When the injury is acute, there is no mistaking what happened. To the athlete it sounds like a gun shot. The pain can be 10 on the scale. Four years ago today I underwent my third reconstructive knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). I tore my right ACL doing something I love, playing basketball.
Early one morning the previous November I was playing with some friends in a pickup game. Transitioning from offense to defense, my friend on the other team threw a bounce pass. I instinctively pivoted to deflect the pass when I heard the frightening sound and memorable pain. Immediately I fell to the court, knowing in that moment that for the third time I had suffered this injury and for the second time to my right knee.
It wasn’t too long ago that ACL injuries ended the careers of pro athletes. Even today with amazing advances in technology, ACL injuries cut short careers. “Only 63 percent of National Football League athletes who had an ACL reconstruction returned to play another game. Roughly two out of three. And two years after ACL surgery…about 55 percent of NFL players are no longer playing in the league. For the majority, an ACL still is pretty synonymous with the end of a career.”
ACL reconstruction is a young man’s surgery, and as some like to note, I am no longer a young man. The problem is not the surgery, however (the procedure to reconstruct an ACL is routine), the issue is the recovery time. Normally, a patient can expect about one year from surgery to a doctor’s clearance to return to pre-injury activities. High school athletes with fast healing bodies may return to play in as little as six months. I wrestled for weeks about what choice to make. I talked with my wife and our children. I asked those who knew me well their opinions and advice. On a given day, you could have talked me out of the surgery. On a different day, I was determined to go ahead and get it done.
The days following the injury were incredibly emotional for me. I cried…a lot. This injury should not have happened, not anatomically and not from an activity point of view. Anatomically, I was in the best shape of my life in at least 25 years. I knew what muscles protect the ACL from injury and worked hard to make them strong. And as for the activity I was doing, I was playing old-man basketball, hardly moving fast at all. There was no contact with another player. I just went down. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing including wearing a bulky brace I no longer needed to wear when doing athletic things. I was doing everything right, and it still happened. What more could I do? What more could I have done? So, out of deep frustration, I cried…a lot.
Two ACL surgeries is two too many. A third was on the horizon. I didn’t want a third surgery. I didn’t want a year of rehabilitation. I didn’t want a year of limited activity.
I played the “What If” game followed closely by the “If Only” game. “What if I would have been on the other team that morning, this would not have happened.” “If only I’d stayed in bed when the alarm went off at 5:15am, this would not have happened.” “What if my friend had thrown a different kind of pass?” “If only I had let the pass go instead of trying to deflect it.” Those are dumb games to play, and they never provide any answers, comfort, or relief. I was left with my question, “How did this happen when I’d done everything to prevent it?”
Have you ever asked the question I asked, “How could this happen? I was doing everything right.” To be sure we may give ourselves more credit than we deserve for doing everything right, but the question still lingers. Something bad happens. We can’t figure out the cause. We don’t look back and find an action that produced a negative outcome. Still, here we are - broken, emotional, hurting, and maybe questioning God’s goodness or his faithfulness in our time of trouble.
Where were you, God, when I got hurt? I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I was doing all the right things and still this happened.
I am a Christian man who believes in and loves the God of the Bible. About Himself, the God of the Bible tells me of His unending love for me, of His intimate knowledge of me, and of the execution of His purposes for me. With this knowledge I can answer my question, “How did this happen?” This injury happened under the watchful eye of my loving God.
I have no answer for God’s divine purpose four years ago. Simply, I know the injury happened with God’s full knowledge and his full consent. I’m good with that. When you experience life’s pains, I hope you are content with God’s full knowledge, full consent, and full sufficiency.
At 6:00 this morning I walked on to the same court where I suffered the injury more than four years ago. I played the same old-man basketball, which isn’t very good, but allows me to do something I continue to enjoy. At 5:50 this morning, I prayed, “Lord, keep me safe on the court today.” At 7:00 this morning, I prayed again, “Lord, thank you for your safety while I played this morning.”
As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.