I’ve been struggling with ongoing pain in my ribs, back, legs, and hips over the past year. When my first outbreaks of pain occurred, I was convinced that my pain came from the specific area where I was hurting. My left hip, for example, was such an epicenter of pain I knew there had to be something significantly wrong with it.
But, through the treatment and care process, I’ve learned that the story of my pain is not so straightforward. My left hip pain is actually related to my right hip being out of alignment. This misalignment has caused my left hip to work harder and in a way it wasn’t intended.
The idea of misalignment in one place revealing itself via pain in another place has served as a metaphor for me in other areas of life.
In Galatians 5:19-21 we read:
"It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on." (The Message)
In these verses, I see a whole list of pain epicenters. But these areas of pain aren’t the main problem. Instead, they are symptoms of a underlying misalignment.
The sad thing is that many of us Christians are trying to remedy our pain by focusing on the symptoms rather than the cause. For example, we might try to fix the pain of mental and emotional garbage by trying to think more positively. If we struggle with the pain of all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants, we may make an effort to deny ourselves everything to alleviate the suffering. Breathing exercises and counting might be how we strive to curb the pain of a brutal temper.
Here’s another way to think of it: suppose you have bald tires on your car, so you take it to the tire shop to get new tires. What you’re not aware of (and the shop doesn’t tell you) is that your car is out of alignment. You get the new tires and are on your way. But you’ll be back before long with balding tires because the real issue of alignment wasn’t addressed.
So what then is the alignment issue that’s being pointed to by the list we see in Galatians 5:19-21? If we look at the larger context (beginning with verse 16 and concluding with verse 25), we see Paul talking about two opposite and opposing forces, which he calls "the Spirit" and "the flesh."
For the sake of simplicity, the flesh can be understood as a reliance on our own resources and power, separate from God. When a focus on self is our alignment, Paul describes in his list the kind of life we will develop.
But Paul’s remedy isn’t to take this list and attempt to conquer each problem by an act of will. Instead, his list serves as an indicator that our alignment is off.
When we find our alignment to be with the flesh, instead of beating ourselves up and trying so hard to fix ourselves in our own power, we can choose to align ourselves with God. As Paul puts it, we can walk or be led by the Spirit. This means living in complete and total reliance on God and His resources, way, and power.
When our alignment is corrected, Paul says that the Spirit will produce through us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We will produce these fruits of the Spirit not because we’ve tried hard to do these things, but because we have been realigned, and that allows us to work as we were intended.
As always, if there is any way I can encourage you, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Also, feel free to check out the ELM web site (elmco.org) for more resources.
Until next time, pay attention to your alignment and the rest will take care of itself. (Galatians 5:16)
Mike Roncaglia, Executive Director