In Greek mythology, Thetis takes her baby Achilles to the River Styx where bathers could supposedly receive 'invulnerability'. The story goes that she dipped her infant in the magical river except for the heel of the foot with which she was holding the boy. Although becoming a great warrior in time, Achilles was said to have died when a poisonous arrow lodged in his heel ... which duly gave birth to the phrase 'Achilles' heel', meaning area of weakness in spite of many other strengths.
Since the rupture of my own Achilles' tendon while playing table-tennis in mid-April, I've learned a lot about this part of the human body! It was ironic that, after a very busy Easter, I should have suffered this injury while relaxing and playing a sport that I've taken part in for over fifty years. Some people have suggested that God was perhaps telling me to slow down and that a period of enforced rest - literally with my feet up - was perhaps what my body needed. My usual rush-around, day-to-day ministry has certainly been curtailed, and will be for a little longer yet. It's also true that because I genuinely enjoy the vast majority of what my ministerial role involves, it can be hard to know when to say 'No' and when to leave some tasks 'undone'.
There's little doubt that as Christians, each of us is obliged to look after our body, which St Paul describes as the temple of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 3:16]. There's also no doubt that my limited mobility has resulted in a wonderful wealth of goodwill, kindness and offers of help coming my way ... which all continue to be highly encouraging and immensely appreciated. In life of course, we all have our own 'Achilles' heel'. Yet how thankful we can be that like the apostle Paul, we too can know of the Lord's Strength at times of weakness [2 Corinthians 12: 9-10] ... and know how to help win those battles when temptation comes knocking on our door and seeks to make and entrance [1 Corinthians 10: 12-13].
Years ago, an Achilles' tendon injury usually involved an operation but nowadays, the wearing of a Vacoped orthopaedic boot is the usual way to encourage the process of repair and healing. The vacuum insert and adjustable hinge mechanism allows the foot angle in the boot to change according to the patient's needs. Having worn one of these bulky 'moon-boots' for well over a month now, several thoughts occur to me. The first concerns the privilege of receiving good care from the NHS which is so often given a bad press. Having to wear the boot both night and day certainly presents it challenges. Getting the boot on and off is definitely time-consuming while the accompanying daily injection is another necessary task that tests my own courage, especially when it is self-applied! Yet the short-term sting produced is certainly preferable to the greater likelihood of dangerous blood-clots forming.
The disciplined lifestyle and attitudes that the disciple of Jesus is called to follow, may seem hard at times but is part of God's plan for our long-term good. The joy of feeling a cool flannel on my usually encased and itchy lower left leg ... is another highlight of the daily medical routine. Yet are not some of life's greatest wonders also free ... though often taken for granted? Another potential problem of wearing this heavy, specially angled moon-boot, is the extra wear and tear put onto my other [good] foot and leg. The Church of course is just like any other organisation in the sense that fewer the number of people to 'bear the load' so the strain and wear on the existing volunteers increases. By contrast, any spreading of the load always lightens the burden!
The film title 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' was chosen for a 1966 Spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. But what might be the link between this intriguing Western movie title and my present medical condition, you may be wondering. The Hospital advice that I was given for using crutches when going up stairs or steps, was very specific; first move the good foot up to the next level; then follow with the bad foot, before finally drawing up the ugly [crutches]! The order must be reversed for going downwards however. Following these instructions has certainly worked very well for me this far and I have no intention of changing my method of tackling stairs and steps. As Christians, do we really believe that the Bible is still the best guide and moral compass, to help us on our pilgrimage through life, with its Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, etc to direct our behaviour and attitudes? Do we not ditch the 'Maker's Instructions' [as set out in the Bible] at our peril?
Critics have sometimes mocked Christians as people without much backbone, who need the 'crutch' of a faith to support them. Yet if we are a much more contented, happier, more hard-working and kind-hearted person for others to know on account of our Christian faith ... I don't think that such criticism is valid. One thing is for sure, I do know that when the unexpected in life comes our way - like a ruptured Achilles' tendon - I am massively appreciative of ALL the divine and human help that I am offered! And this can be true for us all!
Your Friend - Martyn