With great fascination I watched a technical program on TV called “Finding the breaking point.” The premise was that few things are built to last but they could be improved upon.
Certain R & D labs specialize in putting advertised products through crash and stress tests to find their breaking point. Technicians apply tremendous pressure and speed to find their weakest point. They put the product or device through overload. They count how many blows it can withstand, what amount of brute force it can handle. They watch as micro-cracks gradually widen and then the object shatters. Even steel and concrete, the hardest substances are severely “punished.” An earthquake shaking machine simulates the real thing for brief periods to measure the damage that could be expected or could be prevented.
The point is not to be sadistic and destroy the items or building materials. It is for the lessons to be learned, lives to be saved. Technicians work redesign or refine existing products or invent new ones to protect the brain, like helmets, or better protective goggles for eyes, or shield eardrums from industrial noise or military explosions, or more durable equipment for sports, or safe appliances for the household.
It is not unusual for those of us in advancing years to be scheduled for a stress test in the hospital including treadmill, heart monitor, EKG, and nuclear imaging. I’ve had that experience several times. The point of such medical procedures wasn't to give me a heart attack or stroke by “punishing” my body, but to see if my heart gives the right response with a steady, regular heartbeat when stressed to the limit. The tests are not comfortable and push me beyond what I thought I could endure; they are to learn about the condition of my body. Sometimes doctors discover that there is really something blocking normal channels of my heart.
Stress and pressure in our lives are usually built up over time, although the onset of trouble may seem sudden. Blood pressure tends to elevate gradually. As I age, there are different kinds of pressures—interior and exterior, self-imposed or circumstantial—which affect my well-being. As I age, my heart and circulatory system become sluggish, and often an irregular heartbeat develops. Sometimes the condition is benign, as in my post-ventricular contractions, sometimes more serious and medication would be prescribed. As time goes on, determined by wearing a heart monitor, some people eventually need a pacemaker implanted to assist their normal heart function.
There are spiritual parallels. The Lord allows situations to test us on the treadmill of life to see if our spiritual hearts respond correctly under pressure. God doesn't punish us to see how much we can stand without caving in. He allows the stress of our circumstances to lovingly draw us to lean more fully upon Him.
Some things may be blocking our normal responses to His voice and hindering the completion with joy of the course in life that God has appointed for us. Cares of this world, prolonged illness, relationship fractures, the ever-accelerating speed of life, and multiple sufferings may beset us. Such conditions may result in a breakdown in physical health as well as spiritual health. We notice fatigue in both areas; we can’t keep up the pace of life as we age. Our energy is depleted, particularly through our increasing limitations. Second Corinthians 4:16-18 notifies us, in case we are in doubt, that “our outer person is decaying [wasting away]” because we all are “earthen vessels made of clay,” clay pots, so to speak. Our mortal bodies feel broken, run down, tired, used up, and physically and spiritually listless.We often feel that we are at the breaking point.
We have outward and inward afflictions. Saint Paul itemizes a few of them in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of this power may be of God and not from ourselves. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” This is to assure us that we don't have a breaking point when our sufficiency is in Christ.
Just as we are given medication to restore physical normalcy, most of us whose pace is irregular need some assistance to regain the normal, healthy function of our spiritual hearts. It is essential for our inner person, our spiritual infrastructure, to be renewed day by day. This refreshing comes from the Spirit of God as we seek God’s presence daily in worship, from the Sacraments and the Mass, and from the Word of God, all of which nourish our souls.
GOD, our Heart Monitor and Divine Pacemaker, is always available to mend our spiritual hearts and restore His steady pace for our final days. Our mortal bodies are not built to last permanently on Planet Earth. Micro-cracks develop. We all have weak points. Earthshaking experiences threaten to topple us. We think we can't withstand any more blows. We are sure that we will crash and burn. But as we focus on Him, looking unto Him as the “Author and Finisher” of our faith, and Finisher of our life course, He infuses sufficient divine strength into us for those Last Miles of our earthly journey, however long or short.
As the old hymn promises, “He gives more grace as the burdens grow greater....” The Lord may also provide us with the assistance of our friends, “people with skin on,” who pray and care for, love and encourage us, cheer us on, and bear us up when we are flying low. Thank God for The Body of Christ, the Household of Faith!