and whose treatment is likely to go on for the rest of our lives in some fashion. And yet those who serve are those who have a heart to serve as they are able, and not always those who would be able to serve the easiest or with the least difficulties. Without desire and without heart, very little would be done in this world. So feet, don’t fail me now, for there is much we need to do, and not always that many who are willing to do it.