Guest Post: Paul, Prison, and Paralympics

This is good stuff, really good stuff.  I hope you enjoy what Tanya has written for us today.  She is a very talented writer and I have enjoyed reading her blog Thorns and Gold.  Please take the time to check it out.  I know it will be a blessing to you.  She is a sister in Christ across the sea in the UK.  She suffers from ME, myalgic encephalomyelitis, or what we in the states call chronic fatigue syndrome.  Thank you to Tonya for sharing her thoughts today.  If this blesses you, please leave her some love in the comments!

Tanya Marlow is passionate about teaching the Bible, answering tricky questions of faith and training others to do this. In the past she has done this in student and church ministry and as Associate Director of the Peninsula Gospel Partnership (PGP) Bible training course in the UK. Right now she does it by reading Bible stories to her gorgeous toddler, as she learns what it means to be a stay-at-home mum who is also currently housebound with an autoimmune illness. Her blog, Thorns and Gold can be found at tanyamarlow.com where she writes about many things, but mainly the Bible, suffering, and the messy edges of life.

Paul, Prison and Paralympics

Korea_London_Olympic_Archery_Womenteam_20
I watched the Olympics medal ceremony, feeling a little tearful alongside the winners. It is amazing to celebrate with those who have achieved their goal, who have succeeded, who have conquered.

But I felt a bit sad as well, as I recalled some of the goals that I had had to leave behind because of illness.

  • I had always wanted to run a marathon.
  • I love singing opera; I had wanted to improve my singing.
  • I had wanted to write a best-selling book.
  • I had wanted to learn to make michelin-star quality desserts (okay – that’s a total lie; I’ve got no motivation or aptitude to cook and making desserts would be way down the list, somewhere after an MA in New Testament Greek, learning to barre chords properly on the guitar and not just play G, D and E minor, star in a local production of Les Miserables as Fantine, learn about art history, get a diploma in counselling).

I can’t do these things, and it is unlikely I will ever be able to do these. My M.E. (myalgic encephalomyelitis, sometimes known under the umbrella term of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) has deteriorated to the extent that I am housebound, mainly bedbound, and I need help to look after my toddler. I have to limit my social activity and my brain activity.

Somehow the Paralympics can be even more depressing from this point of view. They’re disabled too – but they’re achieving amazing things! Me? I achieved getting dressed today – and it took me hours to even recover from that. Is there anyone who gives Olympic medals for taking a shower?

This morning I felt so acutely my weaknesses and limitations.

********
My Prison is an Open Cage

In my discouragement, I read Philippians.

“…I am in chains…” (Phil 1:13)

And then a light clicked on for me. I thought of the chains of my disability. I thought of Paul, imprisoned in his house, unable to preach the gospel openly. I thought of his goal to go to the far nations, to preach where the gospel had not gone before. I thought of his love of debate and dialogue, and being able to persuade people.

I paused reading. And suddenly I was Paul, stuck under house-arrest, seeing all of his hopes and desires for ministry wither away, his substantial gifts atrophying as he spent the hours in chains, counting the hours as they passed. I was Paul, thinking, ‘Has God rejected me? Did I get it wrong? Were the other apostles chosen rather than me? Was I being punished in some way?’

And then I was Paul, feeling that it was God who was at fault, God who had failed. Surely there was much more valuable work for him to be doing. If I were Paul, this is how I would have felt: God had got it wrong.

But God hadn’t got it wrong.

Paul being in prison meant that he couldn’t do as much preaching and travelling. The only way he could keep in touch with the churches to encourage them and continue in mission was to write. So he wrote – and as a result we have most of the New Testament today.

Out of a place of weakness, limitation, the world of small things, he left a legacy for thousands of generations.

Paul wasn’t to know this. Although he was probably aware that his words were scripture (2 Pet 3:16), he wasn’t to know how many thousands of people, how many languages his words would be translated into.

His writing, his second-choice mission activity was God’s way of enabling the scriptures to be written. His weakness was a means of God’s grace. His Plan B was God’s Plan A.

What we think of as our greatest achievements, may, in the light of eternity, be nothing.

What we think of as our weakness may, in the light of eternity, be our greatest achievement.

I go back to reading the passage and drink in Paul’s words:

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Phil 1:21

And actually, in the end, it’s not about the achievements, whatever they end up being. Our life is in His hands, and whatever else we do we need to adore.

It’s not about thinking of the medals we’ve gained or lost but it’s about Jesus: the saviour who lost so we might receive and gave that we might gain.

Over to you:

  • What goals have you had to surrender because of illness or life circumstances?

Like this? Stay in touch with Tanya: Like the Thorns and Gold Facebook page here

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8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Paul, Prison, and Paralympics

  1. Pingback: Paul, Prison and the Paralympics | Thorns and Gold

  2. This is so well expressed. I never really imagine how completely discouraging being stuck in prison would have been for Paul – I guess I’ve always thought he’d learned to be content and that was that! I hope I can build contentment in knowing God isn’t getting his plans wrong and learn to trust him to use me even when the circumstances are nothing like the dreams I’ve had.

    Thank you so much for this.

  3. Dear Ann
    Amen to that. I think we sometimes put Paul on the pedestal forgetting that he was also just a human like us with weaknesses and strengts and all the other limitations that puts on us.
    Thank you for posting Tanya’s beautiful post that reminds us so poignantly that our Pappa’s ways and thoughts are definitely not ours and we do not need to understand His to know that it is always for our best.
    Blessings
    Mia

  4. Tanya, it’s like you’re speaking my own brain-thoughts. I really struggle with letting dreams go (and oh how I wanted to be Fantine for so many years!) and with the thought, “Well maybe if I could just rally and try really hard I could make it all happen.” And then I feel ashamed that I haven’t tried hard enough. It takes a lot of grace to say, “That’s just not my life anymore, and it is okay.” And then I mourn…and hopefully move on. This is such an important topic, I’m glad you are writing about it!

    • I SO wanted to be Fantine too! It was a decidedly remote possibility in my case, since I cannot act…

      It is hard to lay down those dreams. I wonder if we buy into society’s lie that ‘anything is possible if we want it hard enough’.

      Thanks so much for commenting.

  5. I came across this post after reading Tanya’s guest post on Vick Beeching’s site, Cyber Soul. Tanya, this is so very very well said: simple, clear and with an undeniable ring of truth.
    I have not been through such an experience, but as someone who regularly preaches, I struggle with how to encourage my sisters and brothers whose lives spend more time in the valley of the shadow.
    May I quote you?
    And thank you Ann for hosting this.
    Nick

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