[The gentiles] are obscured in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity. – Ephesians 4:18-19a (NRSV, adapted)
This fall I was training for a 25K trail race. I started from 0 and by October had worked my way up to 12 miles (19K) on my long day. It felt great.
I mean, awful, but great. Running, for me, has always been a matter of pushing through the pain.
So the next week, when I was knocking out an easy 5 miles, I ignored the discomfort in my hamstring, trusting it would work itself out.
But at the halfway point if anything it was worse. Still, hadn’t I done 12 miles the week before?
A block from home it finally gave out. I pulled up short and could barely walk the rest of the way, let alone run. A month later it still wasn’t fully healed, and I had to withdraw from the race.
Paul says that those who are alienated from God have lost all sensitivity. The Greek word he uses literally means they’ve ceased to feel pain.
They’ve learned to ignore it, toughened themselves up. And it’s clouded their judgment, led them into sin.
To be followers of Jesus, he says, takes sensitivity. The choice to notice and feel pain. Our own and others’.
The suffering around us and within us is never a distraction from the work that God calls us to. It’s the way God calls.
It’s a message to stop and pay attention. Something is wrong. And unless we address it, we’ll never finish the race that God has set before us.
Soften me up, Jesus.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.