Walking with a Limp

by | Mar 21, 2023 | Life Advice, Wisdom

My grandfather grew up in poverty in the bayous of southern Louisiana. When he was a young child, he contracted polio and lost his ability to walk. The Shriners Hospital paid for a surgery that fused his knee and gave him some mobility, but for his entire life, he had to use a cane. Eventually, he had to use a wheelchair. He became very successful in business but was always so concerned about his safety and ability to be mobile that he hardly ever stopped moving. Always buying or selling land. Always trying to keep a safety net around him to compensate for his limp. He regularly had two or three backup mobility devices in his garage, just in case.

The last months of his life, he was bedridden. It was a dark cave for him. During his final weeks, I watched him surrender to where he was. I’ll never forget sitting next to him in his bed, just a few days before his death, when he said, “Joël, God has taught me more about who He is while I was laying in this bed for the last few months than I think I’ve learned in my entire life.” My grandpa was constantly running, trying to prove he wasn’t limited. He was always trying to provide and make sure he would be safe. He didn’t want to show any weakness. But the last few months of his life forced him to slow down. God was working—right until the end—helping my grandfather process a lifetime of seasons. God will accomplish his work, to the very end. But I’m convinced that we don’t have to wait until the very end to make some sense of life.

If you want to find some meaning beyond just survival right now (which is exactly what I hope this book is helping you do), acknowledge your reality and lean into it. Don’t despise the wounds and the limp you’ve gotten on the journey. Like my grandfather, we all tend to see our limp as the greatest threat to our security, connection, or control. It’s a sensitive spot that leaves us vulnerable— something we need to compensate for. But it’s our limp that God uses to give us a message for the world.

There’s an odd story in Genesis where Jacob, the grandson of Abraham the patriarch, demands a blessing from an angel and ends up in a wrestling match with him for it. Jacob does get the blessing, but in the process, the angel permanently injures Jacob’s hip. Then the angel (who, it turns out, is God Himself) changes Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “wrestles with God.” Jacob got his blessing in the very moment he got a wound he would carry for the rest of his life.

With that wound, he also got a new identity. He became Israel and stepped into fulfilling his role in the promise given to his ancestor Abraham of making a great nation. He was part of completing the work of his father, but first he had to enter the battle and emerge with a wound.

I think this story is a picture of what happens in our lives. 

Every circle will come with wounds. Wounds people gave us. Wounds we gave ourselves. Others are wounds that God Himself allowed to be inflicted. But in the strange irony of God’s redemption, those wounds are often what He uses to accomplish His purpose in your life. The blessing you want in your life will often come with a deep wound that causes you to limp. The wound you got in the dark cave may actually be precisely what God uses to give you a new perspective.

What if you saw your wounds as the grace of God? Yes, a limp feels limiting. Sometimes our wounds make us feel like half the person we used to be. But what if they’re what God wants to use as the source of your strength, so you can truly say, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Talk about a perspective shift!

In Thornton Wilder’s short play, The Angel that Troubled the Waters, a man is sitting by a healing pool waiting for an angel to stir up the waters so he can jump in and be healed of a flaw he doesn’t like about himself. The angel appears, stirs the water, but then refuses to let the man enter the pool for his healing. The man protests, begging the angel to let him in. But the angel says: “Without your wounds, where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”    

Your wounds have the power to speak life to others. Your wounds give you a message to share with the world.

Is it possible that the thing you’re most ashamed of—the thing you hate the most from your past—is what God wants to use as part of redeeming the world from darkness? In the words of an ancient mystic, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” What if the limp you try to hide—the wound—is the very thing that will open the door to make an impact in this world? As Robert Bly said it, “Where a man’s wound is, there he finds his genius.”

What about the parts of your story—the circles—you still can’t make sense of or bring any closure to? You’ve tried to find resolution, you even pulled back and spent some time pondering, but it’s not bringing any peace. I’ve been there, and I like what Rainer Rilke has to say about those unresolved parts:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Joël Malm is the founder of Summit Leaders, where he uses outdoor adventure and leadership coaching to help people find their calling and pursue a vision for their lives. His expeditions to places like Mount Kilimanjaro, the Grand Canyon, and Machu Picchu have taken him to more than seventy countries on six continents. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in counseling. Fluent in three languages, Joël speaks at churches, conferences, and corporate events nationwide and is the author of Vision Map (Moody Press, 2014), Fully You, Love Slows Down (Salem Books, 2020), and Guided by Thunder. He lives with his wife and daughter in Texas.

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