and his ears are attentive to their cry;
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
I’ve written a couple times already on the subject of perseverance, because it’s a lesson God has taught me over and over in some of the most painful ways. One story about me that I’m not sure many of you know is that I struggled very hard to graduate from boot camp when I first joined the Navy. During the final week of training, right before graduation, one of the last evolutions we had to complete was our final PFA (Physical Fitness Assessment). It wasn't extraordinarily difficult, just two minutes of sit-ups, two minutes of push-ups, and a mile and a half run. The problem for me was that, in the weeks leading up to the PFA, I had begun to experience a dull aching in my left shin. Because we were required to run constantly during those eight weeks, often times in heavy boots, I had been placing a lot of strain on my legs. I would later discover that this ache was in fact a stress fracture in my tibia, but at the time I didn’t care, because I thought if I could just tough it out a few more days, I’d be graduating as a US Navy Sailor.
Things came to a head on the morning of the final PFA. The aching that had been nagging at me for a couple weeks had gradually turned into a sharp pain, but again I refused to complain or request a trip to the doctor, not because I wasn’t allowed to, but simply because I refused to accept the possibility that I wasn’t going to graduate on time. Recruits are deathly afraid of doctors. Being diagnosed with any major illness or injury means being placed into a holding unit where you’re isolated along with other “broken people” and are held back from progressing through the rest of your training, which in some cases can lead to a loss of the job you signed up for when you enlisted, because you failed to report for your follow-on training after boot camp in time. Believing that my entire success or failure in the Navy depended on my performance that morning, I pressed on. We did the push-ups and sit-ups no problem, but the run was a different matter. I knew that I would endure any hardship if it meant passing the run, but as the laps continued, the pain mounted. I pressed my absolute hardest, and managed to squeak under the passing limit by two seconds. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I took one or two steps and then collapsed on the side of the track in agony. The stress fracture had separated in the final run, and now I couldn’t put even the slightest weight on my leg without a stabbing pain shooting through my shin. As I lay there on the side of the track, a grizzled old Senior Chief who was an FMF corpsman (a medic who earned his stripes by sewing up bullet holes in Marines) came and stood over me.
“Can you walk son?” he demanded. I said I thought so, and tried desperately to stand to my feet. I called one of my buddies over to help me up, and then proceeded to lean on his shoulder and try to walk away. Senior stopped us, “No way, he can’t help you. If you can’t walk under your own power, that means I have to call you a stretcher. If I call for the stretcher, that means your PFA will be recorded as a medical failure.” With just a moment’s hesitation, I pushed off of my buddy and took a couple tentative steps. I discovered after some painful experimentation that if I shifted my weight just right, I could put pressure on the leg without wanting to die. I took off hobbling as quickly as I could, not even waiting for the rest of my fellow recruits. Not only did I make it out of the gym, I successfully crossed the street to get into my barracks building, waited patiently to ensure that they had properly recorded the score in my record as “pass,” and then got permission to go to medical, which meant walking across another street into another building.
I still ended up not graduating on time. After some quick x-rays, the ruinous stress-fracture was identified, and I was promptly handed some crutches and told that I’d be stuck there for an additional month. Sometimes you just can’t win for losing.
As it turned out, that month of isolation in the “broken recruit” holding unit was exactly what I needed. For one thing, I’ll never forget the respect I received from all the drill instructors. While every other recruit was getting yelled at for the simplest little infractions, I was essentially being left alone. One Instructor even asked me, “Dudley, why the hell did you do it? What made your crazy ass try so hard?” I replied that I simply wanted to graduate. Because I had all this newfound free time and relative peace during my isolation, I spent that month reading my Bible quite a bit. God used that month of dedicated study time to reveal himself to me in ways I’d never before thought possible, and the above verses were some of my greatest sources of sustainment during that time.
We all face situations in life that we simply can’t overcome on our own. Whether because we made a mistake that we can’t fix, or simply because life has come along and beaten us down, there will come a day in each of our lives when we’re forced to acknowledge that we need our heavenly Father to come alongside us and carry us through when our own strength fails.
The following video illustrates, better than anything I’ve ever seen, the image of our heavenly Father coming to our rescue in times of trouble.
I love the part when Derek is trying so desperately to keep moving, even after it’s obvious he’ll never make it. Seeing his son’s hopelessness, Jim Redmond comes flying down from the stands, even shoving aside the security guards who tried to stop him, in order to be there for his son in his moment of greatest need. In Psalm 18, David talks about a time in his life when he cried out to God in desperate need of his help, despairing even of his own life. David writes of God’s response, saying that God “thundered forth from heaven; smoke filled his nostrils, and fire came from his mouth. He parted the heavens and came down.”
God will literally move heaven and earth to find you wherever you are in your moment of deepest need. Don’t hesitate to call on him.